“Because of our cultural conditioning, we not only think our actions are normal, the way everyone behaves; we also think what we do is right, the way everyone should behave. We therefore regard any behavior that is different from ours as wrong. Naturally, this puts cultural incidents into a whole new light.”
― Craig Storti, The Art of Crossing Cultures
Often time when people move towards a new cultural transition and later integration into a new community, they react to the new cultural setting differently. It is usually a smooth transition for some where every new cultural experience seems to be normal, or just another extension of their previous cultural setting. While for others like me, the road towards adapting to a new a culture and actually integrating into a new community is bumpy, and almost every new cultural experience seems a little strange.
But I think what Storti is conveying in the above quote is that it is unjust to just stop at branding those different cultural experiences as strange, abnormal or wrong. That, there is a different way to look at those challenging experiences, for instance, as something different but beautiful, and/or an opportunity of reflection and growth for a person who is living that new context. This is not to say it is very easy to recognize those beauty spots in a new cultural setting. That’s why I think to say that my past year with the Seed Program was absolutely amazing would be an over-statement or an absolute lie. I think there were both normal, strange, and struggling moments of adjusting to living and volunteering with MCC’s partners in Chocó as a result of being part of the Seed program in general.
I think one of the reasons I found it harder to easily integrate with my community in Chocó was my cultural identity as an African Ugandan woman working among people (predominantly Afro-Colombians)whose history I share, reckon with, while at same time different from my own – and yet I recognize deeply our collective struggle as a people that have been deeply oppressed by our different circumstances in the world.
My second struggle for transitioning and integrating into my community was finding common elements in our fellowship of Jesus Christ as the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit in Chocó. While I find myself to be a follower of Christ who is so passionate about issues or conditions that affect people inequitably in any given society, I found myself struggling to accompany an evangelical local church that rarely talks in public spaces about injustices, inequity, and the efforts to do something about it.
However, my critical analysis of my struggles does not in any way minimize the noble work of community transformation done by the Mennonite Brethren in Chocó. Or even negate me from recognizing the difficult context they are working in, such as, working in a context where their work is too often challenged by the presence of illegal armed groups, or insufficient resources needed to carry out their work effectively and efficiently.
Also, reflecting on my first year with the Seed Program causes me to think about the time when I decided to join the program. Many of us seeders started the Seed Program to be a part of something really beautiful. Indeed for me, I wanted to immerse myself with something totally new from my previous realities, to be open to this new reality, and possibly be vulnerable because I agree with Ms. Brene Brown that “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity” – I think looking at Ms. Brown’s redefinition of vulnerability captures much of my experiences of living and accompanying the Mennonite Brethren’s social and economic programs in Chocó. In as much as I have experienced challenges figuring out the church context in Chocó, the language barrier, and/or dealing with the reality of the existence of Afro- Colombians, I have also experienced tremendous love, a sense of belonging, joy, empathy, courage, and creativity in the past year.