Being seen but not heard…


As I have walked around in Johannesburg, Soweto, Centurion, and Pretoria no one has given me a second glance. Not my hair… not my clothing… not my complexion… Okay, wait… I take that back because clothing and hair can say a lot about where you are from and your ethnicity. What mean is, I blend in here. Nothing about me really stands out… except my American accent.

Because they get the same satellite television stations over here that we have in the U.S., people are watching many of the same shows and they are very keen on what an American accent is.

I have had a great time exploring this… I am continually AMAZED… There are so many characteristics and unique attributes that allow Africans to identify one another’s ethnicities. The way each wears their traditional head wraps and clothing often differs. Some facial and body characteristics allow them to identify one another’s ethnicities.

In our time with the United Nations delegates from South Africa, my host Zee was questioned several times about where she was from. Probably because she is fluent in seven languages and her accent is not distinct. Meanwhile, people begin speaking to me right off. And they look at me in disbelief when I tell them I am from the U.S. “Really?!” they say… I am not sure why…

I will be honest, I have softened my English a little and that helps me maneuver a bit better. For me, this means considering how I would pronounce words if I used single sounds for a, e, i, o, and u instead of long and short vowel sounds. I already prefer to pronounce “t” sounds in words like better, little, and water that we commonly pronounce as the “d” sound, so that is helpful.

Why is it helpful? Because if my American accent stands out as much as other Americans I hear in passing, then it stands out a lot! There are Africans from all over the continent here and South Africans have many different accents. I appreciate having the vantage point of one who blends in, so I am working to maintain that position.

imageI have been practicing my Zulu words with a young one in the house and an older family member who has been great about helping me learn and I ask when there is something I cannot figure out.

To be honest, because there is such a diversity of people, culture, and languages, there appears to be a great tolerance and respect for the differences.

I have had the honor of spending time with family where there were three languages being spoken. While there was not clear understanding by all of the verbal communication, we all managed and we were able to manuever in each other’s space even with the language barrier… most notably mine.

If I am honest again, I feel a little cheated to not have had the opportunity to grow up with many languages around me. I think I would have caught on to them well. I believe my reading and writing communication skills are pretty keen. Still, African people have always been an oral people and the ability to hear and speak has always been important.

I am practicing and listening… one day at a time…

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