I've been thinking a lot about how important the idea of status is to the Zulu people I've encountered. This covers everything, from the latest technological possessions to cars to even which students have the sharpest pencils in the classroom.
One of the hardest things that I've realized about teaching is how easy it can be to pick favourites. This isn't even restricted to St. Leo's-- at the boys' home, too, there are certain kids that I get along with and who feel more comfortable around me than others. There's Sanele, in Grade 4, who cannot sit still and has been known to steal food from kindergartners at break time. But he calls me "Mrs. Sinead" and it makes my heart melt. Then there's Bheki at St. Theresa's; he may drool when he gets overexcited and eat chicken liver pate straight from the container with a spoon, but I just love that Kanye West face of his.
But playing favourites doesn't even mean that kids feel left out if I feel the need to pay special attention to one or the other. It's all about having things. Children here are more concerned about having the sharpest pencil in the class, or being able to buy unhealthy snacks at breaktime instead of eating the prepared samp, finding an old Bluetooth on the ground and wearing it around the schoolyard, with more pride than the most successful investor on Wall Street.
And this phenomenon isn't restricted to children either. Mary-Kate told me last week about a Zulu man who had asked the nun sponsoring him through nursing school if he could get a car. She agreed to help him, but then made a very good point: this guy didn't have a drivers' license. He seemed completely unperturbed by this. He just wanted a car.
It's easy to say that this all comes from people who don't have much taking pride in what they can get their hands on, but when a hefty paycheck goes towards purchasing the latest flat-screen TV in a rundown tinroof house with no running water, I feel very confused at the logic.
It's also easy to expand these scenarios and take a look at the government of this country (and elsewhere). Government officials spend big bucks on flashy cars, expensive suits, and family vacations, while in the same city, someone even related to them might be suffering from treatbale TB with no money for medicine.
I never mean to express political criticism, but I can't help noticing how even the microcosm of St. Leo's is a small-scale model for how things operate on a national level in South Africa.
Mum has been faithfully clipping articles from the Financial Times that might pique my interest, and when a package arrived the other day with two books from my sister (who is studying abroad in Paris at the moment; read her blog here), it also had a giant stack of articles with it.
One of them, written back in July, is an interview with six different South Africans post-World Cup. It is a really interesting piece, with many points I've been reflecting on, but in a much more succinct and articulate manner. You can find the article here, and I'd highly recommend taking the time to read it.
Oh, and school is open again, much to my relief. More on that later...