Monday, August 06, 2007

Busy Tweaking Prayer Guide Text

One or two more days of writing and editing with the group and then we are off to Greece. Have to finish the goodbyes, pack, clean the house. People are doing well, but there are still some depths and complications to probe, it sounds like.

I haven't heard as many stories or seen as much of life here as I had hoped, but more of this will come out during debriefing. My main prayer is that the lessons God has for these guys will be solidified and driven deeper into their lives.

Yesterday S. and I spent the whole afternoon with a local family, just hanging out, eating and drinking, and trying to communicate every now and again through English and German. The woman's mother, sister, and sister-in-law stopped by after a while as well. The three kids were in and out, often sent out to pick up something from the store including the kebabs that were the main course of our impromptu, complete - and delicious - meal.

The oldest girl, 13, last week finished her summer course of study in the Qu'ran, and the family had gone to her end-of-term 'recital' (literally a recital, I am sure).

Folks here seem to be more 'Muslim' in some ways than I expected (though less in others) and there are quite a few mosques around. Fighting jetlag, I fell back asleep the other day just after the morning call to prayer from the one closest to where we are staying.


Your father in Everett said...

I've been reading When Corporations Rule the World by David Korten (Bainbridge Island). He speaks of the globalization of culture -- that the globalization of international trade is forcing ocal cultures into retreat as international corporate-driven influences of consumption come into play. What would you estimate is the influence of 'globalization' in the cultures you have studied? Any guess as to the average percentage in influence?

Marti Smith said...

This is something I think about a lot... it's often my job to teach research teams how to explore modernization, urbanization, and secularization - and today we could add globalization - as well as the backlash of traditionalization, fundamentalism, and nationalism that are often just as strong.

Sometimes I feel guiltily responsible for the ways cultures are adversely affected by things I associate with America and the West - the things you might call globalization. I've come to realize, though, that choosing to get a satellite dish, a cellular phone, an email account, a miniskirt, and English-language skills, say - these are decisions individuals, families, and peer groups make. I wouldn't blame the devil for all the bad things that happen (as if human choice played no part), and in the same way I can't blame America, or globalization, for all pressures on traditional societies.

Cities, peoples, cultures - they change. That's how it has always been. To retreat into old-fashioned anthropologist values that would idealize the noble savage or try to keep traditional cultures 'pure' is a cop-out, unconstructive; it doesn't help anybody.

And yet. The conspiracy theories are not all wrong. Big money from corporations, international trade, public policies - are hurting those who cannot stand up for themselves, and we should not sit by passively and watch it happen!

Even though they (vulnerable members of suffering communities and those who ought to be looking out for them) might.

It's ironic, perhaps, the role that the American can-do attitude can play both in destroying and protecting those with less wealth, power, and confidence. We believe in change; moreover, we believe we can change things. Many of the world's people do not like that.

Some of the values I grew up with as an American - individualism, independence, freedom, self-expression - clash with the values I see in more traditional cultures. I feel the tension on a personal level at times and do not know what to do with it. Who could argue that hospitality is a bad thing, for example, but this is less appealing: "You must keep drinking tea! You must be my guest! I won't allow you to leave the house without a fight! Please, spend the night! Sit here in front of the television while I disappear into the kitchen to cook up more food that you could ever eat, just to show you how hospitable I am!"

And something in me objects to what I see in the lives of so many young people I've met the world over as their traditional family and community values play out. I often think of these statements I heard from members of one culture in Central Asia: "It's a pity, we are a holy tribe. I must marry one of my cousins." "It is the duty of the youngest son to live with and support his parents as long as they live." "I would like to study, but my parents say it is unnecessary." "You must do what the eldest says, because the eldest does not see wrong."

There's been a significant overlap between my 'career' as a cultural researcher these last dozen or so years and the dissemination of what we call globalization. I don't know how much of a handle I have on this beyond the anecdotal, 'here's how it is for THESE people' level. But both through my own work and what I've heard from others I've seen that some of these things don't go as deep into the hearts of people and communities as you might think.

You can watch a lot of TV and not know much of what's going on outside your small world; you can have a mobile phone and never build a social network much bigger or looser than your parents and grandparents had; you can move to the big city and still think and live much like your ancestors have for generations; you can get 12 years of schooling and not acquire the skills and habits of independent, creative thinking.

Good, bad, neutral? Who's to say? I tell our researchers: find out what THEY think about changes. What do they hope for, what do they fear, what are the symbols that someone is doing well or that someone is going down the wrong path? It may not be what you think. It's our job to lay down our outsider's perspective to the extent that we can, to seek the insider's point of view and learn from that.

Some friends of mine are completing work on a movie about the Yanamamo people of Venezuela. I haven't read the script and don't know how it will turn out, message-wise, but the key Yanamamo leader who asked our filmmakers to come in and tell the story did it partly because he's so upset at what anthropologists and others have said about his people over the decades in misguided efforts to see the tribal way of life continue. He thinks they have got it wrong. It's one thing to protect aboriginal people and their way of life, another to keep them from choosing for themselves which way they will go by denying them access to health care, education, technology, etc. Which is what has happened, often. .. See

Marti Smith said...

Oops: I left out a key word in paragraph 6 in the comment above:

"We believe in change; moreover, we believe we can change things. Many of the world's people do not THINK like that."