The opinions expressed in this blog are mine, and mine alone. They do not represent the views of the Peace Corps or the United States Government.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Bystander Intervention

On September 13th Botswana welcomed its new batch of trainees, aptly named Bots 13, who will hopefully all become volunteers after two months of training.  Like I did, they will spend that time in Kanye learning Setswana (or other local languages depending on their sites) and generally trying to figure out how to be a volunteer.  Most training sessions are co-facilitated by staff and volunteers.

On the 25th, Karla (a Bots 11) and I are talking with the trainees about how communication styles differ between Americans and Batswana.  Karla made a list of her observations, such as:

  • Americans are more direct, whereas Batswana can say "yes" meaning that they agree, heard what you said and are not agreeing nor disagreeing, or disagree and are too polite to say so;
  • Americans make eye contact and consider it impolite when others do not do so, whereas Batswana think eye contact is not polite especially when speaking to an elder;
  • Americans are usually expressive in our emotions, showing how we feel, whereas Batswana are less likely to show emotion and seem much more subdued;
  • Americans are usually more assertive than Batswana and are oftentimes perceived as aggressive or angry because of it;
  • Americans tend to be uncomfortable in silences, whereas sitting in silence with people around you is normal in Botswana;
  • Americans generally feel much more urgency about getting something done, whereas Batswana do not respect time as much, nor feel rushed to do things;
  • Americans use curse words MUCH more than Batswana.

But today, I realized something as well.  I have spent much of my service trying to de-stress, become more Zen and lessen feelings of urgency in my life as they relate to everyday experience.  I have noticed these changes in myself.  Finding peace and balance in one's life is a goal worth striving for, but I realized that the feelings of stress and urgency are so important.  Batswana do feel stress, for sure.  And not everyone is the same.  But I have observed that stress here is rarely converted into constructive action.  It doesn't push one to get things done more quickly or efficiently.

On this blog, I have rarely expressed thanks for my more "American" qualities, especially the ability to be stressed.  Yet, I am thankful...grateful, really, that stress propels me to action rather than paralysis.  The other day, it was really windy in Shoshong.  A big tree with spikes ended up blowing down into my hair and right arm.  Not only did it hurt, but I was also afraid it wouldn't let me go without someone's help.  Two women were walking about 20 yards away.  I called out to them.  To be honest, I was screaming--not at them, but just in general.  And I yelled out, "Ke kopa thuso," I am asking for help.  They slowly walked toward me, didn't change the pace of their step nor express any concern.  Before they arrived, I managed to pull myself out of the tree.  I was fine--just some strands of hair gone and some pinpricks of blood on my arm.

I didn't feel upset that the women did not come more quickly to assist me.  I have found that bystander intervention is not very strong here in general.  And I am not the only volunteer to experience this.

We have nerves and feelings for a reason.  When we begin to feel stressed or nervous about something, it often signals to us that it is important.  What if the nurses in the hospital emergency rooms in the states never felt any sense of urgency?  Troubling thought.

I welcome the momentary stress that comes with a crisis.  I will run to help you because I care.  And I have glad that I have the ability to have that kind of emotional response.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting to think about different cultures and their reaction to stress. I've been feeling less stress these days with long walks to the ocean in the sunshine. I know that if someone called out to me, I would be running. Just the way I am. I appreciate your observations of Batswana and their reactions.