Newroz Tan Piroz be! Yesterday was Kurdish New Year and it really sucked not to be home to enjoy it.

But later this week I will be cooking a big Kurdish meal to celebrate with the roomies. They are excited, which makes me happy. I can’t wait to cook some real rice and have some pita bread- I’ve not had any since January, it’s amazing that I haven’t gone bonkers yet. Today is a public holiday so we have no class. It’s the first “break” of any kind that we’ve had all semester. It’s a little stupid, because next week our April break starts and to have all our “off time” within two weeks of each other which isn’t very conducive to stress relief. I’ve got two tests at the end of this week so today is primarily a study day, I’ve goofed off the last two days. The homesickness is better, I can actually get up in the morning now without too much trouble. It’s frustrating mostly because I can get hold of and counter most of the mental issues associated with homesickness, it’s the physical symptoms that get ya.

Last night, I went to a braai (SA bbq) that a couple of my classmates were holding at their place. It’s only the second invitation I’ve had to hang out with people from TUKs since being here. It’s bizarre how hard it is get to the “outside of class” friend stage. But I went and met a lot of great people. Plus the group was more or less evenly racially mixed, which was awesome, because I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I was in it again. I don’t even think about these things back home, I’m just hanging out with friends back home but I’m more comfortable in that setting and I have more fun in a more diverse group, which is also why I think I get along with all the exchange students here, we’re pretty much all White but our cultures etc are so different that it’s almost like being  different races sometimes. But I did notice that most of the Whites I met were Afrikaner or English and I think I met maybe 2 or 3 Black South Africans out of the 20-25. The rest of Blacks were from, well, everywhere else. Trinidad and Tobago, Ethiopia, Burundi and so on and so on. It’s telling about the situation here. With my generational group, race is less of an issue here, but like we discussed last night, the trust still isn’t there and so the relationships aren’t there either. But I met some of the first Afrikaners, that aren’t anthropology or social science majors, that were actually really cool people. They liked to talk about music (aka stuff that isn’t on the radio), politics, culture, lifestyle, and everything else I love. Oh and sports conversations that didn’t once involve the sentence, “Rugby is awesome and anyone else who thinks otherwise is gay”. Most of the Afrikaners guys that I’ve met are so stereotypical jocks, pumped up on testosterone, and worried about for one instance seeming to be anything but the Hulk

.

The girls are a bit better for the most part but sometimes they are so obsessed with their dress, hair, and how many friends they have, or boyfriends for that matter. It feels like the 50s or something. Or Deer Creek, to be honest. This probably has to do with Pretoria being more Afrikaner, richer, affluent and more conservative. But I remember thinking to myself, while chatting with people, “Where have you all been hiding? Y’all are awesome. I’ve been looking for people like you for two months, have you all been in a hole somewhere?”

Of course I am generalizing about the Whites here, to some extent. And also, this is not to say that Blacks here are any better or worse. They don’t want to talk to us, until they realize most of us that hang out together are exchange students and not from here. They all dress up and are quite concerned with their outward image of cool collected wealth etc. and more often that not, more so than the Whites here. It’s an interesting culture here at TUKs,

The other thing that surprised me last night, was when the group of people I was hanging out with  found out I was from the South. It was nice to have no one laugh at you for being born in Alabama, for one, but the stereotypes and misconceptions they had of the South was crazy. I mean, I did grow up there and I still consider myself a Southerner, and I have encountered more than my fair share of racism and distrust, but what these South Africans thought of the South was astounding. From their perspective, racism and cultural intolerance in the South was worse than South Africa. I don’t think it’s worse by any measure. I think it’s probably a large bit better than SA but it’s funny what they perceived as racism, happens in SA and it’s considered racist, because it’s not.

For example, clubs and bars. Here in South Africa there are clubs that are “Black clubs”. “White clubs” and neutralish ones. That’s not because it’s legally segregated or proactively enforced in any way. It has to do with the location, music selection, and the “regulars”. Back home it’s the same deal. I mean if I was to walk into a “Black bar” I’d get looks and maybe some comments as to my presence, but if I wanted to be there and was seen to be interacting and enjoying myself, in almost cases I’d be fine. Same here in SA, but they perceived that to be proof of the racist nature of the South.

Or, someone asked me if it was true that some towns were still segregated. I said, yeah, but not in the legal sense. He was confused by that. I explained that it had to do with socio-economic status, in which race does play a part, historical presence, family connections, work proximity and all sorts of factors. Again, I gave him a SA example. Did he think Hatfield vs Sunnyside were segregated by race? No, not legally, but de facto because of  many of same reasons for the US.

Yes, there are a number of people, White and Black, that are racist. I have seen many a Black man get harassed, or a White woman made uncomfortable by racial catcalls etc. I have seen many a truck with the Stars and Bars. But I’ve seen a bunch of burly Afrikaners gang up on a small group of Blacks because one drunk guy “insulted” them but not curbing his enthusiasm for a soccer match. I’ve seen a group of Black girls shun a White girl on the TUKs campus.

The one difference I’ve seen in the South’s favor is that a mixed race couple is far more common and, excluding more isolated and conservative rural areas, publicly accepted and not an issue. Here, I’ve seen a total of maybe five mixed couples and one of those was a White guy with an Indian girl (also rare). The looks they got and the visible space people gave them was evidence enough of the anxiety and discomfort. Hatfield is a university neighborhood and TUKs is a university the size of OU and the lack of mixing here, romantically and just in friendship, especially outside of class, is like oil and water in pot together.

Advertisements