Overheard at a small spring behind my house, where local kids are often sent to fetch water for their families.  [Except in the early mornings when the mothers themselves fetch the majority of the day’s water (for cooking, drinking, cleaning, and washing clothes.]  The girls arguing were probably nine or ten:

“Your family’s so poor that after dinner you have to say, ‘Mama, I’m not full, I’m not full.  I’m still hungry.  I’m not full.'”

“That’s not true. We got plenty of food.  Look at you… and them skinny legs.  I don’t know how you can even walk with them skinny little legs.  Your family’s the one ain’t got no money.”

“I can walk just fine with these legs.  I got power in my body.  I can carry a whole bucket of water from here to my house.  Girl, you probably can’t carry a bucket on your head from here (draws a line in the dirt road) to here (scratches another one).”

“I can too carry water.  I do it every day.”

“Not a big bucket, you don’t.  Look at that little bucket.  If you can carry a big one, then prove it.  Do it, girl.  Come on.  See, you ain’t no lady.  See, y’all, she ain’t no lady — can’t even carry a bucket over to here!”

“You’re skinnier than I am.  You ain’t got no meat on those bones.”

“Girl, I am thick.  And you know it’s true.  Because my mama feeds me real good.”

“At least my family’s got a couch.  Your family don’t got no couch; everybody be sitting on wood stools all around the room.”

“My family does too have a couch.  Ask my neighbors, those kids right there (pointing).”

Those kids: “Yes, they have a sofa.  We seen it.”

“My family does too wha wha wha wha…  Ask my wha wha wha wha…” said mockingly while holding her nose and rolling her eyes.

“We drink sodas, too.  I bet you ain’t never had a soda.  You’re family’s so poor all you can drink is water from this here spring.  Too bad you ain’t never got the chance to enjoy a Coca-Cola.”

“At least my family ain’t going hungry.  Your family don’t got enough money to feed everybody.  And you don’t even know how to cook anyway.  You ain’t no lady.  Your mama probably don’t know either.”

“My mama does know how to cook.  And she can till a field, too.  Your mama’s so weak she can’t get the land ready to plant.”

“You ain’t ever even seen my house.  We got lots of corn.”

  • I suppose kids in every culture learn early to make themselves look better by putting others down.
  • One difference between these kids’ insults and those of American kids (at least when I was one) is that all the insults about being poor are more likely to be true here.  In the states, many insults never actually hit home.  It’s possible (and often the case) to make fun of others while saying things that are obviously far from true.
  • Another difference is that these Tanzanian kids are already wanting to appear as adults and to perform the duties of their parents (most of those duties seem to fall to the women).  And many of the insults are designed accordingly.
  • Those of you who enjoy learning about new cultures, take note of what makes one a lady here — and contrast that with our American views and ideals.
  • Oh, and when’s the last time you heard an American girl making fun of how skinny another girl was?


Filed under culture, living in africa, tanzania

8 responses to “overheard

  1. Kids fight. It’s very rare to find groups that never taunt each other in some fashion.

    There are some cultures here in the US where skinny is not good, but I won’t get into all that.

  2. What an insight into how culture shapes one’s image of herself! As an adult I eventually realized that many of us were afraid of being called poor like this because we knew we were. But what we did not realize is most everyone else was too and equally afraid of having that pointed out to all. But like these kids we all were trying to appear otherwise! Thanks for the post, Brett.

    • glad you enjoyed it. i wasn’t sure how i felt about posting someone else’s conversation on the internet. though i feel fairly confident those girls won’t be reading my blog anytime soon.

      i was most shocked that they were doing the arguing right there in front of me. there generally seems to be a bit of a “put on your best for the foreigner” vibe here. i’m not sure if they thought i couldn’t understand or if they didn’t care at all that i was there or if they were kind of showing off by fighting. i was holding baylor at the time, and prayed silently that God would help her not to act like that when she gets older.

  3. Interesting observation Brett! Happy Thanksgiving.

  4. great post and insights. I like their idea of what a lady does. I wish the tendency to put other people down in order to raise ourselves up wasn’t a universal human condition.

  5. Kim

    That just made me really sad in a bunch of different ways. First that as I sit here baking an overabundance of food, more than we’ll ever need in a day, it quite literally breaks my heart to know there are babies going to sleep hungry everywhere. Here in the US and all over the world.

    Also brings things back into perspective for me. Need to stop being a whiny baby about minor inconveniences and recognize how truly blessed my life is.

    Interesting differences in the cultures for sure. Great post.

    • yeah, it was strange to eat today (thanksgiving) until i felt sick. quite literally. and then to wait until my tummy quit hurting so i could have some pecan pie (a group of christian college students passing through left each of our families a couple of bags of pecans). i was more uncomfortable because of how much i ate than because i knew i was eating my fill while others nearby were begging. sad.

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