Vuvuzela & Cultural Distances

Watching the World Cup this past week has introduced me, along with many Americans, to the Vuvuzela.  This small, inexpensive piece of molded plastic is the deafening noisemaker quickly becoming the soundtrack in my mind for the World Cup experience.  The droning sound is the audio backdrop while announcers call the play-by-play as the world watches (and listens to) this exciting tournament.

As I watched the first USA match I was quickly annoyed by the sound, so I lit up a Google search to find out what the heck was up with that buzzing on my TV.  It was immediately clear that I was not the only one aware of the noise.  FIFA had considered banning the Vuvuzela but had opted not to because it is a large part of South Africa’s cultural engagement with soccer.  Fair enough, but I still find the sound annoying…just sayin’.

With the World Cup being played out in South Africa, this brings back memories of my trips to Johannesburg, South Africa and Lesotho with World Vision.  It was impossible for me to not fall in love with the people there.  They are absolutely beautiful.  I was thinking about the Vuvuzela and how I just don’t get it and that has sparked memories of a couple experiences we had in Africa.  These experiences really exposed how our different cultural backgrounds affect the way we perceive and approach an identical situation.

There were two similar occasions on our trips where we identified a real hardship within extremely poor communities.  Our teams quickly assessed the need and worked out excellent solutions for assistance…at least from our “logical” western perspective.  As we presented our plans to local humanitarian leaders, we were shocked to find that they strongly disagreed with our assessment, not of the need, but of the remedy.  They were grateful that we cared enough to help, but cautious to follow through with the aid only in ways that best served the culture and community.  I completely missed it.

From my enlightened and educated perch, I had observed adversity brought on by desperate conditions.  My ignorance was completely evident in my failure to consider what mattered deeply to the people I wanted to love and assist, their cultural perceptions and reality.  I’m very thankful for the lessons I learned and the people who gently guided me through these sensitive situations.  My tendency is still to rush into assessments and offer up solutions, but these experiences have helped me to find pause and work to consider things from another perspective.

So while I’m not really a fan of the incessant blowing of the Vuvuzela throughout the entire soccer match, I’m definitely cool with adapting and appreciating it for the celebration it is within the African culture.  It’s exciting to see the global community rally around this event and observe competition and kindness exemplified through sportsmanship.

At our house we’re screaming GO USA!!!