Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Same Same...but Different

Unfortunately, I haven’t had the time or electrical power to respond to any of the comments posted by you, dear readers. But I was able to at least read them occasionally, and today as I got my last glimpses of Africa I was thinking about Jill’s question – whether I find more similarities than differences among us.

While I have been here I have heard this uniquely African way of describing similar things: “same, same…but different.” One might hear this phrase from a server who delivers orange Fanta rather than coca-cola, for example. Or when you want to purchase an orange shirt and the shopkeeper offers a black shirt instead. If you protest in either of those instances, your protest is likely to be met with “same, same…but different.”

When I think about this cultural mosh pit in which I have been thrown for the past three weeks, I am more impressed by our similarities than our differences. Westerners and Africans have the same aspirations, the same goals, the same dreams. The real difference lies in our ability to achieve them, and the tools with which we are able to realize our full potential.

African mothers want a balanced diet for their children. They want medical care that is accessible, affordable, and adequate. They want their children to attend school. They want their children to grow into productive citizens. These are the same goals that American mothers have. But, sadly I think African mothers are faced with many more obstacles and far fewer tools.

Sometimes the similarities are more striking than the differences, like when I watched a boy cutting grass with a long stick with a machete roped to the end. Or when I saw a man walking his goats along the road one evening at dusk. He was calmly strolling behind them, with a rope drooping between him and the goats. It really made me laugh at how normal it seemed to me – it was almost as though my mind transposed a mental image of a man holding a dog leash and walking his dogs in the park at sunset.

But the differences are also marked. Today I was learning to make samosas from Harriet, Anneke’s housekeeper. Harriet was surprised that I paid my own way here, and that I came here to volunteer. She talked about how she dreams of travel, and when I asked her where she would like to go, she replied, “Rwanda- I have friends there.” For her travel is unattainable luxury. She remarked that my ticket probably cost five months of her salary; she’s probably right. It was another quiet moment in which I was reminded of the privileged life I live. In terms of privileges, I think we are different; in aspirations, in values, and perhaps most importantly in capabilities, I think we are much the same.

4 comments:

ArtCricket said...

How lucky you are to have experienced life and people in Africa to enhance your awareness of your good fortune and appreciation for it and to see that people around the world, for the most part, share the same goals and desires basic to all humanity. I have been most aware of my wealth and abundant life when living among those whose lives are so focused on getting basic needs met. I am moved by the joy they find in living, none the less, and their sense of hope. Too many Americans take for granted running water that is almost "free", dependable electricity any time we switch on a light or want to use the computer, advanced communications, the ability to visit with friends far and near with minimal planning and minimal thought as to the cost, not to mention abundant food, safe water, shelter and access to medical care. All Americans should go and live as much of the rest of the planet does, for a week or two, as a part of education about what it is to be a human being on this planet Earth and to discover what we can do to enrich and empower the poor and powerless, whether they live in our "backyard" or thousands of miles away. My love to you, dear girl, for living life with purpose and meaning beyond yourself. Safe travel and peace, J

Dos Blessed said...

So well put, my friend. May I have your permission to quote you as I train our teams before they travel abroad? Your insight is so valuable. When the girls were in the hospital with wires attached to nearly every patch of their transparent skin and doctors who cost $550 a day watching over them, I received a phone call. It was from our friend, Bruno, in Haiti. His nine year old daughter was hit while crossing the street and she suffered head trauma. The hospital would not accept her or perform surgery on her to release pressure from her brain until he came up with $500 to cover the surgery. He called in a panic and we quickly collected money and wired it to him. We sat on the phone crying with each other...two loving parents praying for life for their children with completely different avenues to make that possible. That realization haunts me every day. Thank you for making it real to all of us so a parent in Uganda may have the opportunity to experience life with her child. love you- vic

Vast Landscape of Them said...

Keep writing, Amy. You're good at it.

wanderlustjill said...

engrossing. insightful. the light is on.
burning glow. warmth. the filiment is hot.
the desire of knowledge is burning.
keep the lights on to guide us home, wise woman.