We live in Mwanza, Tanzania, serving with Emmanuel International helping local churches in physical and spiritual ministry.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

What's the Difference?

I was talking with the head and one of the teachers at Aldermaston School and he brought up the fact that so often we focus on talking about the differences and fail to reflect on the similarities. When thinking about cultures, how does this affect the way we view one another across oceans and cultural barriers? How does this affect our understanding of our humanity?
We went to the Royal County of Berkshire Show on Saturday which is the British equivalent of Saba Saba (see the blog from July 8th), the annual agricultural fair. And throughout the day, we made comparisons! As we had demonstrated innovative fuel-efficient stoves in Powaga, others in Newbury were displaying new machines and methods. And yes, a part of me wished we had our jiko and haybox and I could jump in there and demonstrate efficient jiko cooking (it would be easier in English!) There were cooking demonstrations, goats and cows, snacks to eat and a main arena with events and music. The differences were in the size and scale of everything, from the event as a whole right down to individual animals (huge pigs!) and of course a posh smartness and organised professionalism that we don't see in Magozi!

Similar: An efficient stove display

Similar: A bread-making demonstration
It is very true that for us at the moment, trying to adapt to the “new” culture, we are so much more keenly aware of the cultural differences as we are so struck by them again and again! For example, over-generalising greatly, life here seems to revolve around the time and money of the individual. But time and money are of little consequence in Magozi. Here there seems to be a lack of time and a lot of money... or is that debt? (but at least a visible display of material wealth), while in Magozi there seems to be an abundance of time and obvious lack of material wealth. Different, indeed opposite, yet neither is good.
So yes, there are differences: the individual versus the community, priorities of time or money, diverse living conditions, styles and levels of education, the list could go on. Now where are the similarities. On an external level, the similarities may seem harder to find. Yes, education is important here as well as there, yes, we all enjoy a good meal and a good sleep! But deep down, there are similarities that can join us despite all the differences. Our means to live, our work to eat. Our relationship and communication with one another. Our need for one another is a similarity, although noting it just highlights another difference: acknowledging this basic similar need. In the West we can deny this need in our quests as individuals, yet it still remains a need. Our need for God, our search for hope. And here I am stuck by what truly joins us together with our friends in Magozi. Particularly those in the Church. We are family. We work with the same heart and mind for the same purpose. A love for God and our neighbour. 
Both the differences and the similarities can be postive and negative. But we need to look at both.  So while we can enjoy, appreciate and learn from our differences, likewise we can learn from and be encouraged noticing the similarities. Try it!

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