Random Musings - August 17, 2002
How hot and humid was the rainy season? Well, when I got back to Taabo after being gone three weeks, all the wooden spoons in my kitchen cabinets were growing a layer of mold! No kidding!! (And yes, Mom, they were clean when I put them away.)
What I can hear right now (9:30am August 14)... a few sheep bleeting, lots of birds chirping, chickens clucking, the faint hum of my refrigerator, kids playing, two women chatting, a far off radio. What I don't hear...TV, traffic, airplanes, dogs barking, lawn mowers... those are the noises of home!
I said something about "spending the summer away" from Taabo to a man at work. I could tell from his blank look that something wasn't connecting. That's when I realized that people here don't use my traditional seasons - summer, spring, winter, fall - to track time. It seems so natural to me to think of the year that way, even here where those seasons don't exist. Here, I changed my sentence to say I spent the rainy season away, and he changed it to be "I spent the school vacation time away." Whatever it was, I was gone a long time!
You want a great example of how some things just don't translate culturally? A disposable camera. I was in the village where I work with the women's cooperative, and had brought a disposable camera for photos.
"What's that?" I explain. "And after using it once, you throw it away?" Yes. "You don't use it again?" (They think they aren't understanding my French.) No. That's it. "What's inside it?" "How much does it cost?" (More money than any of these people have in their pockets, that's for sure.) "Why not just buy a real camera?" "You mean you have to buy another one after 27 photos?"
Heads shake all around. I can tell they're thinking they'll never understand America. Given the situation, I'm inclined to agree.
It's hard to capture the community culture here. We Americans are mostly individualistic - we do what's best for ourselves and our families. People here face a lot more community pressure, to act properly and do what's expected of them by the larger group.
My neighbor just had her third baby, and the second is only 14 months old. I was talking to a woman who goes to church with my neighbor. The church friend said, "Give your neighbor some advice. Tell her that if she has another baby so fast, the rest of them women here are going to beat her."
She wasn't joking! I learned from that comment how strong the influence of the wider community is here, and how much pressure there is to conform to societal rules. It's a stronger influence than I thought. And, I did not deliver the message to my neighbor. As someone from an individualistic culture, I figure the spacing of my neighbor's children is not my business!