Jul 7, 2010

Through different eyes

Over the weekend, I sat down with a friend to discuss culture. She’s currently taking a summer course, and one of her project assignments is to interview someone from a culture different from her own and discuss similarities and differences. Fun stuff! It was like lunch time in the cafeteria during my first year of uni all over again. No, not really, this was serious stuff. I couldn’t pretend to be non-English speaking orphan being sponsored by American missionaries. J

Anyway getting back on track, Amanda raised an interesting point when we were done talking. She was struck by the fact that I didn’t use our time as an opportunity to gripe and point out all the negative things about American culture but instead struck a balance. Now the cynics will probably say I’ve assimilated into the American culture and have lost part of my African-ness. But I look at it differently, bear with me.

There are still parts of American culture that continue to baffle me, and this is due in part to where and how I was raised, my life experiences thus far, and my own personal code of conduct. I just can’t get away from that.

I think my objectivity is driven by my personal situation. I’m a foreigner, yes, but I am not a tourist. I willingly live and work here (for the time being), and as a consequence encounter the good and bad of living here. That’s just life. 

If I were merely “visiting” as a tourist or short-term missionary working with inner-city youth or the homeless, my impressions would likely be very different. Does this differ from the young American and European youngsters we dread to see traipsing around Zambia with their Birkenstocks and backpacks? We know many of them aren’t there are tourists or as long term residents; many are there on short stints to build orphanages and churches, hand out clothes to street kids, etc. Is it any wonder they go back home with tales of misery and woe? “I saw so much poverty. Those poor Africans have so little.

So, how do we change these perceptions? I don’t deny the truth as it exists – yes, there is poverty and suffering, but it’s not the entire story. How do I get someone that just left Zambia to talk about the wonderful time he/she had sipping Mosi while watching the sun set in Siavonga or the vivid beauty of the Umutomboko ceremony?

I’ll probably learn from a friend who recently introduced a study abroad course at the university with which she is affiliated. These students get to learn about Zambia (specifically about media) in the classroom and in the field when they travel to the country. What better way to show a different side to our country and introduce a different narrative?

Another way would be to organise a tour group. What’s to stop any of one of us from organising such a trip? We can’t wait for the tourism board to come up with such ideas. And besides I hear changes are coming to the Zambian embassy in DC, so the visa process should be less cumbersome. J

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