Ok, so here’s the thing. Cross cultural stuff is hard. And rewarding, and frustrating and fulfilling and confusing and awesome. But six months here, and I’m still confused (I know, I know… it’s not that long!). I feel like I make so many mistakes sometimes… and other times I don’t even KNOW if I’m making mistakes. People are so gracious – sometimes I’ll ask if something is appropriate or the way things are done or whatever if I’m not sure, and they’ll always say it’s fine, no, there’s not problem… but I’m not sure I always believe them! And then there are times I know I’ve goofed, and don’t really know how to make it right.
Take today, for example. One period I was in class seven helping them with math. The next period I was supposed to be in class eight for their weekly literature period (I read each class a story every week!). But the bell rang, and the teacher was still teaching. And teaching. And teaching. Ok, fine, I guess he’s taking the next period, too? It’s mine, but whatever. I was supposed to go to class eight and he was supposed to go to class seven. He stayed there, so I started something else with class seven – more maths help and a small tutorial. There were fifteen minutes left in the period when the teacher finished his lesson with the eights and came to begin the lesson with the sevens, but by this time I was already in the middle of something with a few of them. I had to stop with the sevens so he could give his lesson (in fifteen minutes?!?), but by that time it was too late to read to the eights, so they were all disappointed and didn’t really understand why I wouldn’t come read with them. Gah!
Now, this teacher’s not bad – not at all. I’m sure had I come to the door at the bell, he would have stopped the lesson and let me in, but I heard he was still teaching, so I stayed with the sevens till he was done. Sometimes a lesson goes an extra minute or two… no problem! But when he kept teaching and kept teaching, I just started my own thing.
I was, however, disappointed to miss my one period a week with the class eights. It keeps getting pushed out for various (valid) reasons. So I wanted to talk to the teacher about it. But how?
Western culture values time – keeping time, watching the clock, not wasting or using a person’s time. Think about how you’d feel if a meeting went an hour later than scheduled, for example. You’d be annoyed! It didn’t end on time, you have other things to do, this person is taking up your time! Not so in Africa. It’s the relationship that takes precedence over the time. You have a million things to do today and you’re just about to run out to the store, but someone drops by for a visit. You drop everything, make a pot of chai, and have a visit. No fidgeting cause of all the things you have to do. No hurrying the conversation along so they can go and you can get on with your work. This whole sticking to the clock thing is a very western value.
BUT… in a school, we have to keep to the clock, otherwise we can’t run our schedule. It’s kind of an in-between place. Yes, he ran over time. But it was a much bigger deal to me than it was to him, so I can’t really go get all mad at him, cause we see the situation from different perspectives.
Also, our Western culture values going directly to a person who we have a problem with and sorting it out. Be up front. Deal with the issue face to face. But, I think, in African societies, saving face is much more valued. Maybe if you have an argument with someone, you don’t go right to them, but rather you find a mediator who will be the go-between until an agreement and resolution is reached. Now, I’m not sure if this is specific to Rendille culture, but it may be a general thing. So I’m not sure how to talk to the teacher. Do I go right to him? In what context? How do I approach is as a woman to a man? How much do I make of the time thing?
I probably will just let this go, cause it was one time, and it’s not really that big of a deal, but with everything I do, there are always these questions that I wrestle with. I want to do things the “right” way, but often I don’t know what that right way IS! And I have a feeling more often than not I’m a big ol’ Western steamroller.
Ah, how thankful I am for this:
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5. Ooooh, send your wisdom, God!
Of course, there are SO many GOOD things about cross cultural work, too. I’m so grateful for the chance to see how life works in a totally different way – I think we in the West have a lot to learn from the Rendille, and from Africans in general. Community. A non-crazed, non-frantically busy lifestyle. Relationships. Work ethic. Faith. It’s not that life is simple here. In some ways it is, but it’s still life - incredibly complex, as it is anywhere. It’s just… different. I certainly have learned FAR more than I have taught (which is a good thing, by the way!). It’s just a wonderfully difficult road to walk.
What can I say? I love this crazy tragic, sometimes magic, awful beautiful Northern Kenyan life!