On Suburbia

Sitting here, in light of the recent events in Haiti, it occurs to me how rooted I am in my mediocrity. I belong to the generic population – thirty(ish), caucasian, north american, female, employed, married, one-and-a-half children, dog, mortgage, car payment, high debt load…..suburbia has caught up with me.

I couldn’t be nomadic if I tried – my genericism makes sure of that. Or could I? Let’s say disaster strikes. A tornado, perhaps. The forces of mother nature – cruel in her beatific terror. And all of this – my idyllic lifestyle, my superficial happiness – is swept up and away. Would my neighbours offer refuge? Or would they stare in horror, shield their children’s eyes from our immediate poverty, and close their doors, in the off chance that they, too, might catch the ‘fate’.

Here in the suburbs, we engage in carbon offsetting, donate to charities based on faith (oh, that faith! it runs rampant in the suburbs), buy a rubber bracelet to benefit those poor people in Darfur (we aren’t really sure where that is), or purchase our fair trade Starbucks coffee (we don’t really like the taste, but that money helps those poor farmers!). We make a difference here in the suburbs, we really do! But when push comes to shove, when it matters most, we are not interested in helping our neighbours.

The circumstances in which I remain in the suburbs are beyond my control at the moment. My daughter, who is learning-disabled, needs the stability. She doesn’t do change. I could uproot her, take her away to live in a smaller space, in the busy comfort of the city, where we would happily experience museums and art galleries, and parks, and culture, and diversity and………

…and so I live vicariously through my friends. My gaggle of nomads. I always ask for postcards, because the postcards, the writing, the art of travel correspondence, offers me a little piece of their experience. I am confident that, if tragedy struck us here in the suburbs, any one of my nomad pals would extend their hands, open their arms, insist on offering a place/a bed/a spot in their meager (by suburbia’s standards) dwellings. Because these people, these wanderers of the earth, are the ultimate humanists. They know that the basis of existing is to engage their fellow beings.

market

Keep a piece of carpet ready for me. One day, I’ll make it there.

‘Cultural’ Differences

One of the great ‘ joys’ (pun intended) of living and working in a place other than where you were born, or raised, or even educated, is getting used to the work ethic there.

Granted: some of the issues you face may be because of *you* – i.e., your own professional and cultural values are a mix of this and that, and therefore not realistic in terms of a new environment.

But sometimes the differences one faces are purely cultural – for instance, being educated in a liberal arts tradition, where everything is open to question, and then moving to work in a place with less open social values.

Or, for instance, being trained professionally in a much more advanced environment than where one ends up. Admittedly, it is this background and training that gets one there in the first place – the new employer valuing the skills learnt elsewhere, and hoping for a communication of those same values and ethics.

But any organisation is made up of parts, which don’t always add up to the whole. Barring a boring post on organisational behaviour, let me just say that things can get  challenging for a modern-day nomad in such diverse environments. I guess reading cultural cues and expectations is not something one learns in fancy-pants school!