Friday night, my husband was letting a church member out of our gate and locking it up for the night, when a man driving our teammate’s pick-up truck drove up to our gate and repeatedly shouted in Tsonga, “Where’s my canopy??”
Once again, it was a case of mistaken identity. Though we’ve lived here a bit longer than our teammates in another less-central village 10 minutes down a tar road that connects a seemingly endless string of villages, our teammates are by far the better known family around here. Their house is in a much more visible place in their village on a main thoroughfare that leads to two other villages. We confused the Tsongas even more by each having four children in rapid succession, each having the same exact pick-up, and even looking somewhat similar. And of course, we both speak the language.
So our teammates recently bought a new car, sold their pick-up identical to ours, and the buyer wanted the canopy for the bed of the pick-up. He’s from a whole ‘nuther string of villages somewhere else, so he drove out here and asked someone where the white guy lived. He was directed to our house. Our bewilderment was visibly funny when he shouted at us for his canopy!
Anyway, it didn’t take long for us to figure out what had happened. We’re used to this confusion. People constantly shout our teammate’s name at us as we pass in the truck, asking for lifts back to their (and his) village. Seth goes to the local hardware shop and gets called by our teammate’s name. He rarely tries to correct them, as listening skills are not generally a strong point of this culture.
If they listen long enough to understand that there are, oddly enough, two white families in this sea of chocolate out here, they usually laugh a bit chagrined: “Oh, I thought you were him. There’s another white person?”
“Yes,” we respond. “Don’t worry. We know: all white people look alike.”
Outburst of laughter and quick agreement! “Yes,” they agree, “White people all look alike.” Then they might flick their nose to show the offending member which causes confusion. You know, we all have sharp-tipped noses…
We tease them back. “What? You only have to remember one or two white people. Look at all of you we have to keep straight!”
I remember getting confused back when I was a teenager ministering on my church’s bus route. Many of those little black girls with their adorable beaded braids looked the same to me. Now I can tell the Africans apart even if, for example, a woman wearing a hairpiece tells me her full name one day, and comes to church the next day without the hairpiece and uses her nickname. 😉 I can kind-of tell when someone’s from Zimbabwe versus South Africa, and it’s even easier to pick an Ethiopian or Somalian out of a crowd. (There is a small Somalian community here.) Seth’s better at that than me.
Anyway, I just wanted to share the funny thought that if you’ve ever looked at a people group (Africans, Koreans, whatever) and gotten mixed up because to you they all look the same–they think the same thing about you!