Monday, September 6, 2010

Americans are Friendly and Enthusiastic

So today Kelly went out to Ciyanjano to work for the day which left me to run errands without the car. I needed to go buy units of electricity as well as talk time... everything here is pre-paid so that you can only use things you can actually afford to pay for. It's kind of a neat system I think.

But anyway, luckily I can walk to both of these offices so after Kathrine arrived at our house I set off to take care of my bills. Walking down the street is kind of a mixed bag, especially for me. All the Zambians stare at you because the fact is, they are shocked to see a white person walking anywhere. The only place you see any white people walking is around the two fancier shopping areas. I actually haven't seen any white people walking on the street either so I can see why it might be surprising.

Also it is difficult to know who to greet as you walk along. I've noticed that many men will greet me but most women will not unless I greet them first. Etiquette is difficult for me because my friendly nature could get me into trouble. If someone looks me in the eye as they pass me, it is almost impossible for me not to greet them. It feels rude to walk by someone without greeting them. But at the same time you have to watch out because there are a few swindlers and thieves around that may take advantage of a friendly and enthusiastic white woman who is just thrilled to have people with whom to practice her Nyanja. I must admit too that there is a tiny voice in my head that keeps asking, are you being too forward? Are you going to end up getting yourself stabbed for the money in your wallet? Even though really I am probably just fine.

As I first walked along a man started walking with me and asking me what I was doing here? He asked where is my vehicle? Why would I not take a taxi? It felt like just a friendly conversation but I thought to myself that I was probably being too free with information and said good-bye and shuffled off down the road. In some of the materials from the Peace Corp that we have read it says that Americans are known for being friendly and enthusiastic. I couldn't help thinking of that as I walked along the road mulling over how I should behave as I walk along... Friendly and enthusiastic sounds like a fair description of me, for better or worse.

Anyway on my way home a very nice young man came up to me and shook my hand. Zambians greet with very cool handshakes and will even hold hands for a long time so I shook his hand but then let go of it trying to think of how to be appropriate. This man asked me my name and I said, why do you want to know my name? (By this point in my walk I had decided it best to keep my guard up a bit more because I don't want to be the kind of dumb foreigner that has no common sense.) He replied that he lived in the area and had been seeing me around and so he wanted to introduce himself. I told him that if he had seen me around then he had probably also seen my husband. My husband would not like me talking to men on the street.

What to do, what to do? I told him that next time he sees me and my husband walking along together he should come up and introduce himself. I felt like such a meany especially after chatting with that other dude who had seemed even less shady than this guy! But this kind man replied, "Okay, thank you for your encouragement." Huh? Okay. So I figure maybe that is a good response to friendly young men on the street?! I don't know. But I just thought I'd share the kinds of mental struggles I deal with each day as a friendly and enthusiastic American!

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