African Culture and the individual

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A few months ago my workmates asked to visit me….at my place. They wanted to know where I live etc. I found this request strange and in a moment of weakness I agreed. But then the pressure started weighing on me. First I do not like entertaining and whenever I want to meet groups of people I opt for meetings in restaurants.

Let them worry about the food and ambience; I only have to attend. Secondly, I am not a good entertainer, I prefer visitors who feel free, open the fridge, cook their own meal, find the wine and pour themselves some in a glass. I am not a hostess and I know it, I never pretend to be one. So one day later I am in bits and pieces about this visit by my workmates and I cancel it. To this day, they are still talking about the cancelled visit.

This past week, I was talking to my mentor and he mentioned a certain pastor who does not stay after church to socialize with congregants or invite people to his home. I sided with the pastor, why would I invite countless number of people to my private home?

Unless it is written in the job description of pastors to stay late and socialize, should they stay longer than usual? A pastor has a private life, and people should respect that but then I forget where I am and where I come from.

A week ago, my mom was visiting me and on a lazy Sunday afternoon we heard a knock on the door. My brother and family had turned up, unannounced. Brought the kids to see grandma. I was a little peeved. Why didn’t they call? Did they just assume I’d be home? What if I wasn’t in a mood to receive guests? But hey, how un-African of me. Family is family and they are always received! How dare I not receive them?

The African culture encourages visiting and receiving visitors. In fact I remember when growing up that people who did not like visitors or did not like visiting others were ostracized and became the main focus of attention when something wrong was perceived to be going on in the community.

This culture however does not give room to introverts and people who are generally socially awkward. If we are to believe our African culture, only people who are selected and used by a higher power were allowed to stay away from society, so as not to be blemished by society. However everyone else was expected to be a social being.

I am introvert who has learned to live in a social world. I talk to people, I attend social events and so on. However for most of the time, I prefer to be left alone. I have no problems spending the weekend alone in my house, reading a book, playing my guitar or watching something on my laptop.

In fact, after the workweek is over, I fully expect to be left alone. I only meet friends of pre-arranged meet-ups, I prefer not to do these impromptu weekend gatherings. In fact, I’d rather ride my bicycle or go to the gym than start thinking about meeting people.

For this reason, my workmates feel that I’m weird. I hardly if ever attend their weekend impromptu parties and if I had planned to do one thing, I hardly ever abandon it for another. Does that make me weird? Apparently it does

Western culture lays a lot of emphasis on privacy. There is something called personal space and we are encouraged to respect other people’s personal space. This means that you just don’t show up to a person’s house, if people decline to attend one of your events they do not have to explain themselves and people who prefer to be left alone are just left alone.

These notions collide with the African culture, which encourages social interactions. There are the down sides to the western culture ideals of privacy. When one is going through a hard time, it can really be lonely. In fact people have been discovered dead in their houses after weeks, others have disappeared without a trace and no one knows or even misses them. So in that sense one needs to constantly touch base with people.

I am struggling with a way to mix the two different views on life. On one hand I do not want to be forgotten, a statistic. I have my family though and I am sure they would look for me every now and then and ensure that I am ok. However, I really do prefer to be left alone unless I indicate that I am ready to socialize.

I write these thoughts as I think about how to integrate things I have learnt when living out in the West and how I can integrate them with my culture. I have had long arguments about why we should not completely discard what we learn from other cultures, because it does not necessarily mean that it had to take over our own cultures.

We can have a richer culture for future generations if we remember to keep aspects of our culture but also merge with new cultures that we experience. You are welcome to contribute to the topic. I am curious what others think.

Vera has a Masters in Global Policy Studies and has completed the RGK Center of Nonprofit Studies Portfolio Program. She completed her undergraduate studies in International Studies at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas. Vera is passionate about Africa and hopes to work there someday.

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