There is a saying in anthropology that I am quite fond of. It is “In the act of observing the other, you often observe yourself.” I have never figured out how true this saying is, but it became especially relevant to me when we were having a question and answer session with the Hadza, a tribe of hunter-gatherers in Tanzania. We began by asking them questions about things like social relations and their nomadic lifestyle. Then they began asking us, a group of American college students, questions about our culture. The first question we received from the Hadza was about sharing, which is an integral part of their culture. “You seem like you have good hearts, and you’re friendly, but you don’t share with each other. How can that be?” The question really struck me- the Hadza thought we seemed like good people, but since we didn’t share with each other the way they do, they were unsure of how that could be. Sharing everything is so intrinsic, so engrained and important in Hadza culture, that it just didn’t make any sense that we share everything the way they did. It was hard to explain why we didn’t share everything. It can be hard to explain your own culture to outsiders- when you live inside of a culture, it can be difficult to articulate and even understand why certain things are the way they are. On this trip, we have had to attempt to explain our culture numerous times, all while asking others to explain their culture to us. We are at the same time outsiders looking in and insiders looking inside ourselves for answers. While trying to understand another way of life, we had to struggle to make sense of what our own.
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