One of my favorite parts about working in South Africa is taking tea. Nearly everyday at 10:30 Victoria (a Harvard grad student interning with me) and I head down one flight of stairs from our cozy library office to the kitchen where we prepare ourselves a cup of tea, coffee, or soup (apparently it’s a lot more popular here than in America). Then we join everyone else taking tea in the break room. This is probably my favorite part of the day, although walking through the Company’s Gardens certainly makes for steep competition, because it gets me out of my secluded office and offers the opportunity to talk with locals.
During tea the vibe contrasts sharply with what I am used to last summer when I was an intern with a local health department in Michigan. Breaks always felt rushed and I felt guilty if I took a little longer than was allotted. Here, as with most things I have encountered in South Africa, the attitude is more relaxed. We take our time sharing stories, which without fail always turn to comparisons between the States and South Africa, and actually take a break from work. I also appreciate the openness of the staff at the South African Museum. I’m sure this doesn’t apply to the entire country, but when we chat over tea tricky subjects like political and museum controversies can be discussed without one side dominating or silencing the others.
Tea is also where I am trying to pick up some of the South African slang words. Just the other day I learned how to express disgust. We were discussing taxidermy, since most of the people I have tea with work with vertebrates, and the topic of the rat exhibition popped up. Long story short, there are different ways to prepare animals and some anti-hunting groups oppose the Disneyification of animals, but when they see rats prepared differently they say “sies.” Pronounced the same way as “sis” this translates to English as “yuck.”
I know that when I get back to America and fall back into my routines I won’t make time for relaxed tea anymore, but I like to think that I have at least learned something from these daily gatherings. It’s okay to fill my days from start to finish back home; I don’t think I would be able to handle having free time to be honest. But I need to take time here and there to kick back and refresh. Taking time to enjoy the company of others is rejuvenating and energizes you to be productive and I know there are certainly times when that is exactly the kickstart I need for a project back home.