Just riding the train between Heildburg and Paris. I am taking the time to visit a few European based friends on the way home. I felt like it would be good to write and share a few thoughts on transisitioning between two (or three or more) cultures.
Let's start with some basics :)
The train is quite different to Gambian transport, clean, quiet, comfortable, reliable and apologetic (thy just apologized for a 7 min delay).
However, perhaps the most glaring difference was the price. (Over 100 euros - yikes, I was not expecting that!) it was a mistake not making my booking so far enough in advance. Left with no practical choice and bartering (my initial instinct) was out of the question so I simply handed over credit card and pay. (The train was leaving in 10mins)
The fact that everything is 10 to 100 times expensive is just a small piece of the puzzle.
Another key difference here is the amount of choice. Food, clothes, services, kitchen supplies, building materials, pretty much everything you can name there is so much choice it can be overwhelming. When you get a coffee their are 10-20 different kinds and 3 sizes. This can be overwhelming after coming from a place with only two breads (see earlier post) and one brand of instant coffee.
Complexity would be the next difference - buying my train ticket was an technological marvel. Very different from getting in a car at Barra or Serekunda to ride up country. The systems that support getting people to places on time and keep these people 'in-line' are complex - no one person understands all there is to know.
In Gambia there is typically one top person who is setting the conditions and price. If you have friends, family or if you are kind enough pretty much anything can go.
In the west, the rules and prices are systems that are compiled across huge networks; researched, scrutinized based of cost analysts and user data - information is made available and shared through the web and interactive machines that can translate displays in 3-12 languages. In addition maps, symbols and graphics help further guide the user even then help is often required to understand all that is going on. (As my case today)
It is also important to note the rules more often than not don't bend. (I just saw an elderly man get a severe fine for not processing his ticket which he purchased )
Distance between people is another striking reality - people are apart and love separation. Neighbours often don't know each other - and it doesn't bother them it is normal or perhaps even polite.
In many cases people put as much distance between themselves as possible. People are always engaged in something focused on being productive working (much like I am doing right now)., sleeping (a productive act) or entertaining themselves with an activity. I have not greeted or talked to anyone aside for the person who stamped my ticket - the man beside me reads a book, the women in front is writing emails, the men in front are fast asleep and the woman and child are playing video games. (Interestingly enough the women and child are from a different culture and have the volume up - people are visibly annoyed including myself as I can hear it above my headphones and there is only so much repetitive steel drum calypso I can take - apparently my is somewhere around 40mins)
However, the adjustment I find that has the most significant impact on me is advertising and marketing. The subtle yet powerful appeal to fulfill your inner most desires through products, services or other means. Momentary or lasting comfort, happiness, sexual gratification and belonging (and perhaps other) are promises (often true but empty) are fluanted.
I know this also exists in the Gambia (I can see its effects on the people there - fancy headdresses, skin bleaches, flashy cheaply made electronics, miracle 'weight gain' pills (yes you read that right, weight gain) and the migrant criss - (smugglers sell an incredibly desirable service ) but in Gambian the limited level of sophistication and cultural target dilute its effects on me.
Here the prevalence, intelligence and relevant targeting make it a powerful predator of your thoughts and emotions, particularly after being away from it for a few months.
It is not just billboards, radios and TVs. Everything is made to look appealing store displays, buildings, musical, wrappers, clothes, social media and community landscapes. Someone has thought and acted on just about everything. Town centres and malls are a spectacle of desire. Not that all of these are evils but hooks and snares abound and it is hard to know friend and foe (sometimes they are one and the same)
Deep inside my emotions oscillate wildly anywhere between a welcome full embrace (nice to be back in the land of efficient service, functional design and predictable quality/experience) to falling into the trap of lustful self seeking desires to an outright violent rejection (disgust, sorrow and shame) often resulting in a physical knot in my stomach or pain in my chest.
All said, getting between the two worlds is an intensive boot camp mentally, emotionally and physically. With out doubt all cultural worlds are places of both beautiful God given humanity and devilish inhumane brokenness - each display these realities in unique patterns.
Where all this thinking brings me too in the acknowledgment that I often wrestle to find the presence of the gospel in the experience of transisitioning between two culture.
How does it apply in worlds - each seem to have their own priorities?
Can it be completely compatible and continuous in both worlds?
Are there different truths and gospel messages for different people?
Which type of civilization does it ultimately draw us too?
It does not take long to interpret the Bible in a way that marginalizes and dehumanizes cultures. (Or to justify the same type of acts). In each place we teach and understand the gospel through the lense of the culture. Is God and his character or way so fickle?
With these lenses stumble down the path of life. Is there a way to remove the lenses?
I don't feel like I have good answers to this experience of colliding worlds even after so many journeys. I am equipped only with a few nuggets of wisdom, a gift of faith and a handful of coping strategies that fills in the holes.
In the end I choose to believe the recorded events and life of Jesus Christ or Nazareth (and the supporting cannon). What I have read and come to understand is the only thing that I believe can possibly bridge the gaps between all worlds and cultures. I don't fully understand how and often I wrestle and fight to hold to this believe but what else can I turn to? It is the only place I see hope that can sustain myself and has room for everyone else - in is a hope for all people in all situations.
Lord have mercy teach and lead me in your way - my heart, mind and soul need your rest. Fill me with faith hope and love for the journies ahead.
Aside for posting the link to my best of photo collection, this will most likely be my last post for a while. Thanks for reading along. I hope you found it interesting, amusing and encouraging. If you want to chat about any of the posts or anything else related to the trip (or life in general) drop me a line I would glad to hear from you and discuss further.
Peace and joy.