A lot of my thoughts since arriving here have revolved around “acclimatizing.” If you never knew, let me tell you now, thinking can exhaust you. As I am the only African living on the Reserve here are few differences that I am encountering and no one on the Reserve can relate to.
(Please remember that when I say “African” its a general statement, I know I cannot speak on behalf of the continent :D)
Africans use a lot of hand gestures and physical touch when talking together. It can be a gentle push, interlinking of hands as we walk and talk or just a light tap on someones arm to emphasis a point. In Mozambique, we greet with a kiss on both cheeks, hand shake or occasionally a hug. For us physical touch shows you are engaged in the conversation. Here on the Reserve, that rarely ever happens. I have a constant voice in my head when I am hanging out (whether it’s with the white folk or First Nations) “don’t touch, don’t touch, they don’t do touch. DON’T TOUCH!!” The more comfortable I become with new friends the more I want to revert back to my African ways.
My stomach is picky, there is food it just won’t approve of, most of the time its the ready made or pre mix eatables. I never grew up on this kind of food and no matter how nice it taste it doesn’t take long for my stomach to revolt against whatever it is that I have eaten. I am slowly figuring out which foods my stomach doesn’t care for and take them in small quantities. I cannot afford to have a picky stomach, our one and only grocery store does not have much variety… in time, surely it will adapt?
By far what has been most challenging to adapt to is understanding what poverty is in North America. Before coming here, some people I knew who had been to some Reserves in North America told me of the terrible poverty that I would encounter. When I got here, I quickly realised that my understanding of “poverty,” is through African “lenses” and I need to take those off and put on North American “lenses” to see what they mean when they say; there is poverty on the Reserves. If I were to document the life of one person here and then show it to one average Mozambiqan family, I can assure you, they would not think people are poor on this Reserve. BUT compared to how the rest of Canada lives, at least in this Reserve, there is poverty and I am slowly beginning to understand that, it just doesn’t come naturally.
Daisies are lovely flowers, it doesn’t matter whether they are growing by a lake, beside a dusty road or in a well manicured garden these flowers thrive and no matter where you find them, there is no mistaking that what you are looking at is a daisy! I want to be like a daisy, to be able to adapt to different situations but still not lose what makes me Shula. I don’t think there is any formula on what it takes to adapt to a different culture perfectly. There are days when the idea of going out and meeting up with people is too much, sometimes I give in and just stay at home, after all when I am by myself I don’t have to explain why I act or speak differently from everyone else. I know I have made mistakes and will make more, my only hope is that in all this adapting, I never, ever lose the key ingredients of what makes me, me!