Archive for the ‘African Culture’ Category

“Taxi Whores”

November 12, 2012

 

I live in North Africa.  Sometimes foreigners and expats assume that only they are getting taken advantage of by taxi drivers.  It’s always reassuring when we find out that the locals get ripped-off, too.  (Misery loves company!)

My local-country citizen, North African friend, who lives in another part of our country, recently arrived in my city by train.  He asked me, “How much does it cost to get a taxi from the new train station to the main square?”

I told him he had to be careful of the taxis which park right next to the train station, as they wait there to charge rip-off fares to everyone.  I told him if he could walk about two blocks, he could find taxis at the normal fare.  Unfortunately, he had too much luggage to do that.

Being a local North African citizen in his own country, he was able to get a taxi at only double the normal fare, although the taxis do get away with charging five times the normal fare to foreigners.  Instead of driving around looking for fares, those taxis find it easier to sit in a line all day, and just make up for the lack of fares by charging only one very expensive fare!  It’s a bit like prostitutes who are unwilling to work for normal wages at a normal job, and charge a high price for a few hours of work.

My friend replied, “Taxi whores! hahaha”

So I’m afraid I can’t take credit for this clever name…..

–Lynne Diligent

N.B — There are many honest taxi drivers; it’s just sometimes hard to find them when you need them!

“Know Your Enemy”

October 19, 2012

“Those Peace Corps workers are spies in our country!”

As an American living in the Middle East for twenty years, I am amazed each time I hear this.  Whenever I ask, “Why would you think that?”  I never receive a clear, satisfactory, or understandable answer–but now,  I finally have.

A North African friend explained to me that the saying, “Know your enemy!” is extremely popular throughout Arab culture in the Middle East. He said that most ordinary citizens in the street view the American government as an enemy, (regardless of whether their own governments are allies with the United States).  This is both because of America’s seeming “unconditional” support for Israel, and because the United States has been involved in wars in the Middle East, or in seeming support of previous dictators in the region.

Therefore, when  Peace Corps volunteers come to the Middle East, people wonder, “Why would anyone leave their own rich countries, in order to come and live in a very poor lifestyle, among us, saying they want to help us?”

Many Middle Easterners, especially those who are poor and living in rural areas,  just don’t understand the idea of volunteer work. (1)  (They are judging foreigners by their own standards, since they would not go to help others who were not part of their own family/religious group, or from whom they did not “want” something in return–such as information, or a natural resource.)  They just don’t trust anyone; in general, Middle Eastern societies are low in trust of others.  Their recent experience of colonialism increases their distrust.

When I point out, “What possible interest would the American government have in the life of your little mountain village?”  I usually get vague and confusing answers that make no sense to me (being a Westerner).  But now I have received an understandable answer.  My local friend told me, ” They think America is studying every aspect of how they live and think in order to better know their enemy.”

What a sad case of two ships passing in the night, in terms of cultural misunderstanding!

Just to set the record straight, Peace Corps workers are NOT spies, never have been, and never will be.  While they have apparently been ASKED on a couple of occasions (Bolivia and Cuba), read the link to see that they refused, and that this is NOT government policy.  However, when I pointed this out to my friend, she asked me, “OK, these volunteers refused to spy, but how on earth would we be sure EVERY Peace Corps volunteer would refuse to spy?”  At least now, I understand where they are coming from.

–Lynne Diligent

(1)  06-EuroMedJeunesse-Etude_MOROCCO.pdf  (p. 7, 8, 17, 23)

Different Interpretations of Rude Behavior–Intercultural Miscommunication!

June 14, 2012

(Google photo)

Some parents in our upper-middle-class Middle-Eastern school come in to see teachers and make demands such as, “I want my child moved up to the front row today, and I want him to stay right there for the entire school year!”  When a teacher tries to explain that they have to consider and balance the needs of all the children in the classroom, these parents sometimes reply,  “YOU don’t tell OUR children what to do; we tell YOU what to do, because WE pay your salary by bringing our children to your school!”  How does a teacher even respond to a parent with ideas like this?

As a foreign teacher, each time I had a strange encounter like this with a  haughty and disdainful parent, I wondered about this strange behavior toward teachers and administrative staff.  Whenever one of these encounters took place, I would ask my Middle Eastern assistant why these parents would behave this way.  I was always told, “They behave that way because they are rich.”  It still wasn’t clear to me what being rich would have to do with rude and imperious behavior.  So when I asked how the two things were linked, I always got the response, “They think they can behave that way because they have money.”  This didn’t clarify matters, either.  It was especially not clear since I knew plenty of other people who had even more money and did not behave in that sort of manner at all.

Aisha Gaddafi Libya

Typical “look” of the type of parent who “talks down” to teachers in the Middle East.

I understood my assistant’s words, but still did not understand the behavior, or what his words actually meant.  Ten years later, I believe I now understand–it’s not really about money, but about status.  In every country, many people try to follow and copy what they perceive the rich people doing.

Coco Chanel

For example, let us look briefly at the fashion of suntanning, in Europe and the United States.  In the 1800s, women used to stay out of the sun and even carry a parasol to keep the sun from falling on their skin.  Prior to 1900, those with tanned skin were presumed to be low-class common laborers.  In the 1920s, this perception began to change.

Coco Chanel

When Coco Channel returned from the French Riviera with a suntan, having a suntan (particularly in winter) became associated with having the time and money to vacation in warm places.  By the 1940s, sunbathing and suntans were popular everywhere.

In the Western United States in the 1960s and 1970s, students took great care while skiing to never use suntan cream (in order to purposely come back from skiing with a tan or a sunburn), and to leave the ski-lift tickets attached to one’s jacket all season.   Both of these actions raised one’s status, showing that he or she was someone able to afford to go skiing (an expensive sport).  From the 1960s onward (the age of jet travel) a suntan in winter demonstrated that one was part of the leisure class, able to afford to jet off to a warm destination in winter.

Other countries have other ways of indicating that one is a member of the wealthy, or leisure class.   In some Middle Eastern countries (such as Syria, among others), there is a special system which confers the ultimate status.  The most important people carry special cards in their wallets which place them above the powers of law enforcement officials.  Only members of the most important families are able to obtain this card, and so, are free to act without any repercussions.

Joan Collins playing the haughty and domineering Alexis Carrington on Dynasty.

Therefore, some people in the Middle East (especially the newly rich) perceive that what it means to “act like an upper-class person” is to act very haughty and imperious, as though you can order other people around, and no one can say anything to do no matter how rudely you act, or what acts you commit.   This is what I believe was happening in my school. My conclusion at present is that the parents who behaved in an imperious manner were mostly not well-educated or well-brought up, yet had the fortune through business or inheritance, to come into money.  Buy behaving this way, they are essentially trying to announce to others, “Look!  We are important people, and we are more important than you (the teachers and school employees)!”  So this behavior, in their mind, is a way for them to gain status and prestige, as well as to flaunt it to others.  As a foreign teacher, it seems to me to be greatly lowering their prestige, but people in my local country seem to understand that, “Since they are rich, they feel entitled to act that way.”

This system even affects the behavior of children in school.  Children in our school are often rude to their teachers, and completely uncooperative with regard to class rules (continual talking while the teacher is teaching;  not staying in their chairs; refusing to line up or walk quietly in a line; talking loudly, rather than whispering).  Every new idea works for just a day or two, and then it’s right back to the old behavior.

After teaching in the Middle East for twenty years, I now believe that the reason children are uncooperative is because being cooperative shows that you and your family must have low status.  High-status children behave as they wish, because to do so shows the other children that they come from an “important” family and are “above” having to follow the teacher’s rules.

–Lynne Diligent

My North African Postman’s Confusing Behavior

April 6, 2012

Typical North African house with wall in a prosperous neighborhood

For the past several months, instead of putting the mail in our mailbox, our postman has often been just handing it to workers who are at our house doing some remodeling.  One day, I caught the postman personally, and asked him to please not do that, but to put in in our box.  This seemed to take care of the problem for a while.

Two days ago, I was upstairs in my home, when one of the workers came upstairs with some mail to hand to me.  I asked him what he was doing with it and was upset that he came upstairs to find me.  He said the postman handed it directly to him, and he wanted to be sure I got it.  The postman had already left, so I didn’t have a chance to speak to him.  I was upset and just really wanted to know WHY he the postman did this again!

After discussing possible senarios as to why the postman reverted to his former behavior, I commented to the worker that I had asked the postman to put it in the box before, and just could not understand why he was doing this again.  The worker pointed out that the postman comes on a motorcycle.  In order to put it in the box (which in my country is not out by the street, but is a slot through the wall), the postman has to park his motorcycle and bring the mail to the mail slot.  Since the worker happened to be standing by the street at the moment he came, it was just laziness in not wanting to park his motorcycle and take a few steps to the mail slot.  Mystery solved!

I asked the worker next time to not accept the mail from the postman, or if he insists, just to put it into the mail slot himself, rather than walking through my home and searching for me.

Readers, how would you react?

–Lynne Diligent

My Most Embarrassing Secret As a Traveler and Expat

March 20, 2012

I am white, and I have an embarrassing secret.

Two decades ago, I had the occasion to travel for several months in Black Africa–Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, and Zaire.

The first few weeks after my arrival, I was shocked at my lack of ability to recognize people; everyone looked the same.  I couldn’t tell people apart.  I thought something was wrong with me.

More than twenty years later, I found an explanation for my problem through watching a television program.  In this episode of The Good Wife, trial lawyers discover through the use of a consultant that it is difficult for most white witnesses to make accurate identification of black perpetrators, and equally difficult for most black witnesses to make accurate identification of white perpetrators.

This problem, as I have recently learned, is called “Difficulty with Cross-Racial Face Recognition.”

Kenya is a black majority country. When I first arrived, I had trouble noticing differences between people's faces.

After spending approximately three weeks in East Africa, I finally became able to recognize people and tell them apart.  I think what happened to me here as an adult was a reproduction of the experience all of us must go through as babies, yet none of us remember.  It is clear that we learn as babies to recognize best of all those we grow up around, most particularly our family, and our own race.  Recent research shows that it is in the extremely precise judgement of the micro-measurements of the face (which vary by race) where recognition takes place.

Burundi

When I traveled in Burundi (four years before the war with Rwanda), one person I spent time with told me, “I could never step over the border into Rwanda, or they would kill me.”  When I asked why, he told me, “They would just take one look at my face, and kill me.”

Tutsi boy

This person was a Tutsi.  At that time, not only did I not believe my acquaintance, but I could not tell the difference between the Hutu and Tutsi.  Now, many years later, the differences are clear.

Agathon Rwasa, a Burundian Hutu Militia Leader

Now I live in North Africa.  When traveling with my North African husband (who is Caucasian), I find people in certain regions speaking to him in the Berber language.  He doesn’t speak Berber.  My husband explains, “They just see my face and assume that I speak Berber.”

A Berber man with his daughter

I lived in North Africa for many years before anyone pointed out to me the facial differences between Arabs and Berbers.  Sometimes I can clearly tell them apart; other times not.  But even now, my recognition doesn’t even come close to those who were born here.

A few years ago I went to a wedding in a small village high in the Atlas Mountains.  That weekend I noticed something I had never seen before.  Everyone in the village had a very distinctive cranial shape, and a very particular set of ears.  It was distinctive enough that even if I saw someone who looked like that back in America, now I would ask them, “Are you, by any chance, from this particular village in the Atlas Mountains?”

Atlas Mountains

I finally understood why Americans (or maybe just me) are particularly bad at racial face recognition.  In most Old World countries, people have stayed in the same locations, and intermarried primarily with the local group for a long-enough time to develop very, very precise micro-racial characteristics.  Each village, even 20-30 miles away from each other will have very particular characteristics.  People from these countries are quite used to looking at people in this way, and recognizing which area they are from.

In America, we are not at all used to looking at people in this way.   Since we have immigrants from all over the world, everyone is entirely mixed up.  We have unlimited micro-varieties within every race.  If a black African or white European came to America, he or she would no doubt be able to look at many Americans of their own race, and know precisely where many of their ancestors came from.

America - the nation of immigrants

One important difference in America is that most people, even within their own race, have intermarried with others from many different locales.  So many of their micro-features would no longer be the same as might be associated with a particular European or African village.  Americans have always moved from one part of the country to another on a regular basis, as well.  In addition, many more interracial marriages are occurring.  For all these reasons, people are “mixed up” in America, and Americans are not used to recognizing people by looking at their micro-characteristics and trying to categorize where they are from.  But, as babies, they become used to looking at the micro-characteristics of their own race, in order to recognize family members.

Animal micro-recognition is similar.  Years ago, I used to wonder how biological researchers in the field could watch a troop or a herd of animals, and recognize each animal.  They all looked the same to me.

Later, after we got two cats from the same litter as pets, I began to see the subtle differences  in their faces and bodies, especially when there were several neighborhood cats who looked close enough to my own cats that I called to them by mistake.  Now I never make that mistake as I immediately recognize much more subtle differences, even from a distance.

New information is now being publicized about a condition called Face Blindness.  People who suffer from this condition are unable to visually recognize their own family members or close friends.  The short linked-to video on Face Blindness also explains the opposite condition, which is called being a Super Recognizer, meaning that one is able to recognize and remember every face he has ever seen.  These people are able to tell you where they saw a face, as well as being able to recognize a photo of any of those people taken at any point, at any age, during their lifetimes.

Through this new research, I now see that recognizing faces is a learned skill for most people, an impossible challenge for people with face blindness, and incredibly easy for super recognizers.

My hidden secret perplexed and embarrassed me for many years.  But now that I understand why I had this problem, I no longer feel so guilty!  Thankfully, in my older years I’ve now learned to recognize much more than I noticed in my younger years.

–Lynne Diligent

Do First World Countries Really Impose an “Anti-Immigration” Curriculum on Third-World Countries?

February 26, 2012

Anti-Immigration Plot?

Among some in the educational establishment in Northwest Africa, the idea is spreading that the new skills-based educational pedagogy is actually an “anti-immigration” plot hatched by first-world countries to “keep third-world workers in their own countries.”  I even heard of a college professor of education who is teaching this to prospective teachers, who are asked to implement the new pedagogy.

What is actually happening with the new pedagogy, however, is the result of the new global communication revolution of internet penetration into third-world countries.

World Internet Users, 2011

In the past, as explained in The Globalization Paradox (2011), the Industrial Revolution spread from England, to the European countries, and to some of the New World (North America, Australia, and New Zealand), but not much further.  These parts of the world had two distinct advantages (which up-and-coming third-world countries are now trying to do something about):  1.)  they had enough educated and skilled workers to run the new factories, and 2.)  they had good institutions–well functioning legal systems, stable politics, restraints on expropriations by the state–to generate incentives for private investment and market expansion.

Other countries had to depend on “importing” skills and institutions, and they used intercontinental labor mobility to do so.

Imported labor building American railroads

This era is now coming to an end.   Internet communication and improved transport of goods via supertankers enables companies to move operations elsewhere, because it is more cost-effective, rather than the more expensive alternative of importing labor.   Therefore, any country who wants those jobs must prepare its labor force.

This revolution is NOT happening because of a first-world PLOT designed by governments.  It is an unanticipated effect of internet communications.   Many, many individual companies are making these decisions on their own.  Many are now forced to in order to compete with those who have already done so.

Forward-thinking third-world governments are now realizing this, and are beginning to create the conditions which will enable some of their citizens to obtain jobs in the new world marketplace, or to become entrepreneurs and create their own businesses.

Education in Libya, North Africa

For example, in North Africa, in just one decade, schools have been built all over the country, and for the first time, the majority of children are in school. Those who are graduating from college, having succeeded in their education, are now clamoring for jobs.

The only middle school in this rural area of Northwest Africa

Two problems exist.  First, the countries are small, and the market size served by businesses is small (except in textiles, tourism, and agriculture).  Therefore, the profitability of acquiring new equipment and technologies is small for the average business, which still remains family-based, and therefore provides limited opportunities for employment to average workers without family connections.

Tunisian college students

Second, most local college graduates are not from the elite classes (the elite usually send their sons and daughters to foreign universities).  Many of these graduates feel that the elites are in cahoots with the local governments, and that these elites block improvements in others’ economic positions that would threaten their own power.  This is a great part of what the Arab Spring movement is about.  The newly-educated middle classes want a democratic meritocracy, rather than an oligarchy of the elites.

By implementing the new skills-based pedagogy, they are actually attempting to insure that what is being taught has some usefulness in the real world, as well.   However, it is not only in the third-world where these pedagogies are being implemented; they are now de rigueur in much of the first world, too.

This trend has now been taken to an extreme, however, as was illustrated to me recently by a friend in England, “I was amazed to see how rigidly it is implemented these days in my daughter’s school.  When you go to parents’ evenings, the teachers actually do have enormous A3-size spreadsheets with hundreds of tiny squares on a grid.  Teachers find the student’s name, and move along the row, saying things like, ‘Uses adjectives to express emotion in a third party – level 4A;’ or in history, ‘deducing a specific social condition from a contemporary artwork – level 5B.’  It is all incredibly mechanical, and if you ask how they are doing overall, there is no such thing.”

A Page from the British National Curriculum

What is happening in third-world North African education is now no different that what is happening in Europe.  It is not a plot.  However, this trend in Europe appears to have gone much too far, into uselessness!

Is it something new that first-world countries are against importation of unskilled labor?  Yes, and no.  First-world countries are mostly interested in protecting the middle-tier of jobs, rather than those at the very top or the very bottom.  These are the jobs that every country wants to reserve for their own workers, and that they do not want immigrants filling.  This is nothing new.

Middle-tier, white-collar desk jobs

No country minds importing workers at the very high skill end, where those skills don’t exist, and where they may benefit by learning those skills from the imported workers.  Also, most countries continue to import workers for the very lowest level of jobs, such as migrant farm labor, or office cleaning at night.

What is new is that both Islamic terrorism has been increasing in Europe, and migrating groups have been attempting to impose ideological change on their host societies.  This has definitely had a backlash  effect on the general willingness to accept immigrants, both in Europe and in America, especially from Muslim countries.

This restriction on jobs is even true for me as a first-world immigrant to a third-world country, where I find most jobs are reserved for people who are citizens.  As a non-citizen immigrant, I am only permitted to do for which it can be “proved” by the company I work for that a citizen cannot fill the position, or else I must be self-employed.  I want to point out that third-world countries have equally strong anti-immigration policies as do first-world countries.

Northwest Africa has been implementing a new educational pedagogy the past few years, which requires teachers to mark each student on specific skills mastered (similar to my English friend’s experience, described above), as well as to use modern group activities and other interesting delivery methods.

Crowded classrooms in Northwest Africa

One of the reasons teachers have been striking for several years is that most teachers feel this is too difficult and requires too much work when each teacher has over 300 students each week ( compared with typical American teachers having up to 180 students per week). One middle school teacher I know says, “I teach 13 classes of 45 students each, with each class lasting once a week for two hours.”   An incredible amount of material has to be covered.  This teacher felt that if he had three classes of 15 students each, or even his own classroom (he has to move from room-to-room) he might be able to fully implement the new educational pedagogy.

Educational trends swing with the pendulum as much as other social trends do.  We are still clearly in the upswing of this trend toward skill boxes.  I predict that the current trend will continue for another twenty years before it is scrapped in Europe, and educational trends head in another direction.

–Lynne Diligent

Understanding North African Work Behavior: A Comparative Analysis

February 4, 2012

Europeans criticize Americans for working too much....

Where do the different work attitudes in different countries come from?

Americans are criticized by Europeans for “working too hard,” and “not having any culture.”  Americans in Europe often criticize Europeans for having anti-business attitudes and being cultural snobs.  The Asians, on the other hand, make Americans look extremely lazy!  In French-speaking North Africa, we have a curious mixture of pro- and anti-business sentiments.  Business and money are extremely respected, yet nothing works well.  Businesses are extremely inefficient, and services are terrible (including government services).

There are now a number of good books written on  differing work attitudes in various countries.  Three of my favorites are The Seven Cultures of Capitalism, Working for the Japanese:  Inside  Mazda’s American Auto Plant, and Au Contraire!  Figuring Out the French.  But these books don’t explain where these attitudes originated from.

The answers are to be found in the historical experiences of various countries.  The major difference which sets America apart from Europe, in work attitudes today, is that America has no history of feudalism.

European work attitudes, with their emphasis on free time for workers and quality of life came directly out of peasant attitudes and revolts against feudalsim.   Peasants were the lowest class of society, were highly oppressed,  heavily taxed, and were at the mercy of justice systems operated by the social classes who took advantage of them.  When we study Feudalism as a system, we do not normally address how the peasants felt about it.  In fact, peasants did not passively accept the situation, century-after-century.  Peasant uprisings and revolts were a common occurrence.  Later, as Feudalism’s authority began to weaken, the new urban workers widened the base of the lower class, against the princes and the lords.  The upper classes used nepotistic practices to maintain their control over the bureaucracy.

The remnants of these attitudes are found today in European attitudes toward work, where laws and the public demand that workers have plenty of free time and are not “taken advantage of” by those in management (the old lords and princes).

Promotions into management are not awarded to competent workers; rather only people who are from certain families, or who went to the top categories of schools are permitted into the management tracks.  Decision-making in French corporations follows a strict hierarchy, and authority belongs to the office a person holds, rather than to the individual.  French managers tend to make the decisions and collaborative teamwork is discouraged.  Co-workers tend to feel in competition with each other.

New York offices of the French Investment banking company, Calyon.

American work attitudes, in contrast,  were not not born out of feudalism, but out of freedom, individualism, and capitalism.  One of the main reasons Americans left Europe was because they rejected the class system.  (This is why American bosses occasionally make the office coffee, to demonstrate to workers that they are not “above” others in social class.)  In America, one’s social standing at birth does not prohibit one from rising to a prominent position (whether Abraham Lincoln or Barack Obama).

Who you were at birth has nothing to do with who you will be, or might be.  In America, it is “up to you” to make what you will of your life.  In America, no one cares who you ARE.  They care what you have DONE, what you have ACCOMPLISHED.  This is why Americans generally give the highest pay, promotions, and status in business to those who accomplish the most (rather than those who went to impressive schools, but who do not perform once employed).  Anyone can reach the top tier by becoming rich, if they are smart enough, and willing to work hard enough.  This is what every American teaches their children from the time they are two years old.

Management by Objectives chart

These attitudes are seen today in the American tradition of Management by Objectives, which involves participative goal setting, then choosing a course of action, and decision-making in line with those actions.  Employees are measured against these standards.  Unfortunately, American managers often find that management by objectives does not work well in many other parts of the world, such as in North Africa.

Satchel Paige - a victim of American racism in baseball

In America, the problem has been racism, not classism.   The class-based problems and conflicts of Europe have been replaced in America by race-based problems.   While minorities have now been absorbed into society through the past battles of Martin Luther King, past affirmative action (preferential hiring practices based on race), and by becoming members of the professional and middle classes, some disaffected groups and individuals are still very anti-white.

These individuals feel a group solidarity against the white culture.   This same feeling also applies to certain religious groups and groups of new immigrants from various nations to America throughout our history.  They were discriminated against on the basis of national origin until each group became well-integrated after two or three generations.

In the same way, many Europeans and North Africans feel a class-solidarity against those above or below them, which influences work behavior in those countries, in the same way that race conflicts affect work attitudes among anti-white groups in America.  (The Arab Spring movement is partly about hope of the middle classes in the North African countries for abandoning nepotism and moving toward meritocracy.)

America continues to work on these race-based conflicts, but in reality, skin color and culture do continue to be a barrier to certain groups.  White Americans, using the example of Abraham Lincoln, have always told their children since the age of two, “You could grow up to be president.”  However, since the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, now for the first time, black Americans can also tell their children the same thing.

Barack Obama

Today in French-speaking North Africa, there are remnants of attitudes from both the feudal system and modern French systems.  Work behavior of employees and managers here is extremely confusing for North Americans.  While some people work hard and well, these people are rare, and should be especially appreciated (and rewarded).

Instead of being helpful to customers, and cooperative with employees or co-workers, most North-African employees (especially those not in management) tend to set up little “fiefdoms” and act like little Napoleons within their sphere of influence.

If someone comes to them with a request or a problem, instead of facilitating the process, they act as “gatekeepers” and often try to create problems and obstacles where none existed before.  (Yes, some of them expect bribes, but even those who are not looking for bribes tend to behave this way.)  Instead of sharing information so that the organization can function smoothly, both managers and employees are extremely secretive with information, insuring that the organization lurches along from crisis-to-crisis, and problem-to-problem.  This seems similar to business practices in France, in some ways.

There seems to be a sort of “class war” going on between management and employees in most North African companies.  Managers generally come from certain families, and have gone to certain schools.  Employees, neither from important families nor important schools,  have little stake in making the organization function well, and their main interest seems to be in working slowly and inefficiently, specifically making sure that no employer “takes advantage” of them by making them work “too hard.” Employees’ interests seem to usually be diametrically opposed to management’s interests, and many employees (not all) come into a job the very first day with the attitude that they expect an employer will try to exploit them.

Queuing at a government office in North Africa

When employees or co-workers are asked why they don’t give their best effort and take pride in their work, they often answer, “What will it get me if I do?  I will not get paid any more.”  Yet, most say, if presented in theory with a theoretical doubling or tripling of salary for a given job, that the work effort would be exactly the same, that this would not solve the problem.  Therefore, the real problem lies in the attitude behind the work.  Employees immediately assume that their personal interests are in opposition to their employer’s interest, and that they must do everything they can to “protect themselves” instead of everything they can to “do the job right.”

                         

While most Americans view themselves as working hard for a chance to get ahead, and believe in more possibilities in their future, employees in class-based societies usually don’t believe they will be able to get ahead, or be rewarded for their efforts, no matter how hard they work.  Their societies are not meritocracies, and this accounts for their reluctant attitudes at work.

recalitrant employees, passive-agressive employees

Many employees in North Africa behave in a passive-aggressive manner at work, saying "yes," but secretly sabotaging their employers.

North African  employees’ typical productivity is about one-quarter to one-third of an American worker (not everyone–there are some very hard-working North Africans; and certain regions have these problems more than other regions).  Their jobs are “protected” by labor laws which prevent the employer from replacing them no matter how poorly they work.  It can be done, but it is extremely expensive and indemnities increase for every year the employee was with the company.  There are only three acceptable reasons to fire an employee:  being caught stealing, showing up drunk, or not showing up at all repeatedly.  Those reasons do NOT include being habitually late or doing poor work.

Looking at French-speaking North Africa as a whole, unfortunately, from the employee’s  viewpoint, exploitation is rife throughout every level of the society.  Few businesses are corporations.  Most are individual or family-controlled enterprises, large and small.  Nepotism is the order of the day, from finding a job, to being promoted, to getting anything done in the society.

French-speaking North Africa

Business owners tend to exploit anyone working for them who is not a family member, while non-productive family members often have a title and a salary, while doing little.  People are less often employed for their skills than for who they are, or who they know.  Of course, this makes services notoriously bad for consumers.  But even those who lament the exploitation of workers in their own workplace often come home and exploit the labor of those below them.

One secretary, who previously in tears because her boss overworked her and treated her poorly,  turned right around and did exactly the same thing to the assistant she later got.  Some in the middle classes cry over being exploited at work and turn right around and exploit their own maids at home.  As a teacher, I saw over-and-over young students complaining about adults and older children who spoke to them rudely, using insulting words.  But the minute they become older themselves, they turn around and do the same thing.

All this exploitation is about power, which seems to be the main point of interest of each person in the society.  Everyone wants to know precisely who has the authority for what, and authority is never delegated to others as it is in American culture.  This also may be similar to France, but even more extreme in North Africa.

Every time a new employer-employee relationship is created (whether in an office, or a housewife at home with a maid), most employees are not thinking about if their new boss will be kind or provide them with reasonable working conditions.  It is already assumed that they will not.  Instead, they are thinking, “How powerful will I be able to be in this relationship?”  (This may be starting to change with some of the younger generation who are becoming educated and, after the Arab Spring, are hoping for meritocratic changes to take place.)

This concern about power is where foreign managers and expats run into trouble.  American managers aren’t generally thinking about using power and maintaining it.  They are thinking about how to facilitate cooperation, collaboration, and effective problem-solving.  Unfortunately, kindness and consideration (even in speech) is viewed as “weakness” in North Africa, and immediately, the subordinate maid or employee with the “power interest” mentality begins to take advantage, secretly sabotaging the goals of the manager.  The most serious dilemma for the expat manager becomes how to treat employees well (a sincere desire), while at the same time getting them to put forth a good effort toward accomplishing the goals which are important to the manager or employer.

–Lynne Diligent

What We Can Learn About Africa and the Middle East Today from the Colonialization Experience of Canadian Aboriginals

December 12, 2011

Taiaiake Alfred, the world’s foremost expert on the effects of colonization on indigenous peoples, speaks about the ongoing anger felt by people who have been victims of colonization.  Listening to Taiaiake speak on the today’s ongoing colonialist experience of Aboriginals (formerly called Inuits) in Canada,  I found his points relevant to what is happening today in the Middle East and Africa.

As a Westerner arriving in the Middle East  some years ago, I was shocked to find Middle Easterners and North Africans describing the Iraq Wars in two ways–as Americans leading a new Christian Crusade against Muslims, and Americans as neo-colonialists out to “steal” Iraq’s oil.  “Why else would a country do these things?” I was told, when I tried to argue with people.

North African and Middle Eastern people are still focused on the Crusades as a recent memory (in the way that Westerners focus on the two World Wars as a recent memory) because  of their very recent memory of colonization.  Recent colonialist experience colors the judgement of a people about everything in life.  This altered mentality creates a way of thinking where they feel that no one ever acts altruistically, that no one (nor any country) ever does something unless they will be able to “benefit” from it personally.

The reason it’s difficult for Americans to understand this colonialist mentality is because our own colonialist experience happened so long ago, and anyone with living memory of it died more than 100 years ago.  I would posit that for a society to rid oneself of the colonialist experience and mentality takes at least 150 years.  If we could go back and look at American society , post-1776, I think we would see lingering attitudes from the Colonialist experience up all the way until World War I.  Those born in 1770, some of whom presumably lived until about 1860, would have told their own grandchildren and great-grandchildren about their memories of the colonialist experience.  Those grandchildren born in 1830-1850 would have lived until the early 1900s.   I would say that sometime between 1900 and WWI, those old attitudes would have been overcome by other events, and forgotten.

So, how does this extrapolate to Africa and the Middle East today?  In my experience, people in the Middle East and Africa seem to have a love-hate relationship with their former colonial power.

by John Frederick Lewis, British Orientalist Painter

A love-hate relationship often exists between the colonizers and the colonized.  (Painting by John Frederick Lewis, British Orientalist Painter 1830s to 1860s)

In fact, parts of North Africa were united under nationalist governments for the first time in the 1950s. Prior to this time, these areas existed under feudal warlords.

Viewing the independence dates of African countries in the map below, and adding 150 years, shows us that it will take until at least 2100-2130 before Africa is able to begin to shake off its colonialist heritage and the lingering negative effects of the colonialization experience.

Decolonization Dates / Indedpendence Dates of African Countries

Decolonization Dates / Independence Dates of African Countries

A recent colonialist experience creates an anger among a people over their own native culture having been repressed, that no amount of material “goodwill” can ever assuage.  In the Middle East and Africa (without mentioning specific examples) there are instances of lands and people being absorbed into a national culture of which those people consider to be a foreign power; these national governments have spent a great deal of money on improving the infrastructure of the absorbed areas–highways, schools, telecommunications,  transportation, and modernization–without obtaining any loyalty from the part of the local populations.

New Highways Built for Local Populations in the Deserts of Northwest Africa

Why not?  Because these materialist “offerings” do nothing  to address the real problem of “forced” assimilation.  Native peoples remain alienated.

New Empty Towns Built for Local Populations in the Deserts of Northwest Africa

No doubt this process of forced assimilation and alienation has taken place all over the world, throughout history.  But it is not an easy process to recover from, and the effects linger in each locality for up to 200 years afterward.  During the North African Spring we have heard much talk of the different tribal areas in Libya, and the problems of forced assimilation during the Gaddafi regime which are now bubbling to the surface. In the past decade we heard of Kurdish problems in Iraq and Turkey.  Sometimes we hear of problems with groups in the Sahara.  Elsewhere, China has built new infrastructure in Tibet.

New Road Built by the Chinese in Tibet

According to Taiaiake Alfred, colonized peoples–such as the Aboriginals (formerly called Inuit) and other native peoples of North America–especially believe in treaties, because treaties show respect between two peoples, or two nations.  National governments of various societies, on the other hand, believe in integration and assimilation based on social justice principles. The main agenda of national governments is to make formerly colonized peoples into fully-functioning members of society through providing language, education, and job opportunities; however, they show a lack of respect to native peoples by trying to assimilate them.  Education is used everywhere as an assimilation tool.  “Native peoples living independently is also a threat to national governments because if they live independently, they control more land.  This makes less land available for mining claims, for other citizens,” Taiaiake says.

Modern Inuits in Canada Dealing with Effects of Colonialization

Native leaders who try to work within the national system to obtain more benefits such as land claims and self-government for native peoples are usually viewed as illegitimate leaders by the grassroots population.

Colonized peoples don’t want to be part of an integrative relationship.  Their vision is different.  their problems are not money problems, or problems of jurisdiction.  They are angry about losing their culture and their different way of life.  This creates a permanent state of alienation.  No matter how many material goods are given, these make no difference, because those material goods never address the source of the problem, the psychological anger.

Furthermore, as these new material things become the norm, the material standard rises ever further.  This process prevents getting to the root of the problem–this psychological anger–the pain in the community which comes from losing one’s culture.  This causes a permanent state of alienation coming from not having their culture, their values, reflected in the value system of the overall society.   This is why there are so many social and psychological problems in the communities which are not being addressed.

In Canada, people wonder why, when the government injects 7. million dollars to relocate a complete band of 700 Inuits to a new location, giving them new housing and other material goods, why the same problems of alcoholism, suicide, depression, and despair emerge again.

Morgan Fawcett, an Aboriginal (Inuit) victim of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, has dedicated his life to making sure women think before they drink

“It didn’t work because it’s putting the car before the horse,” says Taiaiake.  “These people aren’t ready to participate in this government because it’s not a form of government which is reflective of their culture, and their values.  It is essentially an imposed form of government.   More importantly, the problem of deculturalization of these people has not been fixed.”

Taiaiake says, “When Africa was decolonized, you have societies left that reflect all the worst aspects of the colonizers in the way power is used, in the way that corruption has infused the society.”

Canada’s indigenous people suffer from a post-colonialist mentality, according to Taiaiake.  “Native peoples have been illegally dispossessed of their land and treaties have not been honored.  We have to address those things before we can have reconciliation.”

“There is always a connection between the means and the ends,” Taiaiake says.  “If you want to have a peaceful co-existence with your neighbor, you can’t use violence.”

The true reclaiming of what it means to be an indigenous person is spiritual.  This means one must return to the essence of being a true warrior, in the sense of “they carry the burden (of their heritage).”  It is about having strength and integrity inside yourself to be an authentic person, carrying yourself with a sense of justice and rightness.

“Colonialized peoples need to recreate themselves as people who are spiritually-grounded and strong, in order to withstand all those forces of assimilation and recreate the something new out of the best values of the indigenous culture.  The most impressive thing that Ghandi did was to take a stand against both  imperialism and traditionalism, and insist that people needed to create something new out of both appropriate to today.  This is really the solution.”

Meanwhile, what can be done about growing problems among youth?  There are increasing levels of drug use, violence, and family violence.  Smoking is increasing, gun and gang culture are emerging in Canada.  What about indigenous people in the urban centers?

“We need to create relationships between those people and the home communities.  However, many of those home communities themselves are problematic.”

More indigenous people in Canada are going to university and becoming doctors and lawyers.  Taiaiaka’s view is that each day of his life, no matter what job or education level an indigenous person receives, he can make the choice to support either the vision of indigenous people, or the vision of the colonizer.  Taiaiaka hopes to inspire the next generation of indigenous leaders to regenerate the culture in a political and legal manner, to force Canada into a reconciliation with reality.  He envisions a social and political agenda in Canada like the Black Civil Rights Movement in the United States.  The goal is to recover the stolen sense of what it means to be an indigenous person living the authentic life of our ancestors.

For all recently decolonized peoples, the way forward is to find a middle road which is neither the vision of the colonizer, nor a reactionary vision against the colonizer.  Decolonized peoples must take what is useful from the colonizer and combine it with a spiritual vision from their own culture to find a new way forward in the modern world–to be part of the modern world, while not “of” the colonizers’ world.

With regard to national cultures which are trying to assimilate native cultures through the use of education and materialistic recompense, I feel this strategy is far preferable to the ethnic cleansing which is happening in so many parts of the world (which is what happens when assimilation efforts fail).  While I can understand the pain of native peoples,  I think adapting to the dominant culture is probably the best middle course of action for all.

–Lynne Diligent

Acorns from the Cork Oak Tree Can Be Cooked and Eaten Like Chestnuts

November 28, 2011

Map of the habitat range of the Cork Oak, or Quercus suber

Most commonly known for its use in making cork, the Cork Oak tree’s acorns are a delicious nut fruit which can be found for sale in Southern (Western) European and North African markets, already boiled and ready-to-eat, in late November.

The acorns are up to four centimeters long (two inches), and are boiled before eating, similar to the way chestnuts are boiled before peeling.  The fruit of the nut tastes sweet, and remarkably like chestnuts.  (I would not be able to tell the difference in a blind taste test.)  This cooked nut is large and meaty and makes a perfect substitute for chestnuts in any Thanksgiving or Christmas recipes.  (The advantages to using acorns over chestnuts is that each acorn contains double the meat of a chestnut, and the step of cutting x‘s in the chestnuts before boiling them can be dispensed with.)

Acorn of Quercus suber (Cork Oak) on the tree

Here is what the boiled acorns look like:

Cooked Acorns from the Cork Oak Tree (Quercus suber)

I had never heard of eating acorns, or that the Cork Oak even had an edible fruit.

If you live in North Africa, the name of the fruit (and the name of the tree) is called ba-lote (neither syllable emphasized, and “lote” rhymes with “note, but draw out the long o sound twice as long as it would be in English).  They are sold on carts in the medinas (older parts of town) of North African cities and towns.

Cork Trees in Portugal, called "Balote" in North Africa.

Doing some research on line, I discovered that oak trees are divided into two main groups, Red Oaks and White Oaks.  The White Oaks are all the genus Quercus, while the Red Oaks are the genus Mesobalanus.

Acorns from the various Red Oak species contain much higher amounts of bitter tannins (which interfere with the ability to metabolize protein).  The acorns from White Oaks are much lower in tannins, and have a sweet nutty flavor.    The Cork Oak tree itself belongs to the White Oak genus, and White Oak is used to make wine barrels.

Acorns are an important food for birds, and for many small and large mammals (pigs, bears, and deer); however, they are toxic to horses.  In Portugal and Spain, pigs are turned loose in oak groves in the autumn to fatten themselves before slaughter.  (This is similar to American pigs being fattened on peanuts in order to produce the famous Virginia Smithfield hams.)

Smithfield Ham

Acorns have a high nutritional value, and compare well with other nuts  in terms of being high in protein and carbohydrates, as well as important minerals.  Acorns are are sometimes ground into flour, as well as sometimes roasted and added to coffee drinks.

Are any of my readers eating acorns, anywhere in the world?  If so, please tell me about it!  I had never heard before today that acorns were an edible fruit; I hope others will have an opportunity to try them.

Enjoy!

–Lynne Diligent

Reflections on Poverty in Saudi Arabia

October 23, 2011

American Bedu wrote about a video-blogger-journalist who was arrested in Saudi Arabia for this short, but extremely well-done documentary on poverty in Saudi Arabia.  I especially liked that the journalist tried to offer some positive suggestions for help to the poor at the end.  The reason he was arrested was for violating the Arab cultural norm of never speaking out in public regarding in one’s own country (or any other Arab country); speaking out publicly is considered more shameful than letting a shameful situation continue.

However, in this video, I was somewhat surprised by a couple of things.

First, having lived in the Middle East for the past twenty years, the level of poverty shown in this video is not nearly as bad as what is current in some other parts of the Middle East. The people shown in this video as living in extreme poverty in Saudi Arabia are living at the same level as much of North Africa’s lower middle classes today (excepting Libya), for example.  For example, I noticed all these homes had TVs and hot water, as well as refrigerators, even if they are in bad condition.   (The poor in other places have none of these things.)  The kids in the poor neighborhood were all dressed in the latest sport shirts.

Clearly, what makes people feel poor is not how their life is compared to poor people in other countries, but how their life compares to those around them in the same society. The wealthy in Saudi are living at such a high level compared to other countries, that even their poor are living at a high level (when compared to some other Arab countries).

The second thing which struck me about this video was the attitude about what should be done about these problems. Unlike in America, there was no talk of any personal responsibility. One man shown in the video explained that he was married to two women, and that the first one had six children, while the second one had five children.  Whatever is a poor man like this doing with two wives and eleven children? If he had one wife and even two children, he would not be poor with what he stated his income was in this video.  Furthermore, each person interviewed in the video just asked for the government to “give” them a house. It seems to be the norm in that society to just ask others to give people what they don’t have, rather than taking any personal responsibility for one’s life, and planning accordingly.

Saudi Journalist-Blogger Feras Boqnah, Arrested for Documentary on the Poor

Saudi Journalist-Blogger Feras Boqnah, Arrested for Documentary on the Poor

Oddly (to a Westerner) the journalist never suggests anything about working harder, or looking for better paying jobs, or improving one’s skills, or even being responsible about how many wives a man chooses to marry, or how many children he chooses to have.  At the end of the video, the journalist makes suggestions that charities be especially organized to regularly assist poor people with their lives in all the poor areas.  It’s clear that ideas of personal responsibility don’t even occur to the interviewer, indicating that what these people are asking for seems “normal” for Saudi Arabian society. It’s just an interesting contrast with the values and ideas of the Western world. Many people in Saudi Arabia and much of the Middle East assume that they are not at all personally responsible for how their lives turn out; they view themselves as victims of fate and circumstance and God’s will, or as victims of “bad luck.”

In America, by contrast, people are seen as being about 90% responsible for their own fate. Perhaps this is too much. But in Saudi, where people seem to believe that they have no personal responsibility for their fate, this is too little. People should make an effort to “help themselves” and not just wait only for charity from the government, or from others.

–Lynne Diligent


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