Today I share a video that I recently came across quite serendipitously. I was perusing a photo-blog site that was recommended to me in the comments of one of my recent posts (thanks Amy…I love her!) and came across a video that, for me, summed up a concept that I have been struggling to articulate.
I struggled as we traveled with the question of whether wanting to see other cultures and learn more about them is a voyeuristic pursuit brought about by my relative wealth and privilege (as a Westerner) or am I trying to fight the ‘single story’ by learning firsthand about a country.
Before leaving I certainly had a single story of many of the places that we were to visit. I shamefully admit that I was surprised when places did not live up to the monocular view that I had assigned them. Pleasantly surprised…and interested. Interested to learn why I had the vision I did and interested to see how my vision evolved as I spent more time in a place and learned more about its history and culture.
And yet I know that it doesn’t matter how many books I read, how many places I visit, or how long I stay there I still will not ‘know’ it as I will always filter it through my own lens. I cannot know what it’s like to be a Peruvian woman living in the Andes any more than I can know what it’s like to be a Muslim Turkish woman or a Vietnamese woman running the iced coffee stall in the market. I am a Western woman living a typical (and not-so-typical) western life. I will view everything though this lens – it’s impossible not to. I will compare and contrast what I see to what I know about my own life. I can only imagine what a life might be like when I imagine my own life like that and that has to take into account everything that I am made of – my upbringing, my place in society, my socio-economic position, my education, my hardships (or lack thereof), my opinions.
That’s not to say that we should not travel. On the other hand I argue that we should even more. We should gather those stories and keep adding to our books so that we can learn how similar we are rather than how different. Although I may never truly understand another culture or person, I can certainly go a long way to eradicating my complete ignorance. Learning the other stories people have will take me closer to having a broader lens through which to view the world.