Written Date: Sunday, 19 July 2015
Posted Date: Sunday, 19 July 2015
Having been on site for a month, and in Namibia just over three months, I’ve come to understand this most recent life transition as simultaneously a great adventure and as a “life as usual” continuation of the previous 65 years of my experiences. The differences between Namibian culture and the cultural expectations built up from my own lifetime are sometimes very subtle, sometimes non-existent, and sometimes blatantly obvious. Often, even usually, they can provide an easily and unconsciously accepted excuse to not take the trouble to understand what’s going on, or even to see what’s there instead of perceiving what is actually there. It is so easy to simply say “it’s a cultural thing.” There are some of those, of course, and I’ll mention them off and on as I write these blogs. I hope to stay focused on “The Experience” in its raw form, and not classify it. Anticipate a number of failures on my part in fulfilling that intent.
I tend to be wordy, so let me see if I can succinctly capture the thought behind the previous paragraph:
“People are fundamentally alike wherever they are. If we can connect with those similarities, and also accept the cultural actions that make us communicate with them differently, we have some chance of integrating into the community and expanding our perceptions.” That’s pretty much it – but I also stand by the first paragraph. I could go on, and already have (lol).
Since arriving, my attention has been on getting inside of this most recent experience and I let my communications activities outside of Namibia slip. The frequency of postings to this blog has not been as satisfying to me as hoped for, and I’m betting the same is true for a number of my friends. I would ask you to consider the same attitude I’ve come to accept: sometimes I have to be with an experience and not attempt to translate it. Frankly I think (until now) it’s been helpful to not try and sort it all out into words and simply be with the day to day thoughts and experiences. That doesn’t do you, the reader, much good but there it is.
Increasingly over the past couple of weeks I’m shifting that to the equally valuable need to put things into words. Never having adapted writing as an avocation, let alone a vocation, it’s not a natural thing for me to sit down and just write. Frankly it’s also a little frightening. “Putting it out there” creates the opportunity for rejection, negative criticism, no reactions at all (which feels like the worst to me), and all those other scary reactions. I have to laugh as I write this, as true as it is, since it comes from the same guy/author who deliberately took up acting as a way to take more risks with facing the world borne of an intense desire to connect with people. Ah, such is the paradox of attempting to live an aware life. I hate it when that happens.
An increasing appreciation for true friends is becoming more and more a part of my daily life, here. I have made friends in my USA life that live within me moment to moment, every day here on my own in Africa. It is an amazing thing to my particular personality that these friends will “forgive” my communications absences and still be around when I show up, or respond to their reaching out. It may be hard for some of you who have a close family and life history of developing and nurturing friendships to really get the degree to which you are a treasured part of my expanding life. I am immensely grateful for the warmth of my dock community in Sausalito, the enduring personal relationships developed in Marina del Rey and the Los Angeles area, the sporadic contact with persistent friendships from Dallas when I was a young man, and the often neglected friendships and acquaintances made in the decades between Dallas and Namibia. There is a sense of sorrow about lost opportunities in the latter case. I suppose there is value in both: moving on in life while staying in touch with a few friends, and in settling with a community and valuing their physical presence for an entire lifetime (ie: not moving).
Occasionally, but with regularity, I am approached by someone here in Namibia to give them money. The belief that people from America (and from Western Europe) are rich is prevalent and very fundamental, here. I can argue persuasively, and accurately, that I’m only “getting by” (not too badly) in the United States. But the truth of the matter is that, compared to the vast majority of the people here in Namibia/Africa, I am enormously wealthy. I’m talking about money, not just in the inner wealth so easily attributed to the concept of wealth by people involved in personal growth and “new age” appreciations. A high bar in terms of economic wealth is so taken for granted by the majority of people in the USA that it is a completely different world than is experienced here. Even people in the USA who are “low income” (not all, some) would have a hard time relating to the standard of living here. With the income disparity in Namibia being one of the worst in the world, I have seen, and experienced, the fact that opportunity to improve their lot in life for the majority of the people here simply does not exist as a practical reality. Sure, there are always a few people that do manage to “break out”, but they are the rare exception (as they are anywhere). And forgive my presumption for a moment, but those of you who feel that is BS, that people can always move ahead if they really want to, simply do not know what many folks in the world live with day to day. That judgmental evaluation of opportunity for all (if they only really wanted to do something about it) comes from lack of education of what is very, very real for many people. What I’m trying to convey is that the NORM here is serious poverty – so much so that it doesn’t even seem like poverty to those people living in it. All of us, myself included, have extreme difficulty really seeing outside of our experiential filters. That doesn’t mean our view is true, or even valid. It only means it’s our view. And the view of people here is limited, and it’s impacted their fundamental understanding of their possibilities in life for many, many generations.
That subject seems like, and in some ways is, a detour from the focus of this post. But not really. Learning how to be in a completely different culture is absorbing, the subtleties are easily overlooked, and the changes in my perceptions and attitudes are easily missed because they come slowly. I have found it difficult to continue to understand, to change myself, and to adapt when faced with a need to put into words forces and observations that I barely perceive or understand to begin with. For some reason, that is changing also. I hope to put up more posts and take more risks. Let’s just say I am beginning to understand why a Returning Peace Corp Volunteer finds the re-integration into the USA culture even more stressful than adapting to their new posting when first starting a Peace Corps assignment.
Predictably, contact from my friends in the USA have also decreased undoubtedly because while I respond almost always, I’m not pushing from this end. Life can so get in the way and cause friendships to dissipate. It gets lonely here, particularly for a personality that craves attachment as I do. Real friendships will (and are) developing here in Namibia, but it will take some time.