Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Major Paradigm Shift

So by public bus the journey from Kampala to Mbarara (the next really big town to the west) would be at least four hours. The bus was full, very full. The young mother sitting next to me had one child strapped to her chest and the other on her lap. I was feeling sorry for Mary when I realized how cramped and uncomfortable she must have been. I had a couple of protein bars, a candy bar and two packets of M&M's (with peanuts!). My favorite. As the bus rolled through the crowded street of Kampala I ripped open the M&M's and offered a few to my young traveling companion with the kids. To my surprise she didn't eat them right away but tucked them away for a future snack. The protein bar she ate half and saved half. Another life lesson here of how very different life in Uganda was form that of life back in the states.

I was recently in a lecture where the speaker made the point that Americans have a extreme paternalist view of the world. Because of our ethnocentric view of other cultures everything is viewed from the lens of our cultural experience. This, of course means that we can not see, appreciate, or understand some of the benefits, particularities and values of other societies. If everything is through our rose colored lens everything comes out looking rosy.  

The instructor asked for volunteers to share with the group some odd experiences they had had overseas. Some were hilarious. For example taking the tram in Turkey one person mentioned their relaxed approach natural body aromas. When you lift your arm to hold onto the train handle the air was ripe with underarm odors. This was also my experience on our long bus trip to the west. Another example I had on the bus was  the young mother sitting next to me having a perfectly fine conversation when she causally stated beast feeding her little one. No self conscientiousness, just part of the natural cycle of life. Did I mention no lines. We Americans are so conditioned from grade school to form these perfectly straight lines and wait your turn. Not in Africa. Lines are kind of a group suggestion. It's all about relationships. If you see a friend at the front of the line you just walk to the front and start a conversation.

So much to learn, so much to adjust to. Our view that our "western cultural ways" are superior creates a condescending attitude where we look down on everyone else and cultures we don't understand.