Monday, January 26, 2009

norms & customs - cultural differences -

Come to think about it, there are many norms and customs that were interesting and different from where I'm coming from. If you are thinking of staying or visiting Malawi, particularly villages, you may want to be aware of few things.

Men holding hands
You only find a man holding hands with another man and not women or man-woman. I don't really know where this practice stems from but you see them everywhere in Malawi. Men holding hands with another men does not have to do with their sexual orientation at all. In fact homosexuality is a big taboo there. At night, only in town, you find some heterosexual couples holding hands but you don't find them so often.

The interesting part of the wedding in Malawi is the reception. It's about 3 to 4 hours of dancing where the newly wed couple or their parents stand up front with a bucket and others come there to toss bills into the bucket. Each group like "all the bride's colleagues" for instance gets called out to come up and start giving money. And this and only this continues for 3-4 hours... I guess I was expecting some touching speeches and refreshments. I needed break my big bills into small ones so that I can keep on tossing bills! What shocked me was that they announced how much people paid, aside from this money-giving dancing in an envelope.

In villages, they lay two lines of grass on the ground where someone who lives in the house between these two rows of grass passed away. If you are riding a bicycle or motorbike, you simple get off and walk slowly. If you are driving a car, you slow down and turn off the music or radio. If you are wearing a hat, you take it off when you walk pass by. At the funeral, you also give money. Like wedding, whoever paid the most amount and its amount was announced in front of everyone. You find many people at the funeral. They say that if you don't show up and show respect to others' funeral, no one would come to yours. I thought was interesting.

Women's dress code
There was a law in the past that women had to wear long skirts. You could have been jailed if you wore short shirts that time. Malawi was the last country that implemented pants for police women's uniforms. Likewise, in villages, covering my knee and above was the must to be respectful to those around me. I also had to be careful not to reveal my belly and the lower back in order to avoid stimulating men's sexual desire (that's what the local ladies told me). But showing breast has no sexual connotation. Women breastfeed their babies anytime, anywhere.

I only shared four but you will find many more examples of fascinating cultural differences. But it's just a matter of time till all of those become part of your normality. I almost forgot about them...

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