Thursday, June 16, 2011

Fascinating Cultural Experience

Today I shared a remarkable experience with my Mabaan clinic co-workers.

Usually on Thursday afternoons we close the clinic and do some continuing education training for our Community Health Workers. Instead of our usual medical lecture today we decided to show them the inspirational movie, Gifted Hands. I was a little concerned before we started about how they would perceive the racial issues in the '60s and '70s but it turned out it was the public displays of affection that made them the most uncomfortable. I've never been more aware of how vastly different our cultures and world views are until today! Throughout the movie I was trying to understand how they would perceive it and also enjoying/but nervous about their thoughts of American culture.

If you haven't seen it, Gifted Hands is a lovely, wholesome, inspiring movie of a young African-American boy who has very humble beginnings but through hard work, the encouragement and strength of his God fearing mother, and prayer he becomes the leading pediatric neurosurgeon in the US.

Some of the awkward moments in the movie are 3-4 times when the young man briefly kisses his fiance in public. The Maaban watchers actually gasped the first time and then fidgeted with uncomfortable laughter. Let me help you understand where they are coming from. Mabaan husbands and wives do not sit together or even really talk to each other in public. If there is a need to go somewhere together they don't even walk side-by-side to get there. The man walks in the front with the woman usually about 10-15 feet behind him. When they arrive the man goes and sits with the other men and the woman goes and sits with the women. They do not speak or interact at all. They certainly wouldn't touch each other! The men make all the decisions, have all the control, can beat their wives for no reason, wouldn't ask a woman what she thinks, etc. Today my national friends saw the main character talking to, listening to, discussing his future together with his fiance and later as his wife, holding hands and sharing a brief kiss in 3 different scenes. Imagine the shock that is to them!

To be culturally sensitive on our missionary team are careful not to touch members of the opposite sex here except for shaking hands on greeting and touching during examinations when the medical work requires it. We try to avoid walking anywhere together if there is just one woman and one man going to that place. In church women sit on one side and men on the other. Men file out of the church at the end of the service and stand in a receiving line. When they are all out the women file out and stand further down the line. Usually when the hand-shaking receiving line is finished the men group up and talk and the women group up and talk. The only time the women and men mix during the fellowship after church is when we missionaries do it to talk to the men (the only Maaban who speak English are the men because they have opportunity for education that the women do not get).

For some of the viewers today (we included the Nutrition Program staff) it was their first time to watch a movie. They saw a different continent, a different culture, a different world view, definitely a different view of women. I'd love to know what they are all thinking....


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