My senior year of college I took an independent study course with one of my favorite professors, Professor Robinson, and a good buddy, Mike, who had also taken courses under Robinson. We were dissecting a WWII era German text, Dialectic of Enlightenment, which was trying to come to terms with Western culture’s obsessive drive towards pure knowledge. Do myth and the unknown always have to give way to assured knowledge, and how do we keep discussion open so the assured does not become the absolute. As we worked through the text I always felt a bit disappointed in myself as Mike consistently seemed able to go one layer deeper into the text than I could. It was like he was deep wreck diving while I was still snorkeling at the surface.
I often think of those sessions and feel glad for my time here in The Gambia. Facing some of the conflicts of Western society crashing into the rest of the world makes me feel like I am slowly, day by day, diving deeper. I am swimming towards the ship wreck by way of every day life.
Much of the move into the deep comes from a common experience to PCV life, the debates that we all have about how we should understand our role as cultural ambassadors and how our mission can coexist as a potential catalyst for cultural decline.
Our education group gathered in the capital for Christmas and of course there were many open discussions on our cultural role in The Gambia. There is a wide variety of thoughts and feelings on the subject and there are never clear cut answers. The variety of input is what makes the experience rich, and it creates our own dialectic within the small community here.
The variety is further expanded since, in my opinion, we all have multiple personalities: Who we were at home, who we are around other PCVs, who we are at site, and who we are becoming. Sorting through all these different people, I felt this was a good chance to introduce a few of the people who are playing a large role in my own development here. In doing so I hope to paint a better picture of our group as a whole, and perhaps to indirectly give some insight to how each of them are coping with the clash of cultures. (Note: Names have been changed for volunteer safety.)
Jane is an ICT volunteer who seems to do her best out of the classroom and interacting with the community. She has started a basketball team at her local middle school and the kids seem to love her for it. She is one of those people who has somehow maintained many of her Americanisms and truly brings cross cultural interaction. This has made her a popular figure in her community as well and she is the person who always seems to know where to go for all sorts of random things, she simply has made the right connections.
Tom is another ICT volunteer in the greater
David is a science teacher not too far away from me and has found that his school would better benefit from him as a English teacher. Not only is the school short of English teachers, but his take on education as a whole is that the children are not taught English well enough to succeed in their other classes. If you do not understand the English instruction, you’ll never understand your subjects whether they be Science, Social Studies, Math, or any other subject. He has taken a very practical mentality, and realizes that our role here is to help out wherever we can and as best we can, rather than stick to a specific job description.
I know this is a bit of a disjointed text, but it should be. In PCV life you are constantly analyzing a flood of information that seems to be crashing in from all directions. When we all gather it is a good chance to compare notes and try to find some sense in it all. The diversity of our group truly makes those discussions rich and productive. So as long as I am in the water, I might as well keep diving for that ship wreck, one day at a time.