on long names: the struggle is real.

Today is the wrong day to cross me. I woke up a whole 15 minutes before my alarm went off (what a waste of much needed sleep), and then I checked my phone to find that it was -18 degrees outside (Celsius, because ain’t nobody got time for Fahrenheit when you’re from Europe). Trying to remain positive, I stopped to get some coffee which I then proceeded to spill not on my bag, but in it (thank god I was carrying my iPad in my hand). At this point I am a pissed off, cold and grumpy little Portuguese individual, ready to smite anyone who so much as looks as me the wrong way.

And then the real problems start. A few weeks ago I lost my insurance card somewhere, and so after multiple unanswered emails to the insurance company, I decided to give them an angry call. Insurance company proceeds to tell me that my ID number does not exist in their system. Swell. They refer me to another number which I call, only to be put on hold for a grand total of 22 minutes, to finally be told my name is nowhere to be found in their records. Again, swell. They then kindly remind me that my name is much too long, and why didn’t I consider shortening it to make everyone’s lives easier, since I mean, it is just sooo complicated to read an extra three names.

Which leads me to my first point. Why is it that people here find it so hard to understand that where I’m from, we honor both the mother and the father when we give children their names? It so happens that both my parents had two last names…is this really so hard to understand? A few months ago I had to get a Social Security Number so I could get a job on campus, and I kid you not, they cut off the last part of my name. They weren’t even smart enough to cut it off after a whole name, they just chopped one in half. Which then led to a series of problems, one of them being that it did not match my passport, and therefore it could not be the same person. “It simply does not fit on the card. They had to chop it off” I tried telling them a million times. “Well, how do we know that this is the same person on your passport, that you’re not stealing anyone’s identity?”. And deep inside I’m thinking…. I wish I knew how to steal someone’s identity, because I’d steal yours and buy myself a nice relaxing trip to a fancy spa somewhere to unwind after all the stress you put me through.

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My thoughts precisely.

I went to the Office of International Programs to request a verification letter from them today, and it took them a whole 10 minutes to find my folder. Because “oh I’m not sure what name we filed you under. Why do you have so many names? I would be so mad at your parents if I was you” they said, assumingly as a joke. Well, the joke gets old real quick. In fact it got old almost five years ago when I got here.

It’s always been incredibly difficult for me to get anything document related done in the US. One time at the Social Security office, the lady stared at me for 5 minutes and said “Well, we can’t fit your name. I don’t know how to put it in the system”, then proceeded to call her supervisor who stared at the screen, then back at me, then back at the screen. “Foreigners can have such long names. Just cut the end off” she said. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the story of how I went from being Leonor Maria de Sa Machado Ribeiro Gomes to Leonor Maria de Sa Machado Rib. No really, feel free to chop off half of my identity.

I’m almost tempted to marry someone with a last name like Smith so I can have a kid and name them something like John Smith. But of course that would be boring, plus I plan on giving my children my last name as well as their father’s. So if you’re reading this kids, I apologize in advance. Your life may be hell, but at least you’ll be interesting. And culturally diverse. And all that fun stuff.

So, to the people who roll their eyes at my long name…. Keep rolling. Maybe someday you’ll find a brain back there.

on South Africa: a love/ hate relationship…

Over Christmas break I did some traveling. First to Portugal, and then to Cape Town in South Africa. Oh the perks of living the turtle life! For further clarification, read definition below.

Turtle Life. Definition: living like a turtle, carrying your house on your back wherever you go.

We used to live in Angola, and so I’ve been to Cape Town a few times before. I was younger then, and even though I noticed things, I left as blissfully ignorant as I had arrived. But this time was different.

The trip itself was wonderful. We saw the whole city from a helicopter, visited huge malls and beautiful attractions. We  snapped the typical pictures on top of Table Mountain, holding our arms out to look like we were floating on clouds. We went to the Cape of Good Hope feeling all giddy with excitement because heck, the Portuguese sailed past it for the first time ever! Woo! Go Portugal! We even snapped an uber touristy picture of us holding the Portuguese flag behind the Cape of Good Hope sign.

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D’awwwww we’re so cute.

We visited several high end restaurants, some of them in Camps Bay and others in more remote areas, made up of large properties filled with vineyards where you could spend an afternoon wine tasting and eating delicious food. And then it struck me: why was it that we saw no white waiters anywhere? I could count on one hand the amount of white servers we had. No more than three. And we ate out every single day, lunch and dinner.

I figured it may just be me, so I reserved judgement until I had seen a little more of what the city had to offer. Then on the day after new year’s eve, the 1st of January, every restaurant and business in Camps Bay (the neighborhood where we were staying) suddenly closed. The beaches were busier than ever, you could barely see the sand. But yet all the businesses were closed… Wouldn’t it make more sense for them to be open on one of the busiest days of the year?

Later that day we finally got some clarification. Eunice, a lady hired by the landlord to come and clean our house every day, told us that the reason the businesses closed was because all the people from the “locations” came out to the beach on January 1st.  I was intrigued as to what she meant by “locations”, so I asked. Apparently, the more rural areas around Cape Town where there townships are located are called “locations”.

And then it dawned on me. I probably could have counted the amount of white people on the beach that day with one hand. Any other day it was the other way around. But that day specifically, it seemed the tables had been turned, and so all the businesses were closed.

This was only one of the many things I noticed. The social disparity in South Africa is not only seen…it is also felt. Things that hadn’t bothered me before started to make me uneasy. It was uncomfortable to see very few black people in positions of power. It was uncomfortable to walk into places where there were only white people.

Back when apartheid was in full swing in South Africa, the government decided to categorize South Africans using four categories: black, colored, Indian/ Asian and white. These distinctions were based on looks alone, and so people were labelled as being one of the four categories, making that their sole defining quality. These categories naturally divided people. I mean, how could they not?

According to an annual survey by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR), “43.5% of South Africans rarely or never speak to someone of another race. Little more than a quarter (27.4%) interact with a person of another race always or often on ordinary weekdays, while 25.9% do so sometimes.”

What… I mean, what?! The numbers are crazy. Almost half the population rarely or never speaks to someone of another race… Yet the country seems to function. How is it that South Africa is one of the most developed (if not the most developed) African countries, but still faces such primitive racial problems?

I am not by any means saying that this is the case with everyone. Younger generations are slowly changing the standard… But the differences are so obvious that it makes it almost impossible to not wander about how South Africa has thrived, considering the kind of social unbalance that it has faced for years.

I love Cape Town. I love the beaches, and the people, and the city itself. I love the summery attitude, the great food and the even better wine. But I also hate it. I hate it because it has made me realize I am only a spectator, and that the problems South Africa faces are way out of my reach. There is nothing I can do but feel uncomfortable, and try to somehow mend years and years of racial disparity. Obviously I’ll never solve it, but a girl can dream, right?

on napkins…

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Two of my good friends and I went out to a mexican place for lunch today. The food was absolutely delicious. The nachos could’ve fed a small village, and the queso was perfect. Top all of that with home made tortilla chips….BLISS.

But the food wasn’t even the best part. My two friends, let’s call them Thing 1 and Thing 2, promptly placed their napkins on their laps as soon as we sat down. (Cue expression of surprise).

Now, I have nothing against people’s table manners here…Except that I do. I have everything against their table manners, because most people don’t have any. Plain and simple. And unfortunately, I’ve been caught up in the whole thing.

I peel shrimp with a fork and knife. I’m that person. As far as holding cutlery goes, I’ve never really understood why the majority holds a fork with their right hand, and keeps the knife out of the equation (unless it’s like, super resilient steak). I’ve seen people push food with their left hand onto their forks, instead of using a knife. Why…just why? Knifes were invented for a reason. To cut things….and help push them onto your fork. So you don’t have to look like a cave person pushing food with your hands. Right…?

When i was growing up, every time I held my fork with one hand and let the other rest on my lap, I got yelled at. Something along the lines of “Did you lose your arm in the war?”, “No…”, “Well then, hold your knife.”

Sadly enough, I’ve given in to some of this. Sometimes I don’t use my knife at all…And I’ve developed a tendency to consider almost everything finger food. Such is the life of an expat who’s been Americanized. (Sorry, mom).

My point is, thanks Thing 1 and Thing 2. You’ve reminded me I need to start prioritizing certain things again. Oh, and the company wasn’t so bad either.