Take a good look at him! You may see him in your near future! His name is Phiri, he's great looking, intelligent, has a good sense of humor, has beautiful big eyes, he's humble, and he loves porridge. He's quite the catch—does anyone want him? Ok, this is not a dating ad—really, it isn't! I just want to rent him out for about a month, he's desperate for a taste of the real world.
Phiri has been super nice to me since coming to Mmathethe, and every time he sees me, he wants to talk about America. People, including him, are so confused, they don't know what to ask after the preliminary where do you live, the Obama thing, and what's it like. During my first week here, some of the teachers had a BBQ for me, and Phiri told me he wants to marry an American girl. You don't always hear that, or at least in the seriousness that he's saying it. So trying to stir him up a bit, I say “Phiri, you'd have to learn how to cook.” “Cook!” “Yeah, cook!” “Oh, and help with chores, change the kids diapers, go to their soccer games, give your wife flowers on your anniversary, and for god's sake---don't ever forget hers or her mother's birthday.” “Diapers!” “Yep, diapers Phiri.” His innocent puppy dog look and smile said everything—at least he didn't pee in his own pants! However, the inquiry didn't stop, and I told him how men and women, typically, have a more equal relationship—women are actually allowed to get their needs met Phiri. “Tshepo, what are you talking about?” N.E.E.D.S.---look it up in the dictionary Phiri!
In the coming weeks, Phiri was starved for more hands on info about the USA---it's streets, it's cities, it's schools, it's people. The schools expecially got to him----almost bigger than the relationship thing. Telling him that teachers actually have to teach their classes, that they don't hit kids with sticks, or hardly yell, and kids play at lunch time. They have personalities, laugh, do art, have fun with teaching. “Fun—what kind of fun?” “Phiri, just like the relationship thing—they interact!” Yet again, I see his ears are getting so big, they're starting to flop over. The confusion on his face is priceless, and I just want to shake him and ask him what he's thinking.
Lately, at lunch time, I've been hanging in the kitchen, waiting for yummy leftovers after the kids eat, and of course, no matter what we're doing, Phiri brings everything we're doing to the context of America. Oh no, please don't get me started on talking about food Phiri, I hate the food here! “You don't like porridge?” “Well, it's all you guys eat, night and day—I can take it in small doses, but this is ridiculous.” Still not getting it, he says, “You mean you don't eat porridge in America!” Phiri---brace yourself man---NO,--No Porridge!!! I thought the guy was gonna have a heart attack right then and there, so I try to ease his pain, telling him we can eat oatmeal, or cream of wheat is so desired, but people don't live on the stuff. He still doesn't get it, “but you don't eat maize, can you even get it there?” “Phiri, I hate to burst your American bubble, but again, NO Phiri, no maize, no soft porridge, NO, NO, NO!” Poor Phiri doesn't know what to do with himself, his dreams of America are cracking before my very eyes! But I soften things, telling him I'm sure that if we found real Africans there, we can find him some porridge! Aah, his ears relax!
I feel like packing his little bag, taking him to NYC, letting him off the leash, saying—go boy---just go and look at the beautiful people, go eat a pastrami sandwich, or better yet go to Candle Cafe and eat a real veggie meal---that'll really get ya! Go see Wall Street and the Statue of Liberty, go hang out in Greenwich Village, see a show, dance the night away in the city that never sleeps---GO Phiri, GO Man, make your head spin with a good dose of Americana, but be careful crossing the streets Phiri—there are cars instead of donkey carts, and lots and lots of people---then come back to me in a week with a report....that is, if you've managed to stay alive without your porridge!
When people have told me about other places in the world, or I see things on TV, it's not shocking to me, there's a sense about it. Yeah, it's hard not living in culinary heaven here, and sure, we all want our comfort foods, but when I tell my beautiful nieces about life here, even young Sofie, they get it! More and more I see that when you're shut out from the world, nothing makes sense the way it should, and things are just hard to comprehend. That's what's happening to Phiri, he's trying to comprehend something that doesn't exist in his world. But it's not like we're in Ethiopia or the Congo! We're in Botswana—there's TV, people watch soaps, they rent movies, watch the world news, there are big evolved cities, but still, something is missing, something deeply hard to grasp for most people. So, the American here in Mmathethe is trying to fill some of those gaps, and having a great time making that world real for them. But poor Phiri--if anyone does take him for a spell, please, please, please---find some maize for the guy!