Saturday, September 3, 2011

Cultural Differences

I lit Shabbat candles in the girl’s dorm on Friday evening. Most of the other volunteers understood what I did and I didn’t encounter any questions except “when are you lighting the candles?” I and another volunteer, Rahul , were pulled aside for private discussions regarding our respective religions (he being Hindu and myself Jewish). We had both specified dietary restrictions and in a mostly Catholic country,  people’s sphere of world religions are limited to Christian denominations. The term “Evangelistas” seems to encompass everyone who isn’t catholic.
So I have some concerns about cultural differences living here. One of the main causes of stress during service is supposed to be integrating into a new culture. Some of the differences I’m worried about are:
The “machismo” attitude… men are better, women shouldn’t do things outside the house, it’s typical and acceptable (not considered offensive) to make catcalls and whistles, ect to women walking down the street. In many homes there is a serving order at meal time: the husband/father, then male children, then young women and last, the mother.
After using the bathroom, toilet paper is thrown in TRASH, in a covered trash can beside the toilet. I don’t need to go into more explanation about the problem with sanitation and smell. Apparently, the sewer system here can’t handle the extra solid waste of paper, so even in fancy restaurants in capital city,  you can’t flush your dirty toilet paper.
There doesn’t seem to be hot water anywhere in the country and man do I hate the sensation of having cold water dumped on me!
The whole volume level here is higher- the music is loud, people talk loud and kids make noise (and there can be a lot of kids) and everyone watches their televisions with the volume on high. Houses tend to be small and maybe walls aren’t floor-ceiling, so the noise can be a really problem for a lot of volunteers. Lucky for me, I grew up in a cramped house with a lot of people and tons of noise. Besides, we definitely get our own room with a lock.
Possibly the hardest cultural adjustment for me will be the attitude towards animals. Because Nica is still a very poor and undeveloped country, food is scarce and the attitude towards animals in general is that they are just animals. Work animals on a farm will probably be treated better because they are necessary for livelihood.  However on the way to my town, we passed a lot of really skinny dogs and skinny horses and cows. I’m talking about ribs showing.  We even saw a man walking across the street dragging a dead dog by a rope.  This is going to be hard for me.

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