It’s a Cultural Exchange

Democratic societies are unfit for the publication of such thunderous revelations as I am in the habit of making. – Salvador Dali

For the two plus months I’ve lived in this town and worked in the wonderful office I do, I’ve spent most of my time soaking up the surrounding culture and keeping my thoughts almost entirely to myself. Not everyone has it as good as I do – I’m lucky enough to work with a team of educated, liberal-minded positive thinkers who are motivated and engaged in mobilizing people and actively making the district an HIV/AIDS free area. But even still, during large and small meetings I’m faced with the challenge of opening up and revealing my true thoughts. Do I give them a taste of my perspective, or, until learning who I’m really dealing with, keep my ideas hidden and my mouth shut? Knowing I’ll be here for two years I’ve been treading lightly on eggshells trying to keep from possibly offending a culture so very different from the strange one in my head. After all, I’m supposed to be the one with the culture shock – I don’t think giving them one is what they signed up for.

Today I made the decision it’s time to begin interjecting more of my Alexis-isms out there. Love me or hate me, I’m your Volunteer for two years. Though my silence was at first out of respect for embracing a culture I am still trying to understand,  today I actually went so far as to annoy someone I very much respect because it was noticed that I felt uneasy about speaking up. I even rounded off my uneasy statement with a timid, “well, then again I may not know what I’m talking about.”  A laughable, unlike-me statement that came about because I truly don’t know how some Batswana will respond to the suggestions and comments I have, and in this cultural context I honestly don’t often even know whether or not I know what I’m talking about. Rremogo*? What makes sense on my culture hat may not make sense across the table. I think many PCVs go through similar dilemmas.

Things have progressively improved though, and I’ve been paying attention to cues to take steps forward. When I first arrived I occasionally tested the waters in meetings only to receive collective blank looks and confused stares. So, naturally, I shut my face for a while. Just last Friday during a large meeting I finally spoke up to a group who received my comments positively. Part of it was due to having a connection with those in the room – most knew me already. The other reason was because the methods used for conducting the meeting seemed wholly inefficient, and I really felt my ideas would make things run more smoothly. And they did, so here I am, starting to dance on those eggshells. Day by day, they’ll receive more and more of the benefits of having me as their PCV. After today I can see now they are ready for me, and I think I’m finally ready for whatever response they give back.

* pronounced – Rremocho, meaning, are we on the same page?

One Response

  1. Never restrict your thoughts. You deserve to voice yours just as much as the next bloke.

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