Friday, 4 September 2015

Hospitality and Independence

I was sitting by the rain water tank washing my clothes when a well meaning woman came up and told me that I should give them to her to wash for me. I’m not sure if she thought I was not doing a good enough job (I certainly don’t scrub as much as locals do), that the work was somehow beneath me or she was just being helpful, but my answer was a polite no. This is but one example of the times I’ve found myself seeking a balance between local hospitality and being independent.

I don’t really enjoy hand washing, but neither do I want to hand over everything for other people to do for me. When do I let someone to help me and when do I hold on to my independence and do it myself?

Another time I was walking through a muddy village and a lady insisted on holding me by the elbow the whole way. It is true that I may have slipped if she wasn’t there, but the chance was small. I felt that slipping over, although embarrassing and messy, was not the biggest deal, but to my friend it would have been a slight on her care for me. If I fell over, she would have been seen as a poor host. Recognising this, I let her guide me by the elbow, keeping her dignity intact, even if mine was a bit bruised by what felt like babying.

There are many things where I am glad that I can ask for help and that people are willing to help me. Drawing water from a well is something I’m yet to try, as I’m worried I’ll fall in. It is also something people are unwilling to let me try, as they have the same concern. They’d much rather draw water for me, than let me take that risk. This situation is a win for both of us.

I have enough trouble sitting in a small canoe,
let alone standing!
Being allowed to go out in a small canoe has been a contentious issue. Children here grow up in canoes, and many are in fact literally born in a canoe, as they did not get to the hospital in time. Their sense of balance is trained from birth and they are unlikely to tip the canoe. On the other hand, I have little experience with small round bottomed dugouts and am a liability to anyone else in the canoe. Often they are too small for me to sit right down in, so I have to crouch, making me less stable and raising my centre of gravity to make the whole thing less stable. People do not want to see me injured, so do not want to let me in a small canoe.

I on the other hand, would like to go out with the ladies sometimes, to check fishing nets or crab baskets. The first time I went with my village sister she got told off by numerous people afterwards. I spent a lot of time assuring them that I’d wanted to go, I’m not afraid of falling in and I know how to swim. They weren’t convinced. Thankfully it was a successful trip and I did not tip the canoe. This was not so much for my dignity or my sister’s standing in the community, but because there was a bumper catch in the fishing net and I would have been horrified to tip the canoe and lose everyone’s dinner!

The second time I went in the canoe I managed to fall in before we left the river bank. The news had made it around our village and down to the next one in about half an hour. Who needs the internet to spread news fast?!?! Wet, I got back into the canoe and we went to check the net. My village sister is pretty amazing for still letting me go with her, even though she knew she’d face disapproval from people later. The catch was not as good this time, but I felt more comfortable in the canoe and we made it back in one piece. As I was already wet, I then jumped in the river for a swim. This was both a nice way to cool off and proved to those watching… and those who heard the news later… that  I indeed know how to swim well.
Kids on their way to school by canoe

In my own world I am a competent, intelligent, independent adult. In the village I am a cared for guest who is still learning how to do the most basic things. Finding the balance of hospitality and independence is hard. I want to relate well with people and accept their generous care, but I also want to be able to be myself and not always have a baby sitter looking after me. I suspect it will be a long time before I find the way to balance these things.

No comments:

Post a Comment