Human Relationships | (one of) Africa’s Gifts to the World

In response to David Letterman’s recent “Good to see you!”, actor and celebrity guest, Harrison Ford, replied “It’s nice to be seen!”

Spot on, Harrison!  It is extremely nice and empowering when one’s individual and distinctive humanity is recognized, acknowledged and affirmed!

Regrettably, and to societies’ detriment, during our hectic and all-consuming day-to-day lives this priceless gift of affirming words – “It’s so good to see you!” – is seldom shared among family members, friends, work colleagues, classmates and neighbors.

Can you relate at all to ever feeling invisible, insignificant, non-essential, de-friended, yesterday’s life of the party?

insignificant

Conversely, can you remember ever feeling moments in time and place and among faces where your person and presence generated smiles, warm feelings, and positive energy/excitement?

I can.

I have no basis for the following opinion other than length of life spent in Africa, plus years’ exposure to transient (mostly) North Americans in Africa on either mission trips, cultural immersion studies abroad, et cetera, yet a major enticement/allure of Africa – apart from the customary animals and “safari thing” – seems to be the manner and extent to which Africa’s people (and cultures) graciously help its’ visitors feel individually valued, irreplaceable and welcome.

It’s as if Africa’s popularity as a tourist destination reflects the West and Westerners’ search for self-identity and meaningful life purpose.

Perhaps this is what one African meant in part, when he redefined centuries’-old Western perceptions of Africa and Africans as “primitive.” He said, “When I think of (Africa’s) primitive, I think of purity.”

Zulu speaking people greet one another with “Sawubona,” which translates “I see you.”  A typical reply is “Yebo, sawubona!” – “Yes, I see you (too)!”

I generalize and simplify to make my point, but there’s a strong argument to be made that many homegrown, even international acts of violence and terror are individual or groups’ desperate, last-ditch effort to garner self or collective recognition (for someone to say “I see you! You’re important!”) and communicate their abject frustration with existing social, political or economic realities.

The eldest Chechen brother and Boston terrorist, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, is purported to have shared with a photo journalist, “I don’t have a single American friend, I don’t understand them.”

You may think to yourself, “If he didn’t have a single friend, then it’s his own fault!”  You might be right. Or –

As a Texas-born U.S. citizen, who grew up in East Africa, subsequently worked in southern Africa for 15 years, and relocated back to Texas in 2010, I can tell you first-hand how difficult it is to make meaningful friendships (beyond the veneer of social discourse – sports, etc.) in the fast-paced, achievement and accolade oriented, individualistic and consumerist U.S. society.

This is not to say Americans are unfriendly, or that America’s distinctives are non-exemplary.

Southerners, in particular, are known for their gregariousness, their chattiness with any and everybody.  Chattiness, however, does not often or always a real friend make.  In fact, it’s been my experience that chattiness frequently shields people from revealing or exposing their inner hurt and struggle-laden vulnerable humanity.

As a hyphenated identity, one shaped by North American and African continents, I’ve frequently voiced to friends and colleagues that one of Africa’s principal exports or gifts to the world should be its relational and community ethos, known in South Africa by the term “ubuntu” (*I leave it to you to Google the term’s variety of meanings).

ubuntu

Former anti-apartheid activist, Steve Biko, is purported to have said, “We believe that in the long run the special contribution to the world by Africa will be in the field of human relationship.  The great powers of the world may have done wonders in giving the world an industrial and military look, but the great gift still has to come from Africa – giving the world a human face.”

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under Culture and Africa, Perspective

3 responses to “Human Relationships | (one of) Africa’s Gifts to the World

  1. Pingback: “Faces of Africa” | Corporate Skirts

  2. Alison Sher

    Hi Scott,
    I love that Zulu greeting – it really expresses that profound truth, of seeing and being seen,
    Alison

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s