Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Culture Wars

I am fortunate to have the opportunity to work in Kenya.  I try to live by the aphorism "When in Rome, do as the Romans" and I want the people of this country to know that not all Americans are jerks.  But I'm left with the nagging question of cultural practices.

Most of the men that I work with are of the Luo tribe of Kenya.  Kenya has 42 distinct tribes, each with its own native language.  The Luo also have the reputation of being the most restrictive when it comes to women's rights, but fortunately they do not participate in FGM.

I come from a culture that values women as equals, even though the pay gap and the glass ceiling are alive and well.  At least we say we value women.

In Africa, there is much talk from men about how women need to be empowered, but little is actually done on the personal or national level to achieve this goal.

And so, as a guest in Kenya and as an American woman, how do I manage the situations when the two cultures clash?  If it is inconsequential to me, I let it pass.  Why bother rocking the boat?  But in doing that, am I implicitly accepting the cultural practices of these Luo men that I do find offensive.  And how about when I am faced with the choice of how to respond when a cultural practice I find repugnant is unavoidable?  Or what about when the practice is just plain stupid?

In my fantasy world, I'd like to think we could meet in the middle and take the best of both cultures and forge a compromise that leaves both sides feeling good about their culture.  But in the real world, I find that I am most often on the short end of the stick.

And what of others respecting my culture and its practices?  Am I to abandon my culture completely because I am a guest and want to be a polite guest?

Comments welcome.