“Every person that you meet knows something you don’t; learn from them.”
Last weekend I went on a road trip. The journey was relatively short yet in less than two hours I was transported to another world. Along with a group of nursing students, I was participating in a health fair in a little town called Pahokee, located on the east side of Lake Okeechobee. Driving up US 27, I enjoyed the feeling of getting away from the concrete jungle, and appreciated the sights of citrus, cane and sawgrass.
The professor of the class had prepared the students for the demographics of the area. She had presented them with statistics about ethnic groups, salaries, occupations, motor vehicle accident statistics etc., so that the students could prepare educational presentations on health promotional activities. Did you know that African Americans are also at risk for developing skin cancer? Our students were prepared to teach, unfortunately, the fair coincided with the Muck Bowl – a local sporting event which pulled the crowd. Belle Glade and Pahokee make up Muck City, an area famous for its rich soil, and for producing over 60 NFL players!
But the experience was far from a failure, for our students learned more than they could have expected. In this quaint old town, with ten churches and no MacDonalds, we learned from our fellow presenters. We had taken into account the racial diversity of the population. What Google didn’t tell us was that there is such a thing as the ‘Glades Culture’, a way of life that is foreign to the bright lights and fast pace of the east coast. One young lady explained that five generations will still be living together, or at least close by. And just as we are familiar with ‘Jamaica time’ (aka Cuban time, Island time, Black Folks Time, etc. etc) in that area they deal with ‘Glades Time’. But this not only affects punctuality, it also encompasses a way of life that looks mostly at the here and now, the pressing problems of today. The future is not planned for, they take things one day at a time.
I was reminded of the importance of being open to information, not entering a situation with pre-conceptions and expectations. This is not easy, as most of us like to anticipate what we will encounter as we prepare for a new situation. But over-planning and over-thinking prevent you from learning and growing. If you believe your own hype and see yourself as the expert, you run the risk of being embarrassed when things don’t go as planned.
So the encounter in Pahokee provided a learning experience for those of us who thought we were going to teach. The students plan to return in April (when one of the local NFL stars returns to put on a fair) and in August, when the health fair provides physicals and immunizations along with back packs for the local school kids.
Driving back along the royal palm lined road on the edge of a cane piece I saw simple wooden houses alternating with two story mansions. I thought of the novelist Zora Neale Hurston. Her book ‘Their eyes were watching God’ conveys some of the sensations and experiences of living in that area of the world. Did you know that her anthropological studies took her to Haiti and Jamaica? In one of her books ‘Tell my horse’ she relays some of the more interesting funeral and burial rituals of Jamaica. She also writes that she encountered the 1930’s Jamaican male, who couldn’t understand why this woman was asking him questions, rather than being in the kitchen preparing his food!
We can learn so much from others, if we accept that they have something to teach us. So often we enter situations ready to give our opinions, to share our expertise, and to advise others wisely. It is indeed humbling to recognize that we have so much to learn. And if you don’t open yourself to those opportunities, you lose out on some of the richest possibilities of life.
We have only to look at the Philippines to realize that we don’t have all the answers. Despite the advances of technology, we can still be devastated by random acts of nature. But is there something to learn in the tragedy? Are we indulging in such wasteful lifestyles that we have tipped Mother Nature into a murderous imbalance? Scientists can measure the changes in sea level, the melting of the arctic ice cap, but some feel that we lack data from the long view of history to see if these catastrophic events are part of a ‘normal’ cycle.
On this Friday morning, let us look for lessons in everyday life, accepting with humility that we don’t have all the answers. Let us look for opportunities to redress imbalances, and contribute in some way to decreasing unhealthy practices. For those who are suffering in the Philippines, please consider sending a contribution, so that the work can be done to give those suffering some degree of comfort.
Have a great weekend, Family.