Minefields

I was ousted from my hotel room because the arrangements for extending my stay till airport departure time were made too late. So I spent about 8 hours hanging around the hotel lobby. This turned out to be fun.

There are many conversations to be overheard and interactions to be observed. I like people watching. I love airport arrival halls for the same reason.

I witnessed a few occasions where western ways of doing things bumping hard into Kenyan ways of doing things. There was little variation: one party responds with polite apologies. The other has a slight temper tantrum and fails to hide impatience, exasperation. Both parties retreat for a moment and then go over the same territory again. More apologies, more exasperation. If there were to be thought clouds over people’s heads each would say: “they just don’t get it.” But we usually don’t say what we think – especially when we are in such a cross cultural minefield.

It is a scenario I have seen (and at times been a participant in) that is played out over and over again as worlds collide, either forcibly put together or in well intended encounters on what looks like a level playing field. In the past we knew that these fields were not level, now we pretend they are. Worse, we fail to notice that the landmines that have been placed there over the centuries.

This is what makes my job so interesting. Being here only for a little while makes it easier to be the detached observer, something I wasn’t always able to do in Afghanistan.

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