Archive | September, 2011

Unconscious intelligence

26 Sep

>We just got back from the Masai Mara National Park. We were lucky enough to be there during the great migration when thousands of animals come from the Serengeti park in Tanzania to graze in Kenya. The name Masai Mara means a Masai river. And Masai is a name of the tribe living there. We had a chance to visit their village and to see their traditional pastoral way of life.

What is unique about the Masais is that they are one of the few tribes that have not changed their traditional way of life. They have the same traditions they have had for centuries and while some of them might seem illogical and even funny to us at first sight, they have allowed them to survive until now.

Here are some examples:

Jumping competitions and polygamy.
Masai men often engage in jumping competitions. They do so for two main reasons. Firstly, if there is a pretty girl, more men get together and the one who is able to jump the highest, gets to marry the lady. That is of course providing he has enough cows to give as a dowry (10 cows is a standard). Secondly, if you are a really good jumper and can jump more then approximately 80cm you can pay only 7 cows instead of 10. If you have lot of cows or you are a good jumper you can have more wifes, usually up to five.

Houses with no chimneys
When entering a Masai house, the first impression is that there is almost no light inside and the second one is the heavy smoke that hits you as you go further inside. This is because there is a fireplace in the middle of the hut and only one small window on the side wall, there is no chimney.

When we were discussing these observations with rest of our party over dinner, some people found them illogical and funny indeed. But myself and our friend Klaus from Germany actually appreciated that there must be a reason why they are behaving in this way. Klaus called it the unconscious intelligence.

If you able to jump high, it means you are healthy and physically fit; e.i. you have good genes. If you have lot of cows, you are able to feed your family. It therefore makes sense for such man to have more wifes and kids then man who is weak and will not be able to secure his family (I am not advocating polygamy here, just trying to find logics behind local customs. Also remember, that there is no welfare state in Africa). As for the house, it is able to withstand long periods of heavy rain without any leakage despite being made from wooden branches, grass and cow manure.

I would be the last person to speak against progress and innovation and this article is not meant to defend the traditional ways of doing things. It is to remind us that everything is happening in a certain way for a reason and before trying to change it, we should understand what that reason is. Having understood it, we will be in a better position to judge if there is a better way of doing things and in determining what that way is.

Listening long enough

26 Sep

>One of my first blog posts was about the importance of listening with a genuine desire to understand what the other person is trying to tell you. I now had follow up conversation on this with my friend Freddie from Uganda.

The key take away is that when deciding for how long we should be listening to others before proceeding to giving our point of view there are two key questions to answer.

The first one is how much time should I take to listen to others in order to fully understand what they are saying. This is quite an obvious one. The second one is less obvious and I honestly have not thought about it before. It is how much time should I take to listen to the other person so that he/she gets an impression that I have listened long enough. Sometimes we think (correctly or not) that we got what the other person is saying but he/she might be thinking that we could not have understood it yet. Then we need to listen for a bit longer otherwise the person will think that we do not care about what he/she is saying and will disregard our comments. This is very cultural but especially in Africa it is from my experience a very useful concept to consider and apply.

On being a teacher

26 Sep

>Freddie, my friend from Uganda told me a great thing when we were at the Kenyan coast together. We were a group of 10 people from various countries and were having some great discussions. Some of them got quite fast paced as we were very passionate about the topics. And then Freddie, who was listening to us for a while, came to me and told me about the benefits of being like a teacher.

A teacher has an audience of kids that all learn things at a different pace. She has to be patient and take the time to explain the topic to all kinds otherwise part of the class will not be able to participate and will not be able to do what the teacher is asking them to do. It is the same with travelling across different cultures. You have to understand that not all people get things as quickly as you and you have to adjust your pace.

Taking time often results in getting a better answer. Be it because of a language barrier, lack of knowledge of the particular topic or simply an inability to think critically (from my experience the type of education one received has a huge influence on this) people often get stressed and just say yes or are unable to respond. Take your time and you will get a better answer.

Respecting the rules

26 Sep

>I am now in Nairobi, a great and vibrant city, but one of it’s nicknames is Nairoberry (my backpack with a camera got stolen already). Yesterday, I had a great chat about the security situation here with one friend who has been here for 12 weeks already. She told me that it is a very safe place if you do not break the rules.

In the main header of my blog I wrote that life is game and that it has it’s rules. My stay in Nairobi is a game as well and I broke one of it’s rules. I put the backpack next to my chair instead of having it on my lap while eating out. It was not the Kenyan’s who broke a rule by stealing my backpack it was me breaking a rule that you never keep your things out of sight here.

It is a very simple and powerful idea that can be applied to anything. Always get to know the local rules and be willing to follow them. The final takeaway is that the locals never break rules. It is their game and as a visitor, you have to play it. If you break any rule, you might get punished. In which case it is not the local people being bad or treating you unfairly, it is you breaking a local rule.

Here are some other rules I have Iearned here so far:
- look confident and that you know what you are doing
- walk fast on the streets, focused on where you are going and do not look people in the eyes (unless you want to speak to them in which case do so all the time)
- always bargain and offer either a bit less than what it usually costs or one third of what they quote you. Do not be afraid to walk away from an offer
- take time to ask questions, speak slowly. Do not ask yes/no questions because answer to those will always be Yes, ok, no problem…