Thursday, January 29, 2009

Outside a Foreign Culture

The longer I stay in Tonga the more I feel my own foreign-ness.

The first three months, I did what every other person on holidays does - I "fell in love with the place!" Does that sound familiar? A superficial understanding of the culture, the novelty and excitement of The New, it all contributed to the love I felt for Tonga.

As the months since then have passed, and my understanding of the complexities of Tongan culture has grown, I feel more and more unrelated to this place, and less and less love for it. Because it is not my home, and it is not my culture, and I am a foreigner here. That doesn't mean I can't appreciate it for what it is, because I do. But I cannot love it, because that kind of love is blind and uncritical, and I lack the time (and, in all honesty, the inclination) to develop a greater depth of love.

I am too enculturated elsewhere. I can critique my own culture, but any other culture I merely criticise. You have to really comprehend it - what lies behind it - to critique something, and I think that's impossible for a culture you have never lived. Everything else, then, is just criticism.

Perhaps this is my way of dealing with all the frustration of my work, of being apart from my partner, of being thus isolated - to just distance myself from the culture. Maybe it's a cop out. Or perhaps, in getting to know Tonga, I have fallen out of love with it.

If only all romances could end with such clarity!


Dash said...

ouch. lol, things aren't sounding good. i don't want to leave you a 'it'll be OK' message, cos actually I know exactly where you are coming from and it is so frustrating.

I just wrote a letter home to a close friend unleashing in a way that I can't online. There are some things that are killing me. I need to stop reading the papers because the other day I almost lost it.

BUT we will make it out the other side. And we are going to be cool 'interesting' individuals for having done so.

(Not that we weren't already anyway...)

Roro said...

Isa, I couldn't agree more. I'm in Thailand - same intake as you - and my relationship with this country mirrors yours with Tonga.

I think for me it's also that I thought by now I would have made some inroads into the culture. I thought I'd be able to feel like I have Thai friends (real friends) and that I would feel more at home in my all-Thai workplace, etc. I can see that my expectations were naive, but it's still disappointing, eh?

Have been lurking on your blog for ages, sorry! Really enjoy your observations and reactions to your AYAD experience, and I have consistently taken comfort from the challenges you record.

I've been in Thailand 30 weeks today. Sometimes just enduring is a virtue?!