Human interaction

The extraordinary with The Norwegian Peace corps (Fredskorpset), if you compair them with other organizations in the field of developmental aid, is that their commitments are bilateral: All projects coordinated by Fredskorpset (FK), my project included, involve sending people not only from Norway out to the rest of the world, but also from the rest of the world to Norway. And this is precisely what I think is the strengths of these projects, and why we might be allowed to dream of greater results than we have seen from previous developmental aid. This, combined with the focus on cultural understanding and on how changes in a system can be accomplished, is what makes me believe that we as FK participants have more to offer than any other expert, no matter how much he knows about his field of expertise.

Already now, less than a year after the program started, several employees at the Mnazi Mmoja Hospital have been in Bergen and seen Haukeland Hospital. What they bring back from Norway, will probably have at least as much impact on the results of our program as whatever we (Norwegians going Zanzibar) can achieve. But this to-way-exchange also has another upside: They can describe us with very different eyes from those we see ourselves with, and can thus help us to understand our own society better. One of the persons who have been in Norway for example, told me about the following observation he made there: “No one talks to each other in Norway, if they don´t know each other from before. They just say “hello” and then they move on. It’s so strange. ”

Of course I have been aware of this difference in how people interact before the mentioned conversation, but because everyone use themselves and their own culture as a reference for what is normal, I have had (and probably still have) a tendency to describe this difference in behavior by saying something like “everyone on Zanzibar greet each other so elaborately that it can take ten minutes to move 100 meters, because there are so many persons you have to talk to on your way. “And this is actually no exaggeration. And sometimes this makes working hours in Zanzibar to become very inefficient. But this behavior has also got some positive implications:

Although I don´t even know the name of many of them, there are a lot people I greet and exchange a few “how’s it going?” (Habari?)- and “thank you, good and you?” (Nzuri. Na Wewe?)-phrases with every day. Also in Norway it is common to pass many of the same people every day in the daily routines of going to work, going home, shopping etc without really know them, but in Norway you will often barely have eye contact with them, while in Zanzibar it is probable that you will use 1-2 minutes for meaningless and futile, but friendly conversation. And maybe that is how it should be?

When I am leaving the house in Stone Town, my neighbors will ask me where I am going. And if we for some reason don´t see each other for a while, they will ask where I have been. Honestly, I find this a little bit intrusive and uncomfortable, but when I get the chance to investigate and reflect on my own reaction, I realize that it has more to do with a dysfunctional, Norwegian instinct then with any logic or reason. We are used to give each other so much privacy and space in Norway, that we become strangers to each other. And in the long run, this might be more harmful than we realize. In Norway, people demand single rooms in the hospitals; in Zanzibar the parents of sick children look after the child in the neighbor bed, while the mother is for instance on the toilet. It is like Shaban Rehman Gaarder writes in this her very insightful essay (written in Norwegian): “Isolation is the dark side of the welfare state” (Isolasjon er velferdsstatens skyggeside).

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