a few thoughts on cultural differences

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Sometimes cultural differences are so beyond our own paradigm that we think they’re absurd, dangerous, fascinating, amazing or just downright hilarious. I’m in a place right now where I’m trying to see cultural differences as just that…differences. I hope that I can stay open and humble enough to not always assume that my culture is the best or right culture. I’m not going to  lie; it’s not always easy, especially when it comes to pregnancy, birth, and medical practices. I can honestly say that no matter what other thoughts pop into my head about certain cultural practices, I’m always fascinated by the differences, though often I don’t fully understand them. 

Pregnancy and birth are events in life that we all view through the lenses of our own culture. Sometimes I wonder how something so common, something that is in and a part of every culture, can be so different.
We have a young, first-time mom here at the maternity center right now. She’s not actually in labor, so her stay has been a long one. When she came, a few days ago, she brought her
Yvonite's mom waiting to kick a dog
mother with her. Since there isn’t much happening on the labor front, I’ve had some time to get to know her mom. She fascinates me!  She’s what Haitians would call “moun andeyĆ²” (a country person).  She’s 60 years old and gave birth to six children, at home.  (As a side note: a cultural difference, when asking a woman how many children she has had, it wouldn’t be rude to ask her how many of them are still living.) When Tara asked her, she said, “They are all living. It’s true.”  She seemed almost as amazed as we were. It’s really unusual for “moun andeyĆ²” to have six living children who were all born at home. As sad as it is, that is a reality in a culture of poverty. 
After finding out Yvonite’s mother had six children, at home, in a Haiti village, I wanted to hear more details of her births. She had already informed us that it took almost six days of laboring before she gave birth to her first child. Last night, our nurse, Nirva and I were sitting on the front porch and as the sun was setting, she told us about the whole six days of labor. There wasn’t one detail of what she said that didn’t surprise me. I’m not going to tell her whole story here, because much of it was too shockingly disturbing for the cultural lens through which most of us view birth.  I did learn if labor is taking too long, perhaps a natural form of Pitocin can be made from a tea of little HOT peppers and ginger and given to the laboring mom to drink.  If that doesn’t work and labor is still progressing slowly after four days, it would be appropriate to gather all the women in the community, find a dog, give it a bath, and let each woman give it a good kick. Since her daughter (not actually in labor) seems to be taking her time, I’m thinking we may need to remove the dogs from the maternity center unless Grandma wants to get in trouble for kicking Heartline Mastiffs. 

At the end of last week, we had a mom who needed to be transported to a hospital up the mountain. She wasn’t in labor and the situation wasn’t emergent. It was dark by the time Beth M. and I started, slowly, up the winding mountain road. Beth and I were chatting and the mom was sitting in the back seat with her sister. All of the sudden I heard a sound like running water. I didn’t turn around to see exactly what was happening as I thought, “She must be peeing in one of the basins we keep in here for that very purpose.” Before the running water sound stopped, I had a second thought, “I didn’t see one of those basins when we got into the ambulance.”  I pulled out my flash flight, turned around, and shined the light on the floor. Sure enough, there was no basin. Just a river of urine on the floor. I said to Beth, “She just peed on the floor.”  To which she responded, in a shocked tone, “She peed on our floor?! What? Are you sure?”  I couldn’t help it…I burst out laughing. It was all very entertaining. It was so normal for her to pop a squat and pee on the ambulance floor like ya do in a place where there are very few toilets. I asked her to let us know if she needed to pee again and we’d stop for her. I said, “Sorry. Peeing on the car floor isn’t a system we’re used to.”  She smiled and I’m sure thought something along the lines of, only crazy Americans want to stop, in the dark, on these mountain roads to pee! 

I realize there are probably things in every culture that are wrong and things that are right. The more I’m exposed to the ins and outs of this culture, a culture I’ll never fully understand, the more I hope I can really see people for who they are and not for who they appear to be through the lens of their culture. 
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