30 May 2011

Cultural Bumps

I have seen quite a number of international people leaving rural Africa, quite a number preterm. After a extensive period of investing and giving it all, they are often depleted, disheartened, or even cynical. Also I have seen the rural community query international people, wary of motives, highlighting misunderstandings, and resenting interference. These are all hurts due to cultural divides.

It is not a pretty picture.. In rural Africa, foreigners are still mythical creatures, considered equal to having money. People from wealthy countries – and, remarkably, nationals from major towns, arriving in private vehicle - are considered as having unlimited resources, and consequently approached as such. Explanations of resource limitations fail to register. Possibly, only local persons living long term and close with such mythical people might dare to attest to certain levels of resource limitations.

On the other hand, international people often have little knowledge of the local environment, or even the country. Communication is difficult due to language barriers. Further there is a gaping divide in levels of experience making evenly matched dialogue practically impossible. Also, international people in rural Africa are limited in their abilities to extend relationships to the middle class, mostly living in cities, whom possibly address identical contingencies.

Due to the cultural divide, local and not-local people are hampered to interpret answers received on questions from each other. Knowledge of social codes and structures are imperfect, and understanding of the context, within which 'who communicates what', 'how does communication takes place', and 'why does communication takes place' is limited. Therefore assessment of answers is heavily challenged and underlying reasoning is often validated only after a long time of observation.

Frequent resource sharing requests by local people lead to mutual frustration, with international people not recognizing communal inclusion offers, and local people not recognizing the others' intend. Of course, the local environment is pervasive, and people from outside face the issue how to assimilate or risk emotional depletion and separation.