Embarrassment : A Cultural Incident.
After weeks of bonding with the same patients and we had arrived at common ground. We danced together. We taught each other songs and prayed together. I would laugh at the way they would mimic my mysterious english words and they would cackle and fall to the floor as I tried to learn congolese dances and speak in their mother tongues. We had come to know each other although we could not understand each other on a linguistic level there was a trust and a deep recognition of compassion and love from both sides. When there is trust and those initial walls break down you begin to really see the cultural differences and learn a lot about each other…. maybe more than I expected.
One day whilst working on the ward I was preparing some medication and then it happened; my cultural incident.
The mammas had been discussing something about the nurses, they would occasionally look at us and smile. They were analysing something. Then one of the older Mammas approached me from behind and grabbed my breasts!! She quickly squeezed them and then ran away laughing like a little girl. The whole ward fell apart laughing including one slightly embarrassed Nurse. I called a translator who found the whole experience very funny. He got to the bottom of the matter once the laughter dyed down and informed me that all the mammas were desperate to know what our breasts felt like. She said that our white breasts point a different direction and she didn’t understand why. We entered into a nice chat about bras and the fact that none of the white nurses working at that time had children and so hadn’t breast fed. This was also very funny to them as we are all old enough to have had many children. What followed was an comical few days on the ward where if you got too close to the mammas they would aspire to follow the first mammas example and fuel their own curiosity. I learnt a lesson in trust. I learnt that if you are willing to whole heartedly integrate and trust someone from a completely different culture you have to expect to be surprised, prepare for the odd red face and be willing to laugh and to learn together.
A little embarrassment won’t hurt anyone…