The Danger of a Single Story

We tell stories. It is part of who we are as humans. Narrative is a powerful tool for understanding the world around us, something we use to understand others, and to define ourselves.

As I write this, I am starting week four of Peace Corps pre-service training. My attempts to tell any sort of story here on the blog in the last four weeks been fragmented, at best, not to mention challenged by a total lack of Internet. Having addressed the latter problem, it’s now time that I tackle the former.

We, the 26th Peace Corps – Mozambique cohort (Moz-26) of which I am a part, have spent just over four weeks since departing the U.S. We have sat through many hours of technical training and many more of language classes. We have covered a lot of territory, in all senses of the term.  But the technicalities of what we are learning are less interesting then the stories we encounter. (Not that the technicalities are uninteresting, per se, but there will be plenty of time for them later.)

Much has happened: days on end of going to sleep before eight, exhausted by language immersion and information overload; rising at the crack of dawn to bathe before preparing breakfast; pounding peanuts – amanduin in the local Portuguese – to make flour, a staple protein in the local diet; constantly learning of the difficulties facing the pursuit of public health in an impoverished nation. In all this, little has taken me by surprise. Previously documented travels prepared me well for the culture I am to integrate with.

What has been brought home time and time again are the preconceptions, and misconceptions, I hold; about people, about cultures, about illnesses, about myself.

It is challenging.

*       *       *       *       *

One of the most powerful single discussions we have had in the last four weeks has been around narratives, those stories we construct about the world around us. The springboard for this conversation is one of the best TED Talks I have ever seen. I’ll leave it here, and encourage you to watch it.

The idea that we use narratives not only to understand, but also to define, others struck me as extremely powerful, then and now. And now, in a new culture and new country, I am finding this idea not just a useful tool, but an entirely new mode of perceiving the world. It is something I am still coming to terms with, an ongoing conversation and continual re-evaluation of my worldviews, as I create my own narrative on this grand adventure in Mozambique.

And with that, I leave you. Até logo!

2 thoughts on “The Danger of a Single Story

  1. I love your description of the mental exhaustion of language immersion – that you now know why babies sleep so much!! Lovely reentry into the blogging world, dear! Look forward to hearing some of the preconceptions and misconceptions that Africa is clearing up for you!

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