Culture Clash

Today’s entry was written by guest editor, Gary:

For me this whole Peace Corps experience is about experiencing a new culture.  I do want to do some good but have been in the field too long to have any illusions about doing good.  I have always believed that random acts of kindness probably do more for an individual’s day than trying to “help” them in some way.  Random acts can be dramatic and huge,  by the way.  Anyway,  my motivating reason for being here is to experience a new culture, one that I have to live and not just window shop.  Sorry to shatter the illusion of those of you who thought I was truly altruistic.

There are many differences in my culture and the general one in Botswana.  I say mine because as I try to describe America to my students and co-teachers I find it impossible because the cultures are so diverse depending on so many things.  We really are a unique country.

Every day here there is something new, most of them small and not at all hard to accept, just different.  We went to a funeral  sitting which is seven days of sitting in the yard praying and talking to each other.  Official prayers in the morning and evening and people just drop by and add their well wishes.  My school head’s (principal) father died and we went with a group of the teachers to her home village to pay our respect.    After the prayers (read dramatic, in your face and very loud prayer)  one person tried to translate for us but the pastor said no because it would interrupt his flow and he was absolutely right. It was all in the presentation and we didn’t need  the translation to get the message.  The singing is all a cappella, somebody starts and others follow and the starter usually continues to do one thing and the others slightly different.  I am sure there is a name for that but I have no idea.  Soooooo  gooooooood.   That is all a bit different than in “my” culture although I know we have that in the USA.   Plus they sing for every occasion and although I can’t swear to it I think it all is in perfect harmony.  Absolutely amazing.   After the prayers all the men go sit together and get served tea and talk just outside the courtyard.  All the women sit together inside and get served tea together as well.  However, I was told that it is not always done like that In other parts of the country sometimes they intermingle.  So again not really very different.  I could go on for pages detailing all the little differences like the tea came with milk in it and the sugar was passed and I didn’t see anybody take less than two heaping tablespoons

The only big one that I can’t reconcile yet is the state of accomplishments.  I am not sure how to title it but supposedly this is a culture that is community centered and America is individual centered.  I get that to a certain extent.  Things move very slowly here. We asked for a replacement gas bottle for our stove and it took 7 weeks and we only got it then because somebody donated it rather than have it continue to go through the “process”.  Go to a meeting and you almost always have to wait for up to an hour and often for  2-3 people to show up.  This is normal and totally ok and is expected and accepted.  Clearly it drives the Americans up the wall.

The culture is not about the time but about the event and if it happens tomorrow that is just as good as today.  So this is good, the accepting and being relaxed part as it almost makes your stress disappear but not much gets done and that definitely causes stress for us Americans and probably for a lot of Batswana who actually had hoped to accomplish something or that their gas had gone out and they couldn’t cook dinner.  (Oh the electricity probably went out as well and it had been 6 days since the water was on)  Overall this is one of the cultural practices that most do not want to change.  I think they see it as defining them although they complain about many things that the inefficiency causes such as lack of water, although of course none of the problems that  abound are that easy.

There are multiple causes and just like in our own country it’s the Republican’s fault, no wait that’s the Democrats or now just in general it is really all due to the Muslims.  There are several cultural practices that most people think should be changed; domestic violence, gender equality, less concurrent sexual practices and other things mostly related to health and moral beliefs.  Just as in the US we all think that too but it still goes on and at a higher rate than here for the most part.

Back to my clash though.  I want to push and tell people that they have to be on time and to get off their butts and get the job done and at the same time I do believe that we, as Americans, are way too concerned with getting the job done.  The ex-president of Uruguay commented on materialism and talked about not thinking about the money one spends but the time it took to make that money and see if perhaps that new TV is too expensive.

Our culture is aware that we overwork to the detriment of spending time with our families but we keep going full steam ahead and just regret it when it’s too late.  There is something to being more relaxed than we are and to have the ability to accept the situations as they are and not constantly battle everything.

Change the things we can, accept the ones we can’t and have the wisdom to know the difference.  This has been put in a new light for me and I find it difficult to be able to know what to push to change and what to accept since it is no longer about just what is important to me but to an entire people with a different value system.   Even though, at this point, I would really push for a little more water, at least once a week,  but so would the Batswana if they could.

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3 thoughts on “Culture Clash

  1. Gary, I really appreciated your post. Quite honestly, I was able to relate more to a person really interested in other cultures rather than the total self less humanitarians that I actually perceive you both to be. Your post made me think about the great importance I place on productivity in my life….what am I sacrificing for it? I will continue to think about this and continue to work on mellowing out. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Enjoy experiencing the cultural differences.


  2. Thanks, Gary, and I still think you are (at least somewhat) altruistic! 🙂 I think experiencing a culture very different from one’s own not only helps you broaden your worldview, but also allows you to look at your own culture with fresh eyes. What an amazing time you are having!


  3. Masego a Keresemose, guys! We’d send you coolth, but it keeps leaking out of the box. Totally understand about culture. Just finished “Dark Star Safari” by Paul Theroux. Picture of African culture and ours is pretty stark. He doesn’t seem to positive about where much of what he saw is headed, or of the impact of NGOs. Anyway, ngwaga o mosha and stay healthy and happy.


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