31 December 2008
Posted by Mike at 10:21 AM
07 December 2008
Peace Corps Volunteers often find themselves torn between two worlds. Recently, Mike and I have experienced this on a number of different fronts. Economically, we are stuck somewhere between the first world and the third. We are not as rich as many Mauritanians think we are nor as poor as many Americans think we are. Culturally, we are living in a place where almost 100% of the population follows a different religion and yet, especially during December, we embrace many of our traditions from home. Linguistically, we speak broken French for accomplishing daily tasks, a few phrases of Hassaniya or Pulaar to greet and thank our friends, and English for communicating with other volunteers, each other, and those back home. Personally, we are building many new and exciting friendships as we also try to maintain relationships with friends and family in the U.S.
I'd have to say that, although difficult, having this perspective of living "somewhere in between" is part of the reason I joined the Peace Corps. It's one thing to say, "I can see your point of view" but until you understand your own point of view, how can you truly see it from anyone else's? Research on crossing cultures tells us that the most important task one can accomplish in living within another culture is to aknowledge one's own cultural biases. I definitely believe this to be true, and have already identified many assumptions I held that are not necessarily accurate.
One of the goals of Peace Corps is cultural exchange, both the sharing of our culture with Mauritanians, and the sharing of Mauritanian culture with Americans. I personally feel this goal is incredibly important, perhaps equally (if not more) important than the work and projects we do. I hope that my daily interactions with Mauritanians are challenging their current assumptions about Americans. I also would like to take this opportunity to encourage my friends and family back home to think about Mauritanians. As you sit down (on chairs) for Christmas dinner or finish up your holiday shopping, please take a moment to reflect on the differences in our economies, our cultures, our religions, and our languages. And despite all these differences, know that Mike and I have found loving and caring people who have befriended us and challenged us to see things in a different way. Alhamdulillah!
Posted by Katie at 9:18 AM