Just wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, happy belated Hanukah, happy New Year and happy every other holiday that falls in this general time period.
It is strange being here for Christmas in the summertime. I went to one of the four small stores in Opuwo today in search of cookie cutters (unfortunately none are to be found in this desolate town) and was quite surprised by the contrast I encountered there. There I was, sweating out of every pore in my body, listening to the song “Let it Snow” play on the intercom.
One thing being out here has taught me is how much culture and upbringing influence our worldviews. I just cannot fathom that it is Christmas season in the sweltering summer heat. I mean, the town’s grocery store has signs proclaiming “Summer Christmas specials.” Seriously? How crazy is that?
The other day I had lunch at a Spanish friend’s house (she works for an NGO out here). She, her Canadian boyfriend and I were all talking about the ways we celebrate Christmas back home. We laughed over the seeming idiocy of each other’s festivities and it made me realize just how nearly impossible it is shake-off or disregard the importance of our cultural upbringings and how much they influence the way we live our lives and look at the world. If such a simple thing like Christmas celebrations is so deeply ingrained in our minds as a result of our upbringings, how much more so are things like gender norms, parenting styles, social welfare, the value of education, etc? Can these perceptions really be changed?
Here, the other volunteers and I have constant discussions about how to improve Namibian’s lifestyles without significantly altering their cultures. Per example, how can we get the Himbas to bathe without changing their cultural hygienic preferences of using herbs and mud? And should we even try to do that or should we leave them be? There never seems to be an easy answer to these questions…on the one hand is the belief that changing people’s cultures is unethical and on the other is the argument that without change, their lives cannot improve and may even be at risk.
I have yet to come up with an answer to this dilemma and I rather doubt that I ever will. This process of development is an extremely delicate and difficult one!