In relation to the last post on cultural observations I have made, here are some of the reasons for why I think things are the way they are. The disclaimer from the previous post still applies!
Future preference versus Present preference
This is a concept that I read about in “African Friends and Money Matters” and applies very well to the concept of resource management and saving. In western culture we are trained to value suffering in the short term for the hope of gaining in the long term. We do this in a whole host of ways, suffering through long years of schooling to get a better job, taking money out of your paycheck to put into a retirement fund, etc. We are biased towards planning for the future. I know that if I work hard today, tomorrow will be better, therefore I am willing to suffer today in order to gain in the future. As I will expand on, this sense of future planning comes from a sense of trust in social institutions and overall living security.
In Mozambique this sense of living for the future does not seem to be as strongly ingrained. People do still plan, but usually on the short term. Resources are used up immediately to put a few more cement blocks onto the house, or pay off a debt. It seems that people would rather be happy and more comfortable NOW, than put off their happiness for the future. The main reason I think this is the case is because of the almost complete lack of social institutions and social security. Disease, death and corruption are rampant. There is no guarantee in anything here. Therefore resources saved are in a dangerous position to be possibly compromised by someone else, or the person may die before using them. The life expectancy is 46 years old, what is the point of suffering now for a future that may never come?
In regards to the observations about sharing of resources, Mozambican culture is much more socially integrated and dependent then western civilizations. When we westerners need something, or are in a position of insecurity, we tend to look towards impersonal government or social institutions. We have welfare programs, food banks, available credit, medical care (sort of; Fuck you republican special interest groups!) and other perks of a relatively well-organized and relatively corruption free society. I say relatively because the U.S. is far from perfect, and as far as “developed” nations, actually ranked quite low in many categories of social functioning, but is certainly better than Mozambique. We do not have to do depend on our social connections and families as sources of support and security, although of course we still can use these resources if we choose. Westerners, and Americans in general tend to be much more independent and our societies reflect this. When in need we seek assistance mostly from impersonal sources.
The situation here in Mozambique is that due to the lack of social security institutions (both private and state run), government corruption and a very strong cultural tradition of tribalism, Mozambicans depend almost entirely on their social connections for support. When someone needs to borrow money or is in need of food and lodging, the first stop is usually a family member. Social connections and friendships are often based on receiving assistance, not actually because the people involved like each other out of a shared interest (as would usually be the cause of a friendship for a westerner). Society here is organized in a much more interdependent manner, with sharing of resources much more common. Cultural traditions dictate the sharing of food and resources, and those who do not comply are ostracized. This makes complete sense in the face of the lack of social support structures as comparatively found in western societies.
Another reason why I think resource and money usage are so different from the way we westerners use them is plain and simple education and exposure. Western civilizations have some of the best education systems in the world, that produce many informed, intelligent and conscientious citizens. Or at least that is the goal. Additionally the amount of exposure to foreign concepts and ideas that a westerner has compared to your average Mozambican villager is astounding. With education and exposure comes critical thinking and management skills and a broader perspective in which to operate. It may seem harsh, but I honestly think that people make very poor decisions simply because they are uneducated, and if these same people had educational opportunities on par with westerners’, many resource management aspects of the culture would be different.
Always enjoy your thoughts Evan. I know you are starting to see the end of your tour. I think some comments on how this experience has changed your thoughts on what to do with the rest of your life would be interesting. What would you now do that you wouldn’t have before – and vice-versa. Best – Ken