March 03, 2011

...Discover, Re-learn

Moving to another country and attempting to assimilate yourself into the culture is a process in which all aspects of your "previous" life are put into perspective. All of a sudden you find yourself  within environments and situations completely unlike any you've seen before. Of course this is an expected occurrence to some degree, but many don´t realize that the process of integrating oneself to a foreign culture requires a re-learning some of the most basic habits and customs. Even the most seemingly common and simple tasks you've never given thought to need to be re-evaluated.
Think of all the daily occurrences which our responses become close to instinctual: pulling to the side of the road when an emergency vehicle has its siren on, stopping at a red light, stepping to the side if someone needs to get past you, waiting in line at the checkout, etc.  All these actions make perfect sense to us. They rarely require an explanation because we've watched things done all our lives. Oh and by the by, everything I listed above is considered pretty much optional here in the DR...
Even as we face new experiences in our own culture, we unconsciously evaluate it by using our own background, culture, and social norms as a measuring device. From this personal evaluation, we deduce whatwe know to be the appropriate response or reaction for the current circumstances. Its basic human nature, we rarely are aware of it. But when this involuntary thought process is done in a foreign country, the "measuring device" often fails to calculate the culturally correct answer. The result? Numerous mix-ups, constant confusion, and never ending awkward moments.   

 Let me tell you a little story: it was a Monday in which children were asked not to come to Mano a Mano in order for the teachers to go to each of the children's houses for a home visit. (oh, Kristen and I weren´t informed that no children would be coming that day until about 30 minutes AFTER we arrived and we finally asked someone what was going on.) So anyway, Kristen and I leave the Oratorio with three other teachers and make our way down the street. We came to a house, where a small group of people were gathered looking solemn. they seemed to be waiting outside the house for us, and parted as we passed them on our way to the front door. As this was our first stop, I assumed that this was simply just the way a typical home visit unfolded. I made my way up the walk, smiling happily at each person in turn, putting on my most friendly face. As I entered through the front door, i froze mid step, My heart dropped into my stomach and my facial expression changed in one of shock and horror. In the middle of the room, less than three feet from where I stood frozen, was a casket which held a young man.  Apparently I had arrived at a funeral the way someone arrives at a party. A little heads up would have been nice, but the teachers felt no need to explain because their own knowledge saw the situation and immediately recognized it as a funeral.  I left the house unable to look anyone in the eye. A few minutes later when I was able to speak again, I turned to Kristen. Her face displayed everything I felt. And even though it was a sad event, the way the circumstances unfolded requires the ability to be able to laugh at yourself. That's what gets you through.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent description of humanity Anni! It definitely serves as a reminder to not judge what we don't know or understand (even when we still think we know). Your funeral story seems like a very raw experience. Soak it all in! Miss you so much!