– by Keith McCarthy and Colleen Conway
There is a fine line between the existence of cultural norms and the view of inequality from an outsider looking-in. One might consider the differentiation of treatment between the sexes in Zambia as a sign of inequality, whereas traditionalists see it as careful respect of one another. However, one quite clear difference which we experienced was the attitude of the local Zambians towards our all-white Irish group. Nevertheless, we were consistently treated in a very positive and welcoming manner, which we felt blessed to find. Since our departure from Lusaka Airport to our short stop at the Community House, followed by a three-day stay at the farm and a return to the village, we SERVE volunteers have been overwhelmed by the hospitality of the people of this country.
Everywhere we go we have been greeted with open arms (literally), shaking of hands and people shouting our names. Indeed there have been times where we have considered this might be how celebrities live day-to-day. As student teachers we have witnessed pupils curtsying before us and as consumers the opportunity of skipping the line and services opening just for us, if we so wished. But it does make us wonder why should we be granted with such privileges while other loyal customers do not receive the same. It is possible that such treatment could be easily abused by white immigrants to Zambia if they wish to do so. One particular episode which stands out in our minds was the formation of a mob of children who followed us around at the school sports day. While we found it most flattering and most comical as they shouted ‘Mazooga Mazooga’ [white person] in their local language, we couldn’t help but feel slightly intimidated. As such, this has opened our eyes to the experience of other minority ethnic groups as they are exposed to racial stereotypes in Ireland. Someone’s exterior should never be an excuse for differentiation of treatment.
Returning to the subject of inequality between men and women in Zambia, there does appear to be a general consensus that women are the lesser sex. This was evidenced in the Youth Leadership Training programme as the topic in question was someone you would consider an inspiration. One response made was that ‘Oprah is a man in a woman’s body’. Likewise the issue of domestic violence is still undermined as a personal matter in the home. However it is easy for us to impose our own opinions and social expectations on our experiences of this trip. Therefore we must take all of the positive aspects of it in our stride and continue to build upon our cultural knowledge.