Sometimes, learning entails moving out of our comfort zones to explore the world around us. I have always desired to understand the cultures of different people, especially African culture. The exercise would be unrealistic if I choose to remain in North America without mingling with individuals from such regions. Africa and North America are far apart and accomplishing this goal can be challenging in terms of geographical distance and finances. Great thanks to our university! It is international and has, therefore, gathered many students from all countries across the globe. We have Greeks, Serbians, Sudanese, Indians, and students from the Caribbean, among others. I have tried hard to learn many of these cultures as it fulfills a dream as a social work student to understand the lives of people we may serve in the future. At the campus, I have attended more than fourteen events that such international students organize frequently. This year, I recently attended a Sudanese Dance and Cultural Troupe within the campus, which brought together all the students from Sudan and a few from other African countries as guests.
When the organizers advertised the event on the college notice board, I immediately developed an interest to attend. I thought it was exclusive to international students, but a friend tipped me that it was open to anyone who could afford a ticket for the event. I did all I could to purchase two tickets, including one for my Serbian friend. I was so determined to attend this event. It was an opportunity to explore African culture by interacting with the Sudanese and a few African comrades. I wanted to know how they treated women among them. In fact, we wanted to confirm if they would allow women to attend such an event and encourage them to participate in various activities. Sudan is a Muslim majority country and has been very discriminative towards women (Alharafesheh, 2016). This cultural event could paint the accurate picture regarding such an argument by observing how they treated women in the party. Besides, the country has been in the negative sides of history books for their endless civil and political wars. Through the event, I wanted to know if the Sudanese were naturally warmongers or education could change their behavior. The dance and the cultural concert would reveal the truths or falsehoods on stereotypes towards the Eastern African country regarding chauvinism, war, and corruption, and gender violence, tribal wars, among others. Together with my friend from Serbia, we attended the colorful event and deduced a lot as this paper will portray.
Emotions before the Event
Before the event, I was very nervous because I kept on contemplating what would become of it. At one moment, I called my Serbian friend to ask her if we were ready for the outcome of the event – whether negative or positive. In essence, being so nervous was the reason I decided to request the friend to accompany me to the event just in case. What if the event turned chaotic? What would happen if they chose to attack people of different races present in their concert? Would any sympathize with us in an event of an attack? How would they deal with us if we engaged in activities belittling their culture? If I attended the event with a lady friend, yet they did not allow the same. We interrogated ourselves several times before we could make our way into the event.
Also, I was very pessimistic about the whole event before I attended. First, I thought I would not get the value for my ticket purchase because of boring content. In the past, I had participated in such events that lacked the spark and, therefore, feared that the Sudanese Dance and Cultural Troupe would follow suit. Secondly, I felt that we would experience bullying and discrimination because we were from a different racial background. The stereotype of Sudan being a warring country aggravated such pessimism because we believed some elements would carry the vice to the event. Another factor that made me so pessimistic was the decision to attend the concert with a lady friend. I suspected that it would trigger a backlash from the event organizers whom many studies have accused of chauvinism. Before the event, we also became fearful since we thought we would grow hungry throughout the event. In the advert, they specified diets which were unfamiliar to us.
Emotions during the Event
Contrary to my earlier misconceptions, we remained so relaxed and engaged throughout the event. Immediately we entered the hall with my Serbian friend; the hosts welcomed us with jubilations accompanied by rounds of applause. They all shouted, ‘Our true friends are here, let’s welcome them!’ ‘Our comrades from the land have joined us, feel welcomed!’ They did so in a pattern which created a round song in our honor. Suddenly, a steward came to our table and asked us to order traditional food we could enjoy during the event. Aware of the menu they had advertised, my Serbian friend exclaimed ‘Okra stew!’ – a delicious Okra stew with beef in an onion and tomato salad. Apart from its bitterness, the food was salivating. We managed. We ate until we were all full. Were it not for the shame of being a gate-crusher, I would have asked for more and more.
Again, our hosts made us so jubilant during their concert. As we were enjoying our Okra stew, there were music entertainers at the background producing rhythmic sounds of drums and flutes. The dancers dressed in traditional costumes swerving their wastes rhythmically to the drumming sounds. Two by two, the participants matched to the podium, a man on one side, and a lady on the other. To our surprise, they kept distance between each other, no contact. I was curious enough to inquire why that was the case. A Sudanese neighbor answered, ‘That’s culture! You cannot touch her unless you are married!’ We greeted his response with a smile. Somehow, it was strange to our culture. Slowly, the master of the ceremony approached my table, held our hands in love, and took us to the podium. What next would we do apart from dancing? We danced with traditional Sudanese porridge on our hands. I was very cautious to ‘keep distance’ in respect for the Sudanese culture. We danced and feasted till dawn.
Emotions after the Event
After the event, I became optimistic towards Sudan as a country and the prospective change they are bringing to back to their nation. During the event, I realized that these international students have become more tolerant of other people. The ability to incorporate women in their concert arrangements was a step forward in overcoming the female gender discrimination in the country. Students from diverse races, including my friend from Serbia, took part in the event indicating how accommodative the Sudanese scholars have become. They ensured that we enjoyed a share of their native foods and also introduced us to some sweet cultural dance. The optimism develops because I believe that the Sudanese students who have acquired education will go back to their country. Afterward, they will use their exposure to change their society by disseminating the knowledge they have gained to their fellow citizens.
Further, I felt nostalgic at the end of the event. I recalled the warm welcome we received at the Sudanese concert with my Serbian friend. The night was so electric full of fanfare from our hosts. I was one of the many attendees who did not want the joy of the night to end. I remember my friend who accompanied me to the event could only ask when another of such events would come again. Also, the conclusion of the Sudanese dance and cultural troupe threw me into a reflective mood. I recalled the stereotypes I held against Sudanese before interacting with them through such platforms. Since then, I have been asking myself if they are warmongers as I initially perceived. Are they chauvinists as people label them? The answer is no! The way they engaged women in their concert ruled out such fears.
General Experience at the Concert
As the concert progressed, I reflected on specific ideas that might have contributed to the success of the Sudanese dance and cultural event. For instance, I thought about the concept of the role of education in transforming the behavior and personality of individuals. If it is true that the Sudanese people back in Africa are chauvinists, it would be because they lack the education to transform their minds. What I witnessed were a group of Sudanese students very liberal to their womenfolk. They interacted with them freely and even allowed them to lead certain events during the ceremony. There were no boundaries between men and women, and no action suggested the existence of any chauvinistic elements. However, as I settled down with some of our hosts to discuss the situation back in their country, many lamented the high degree of gender discrimination in Sudan. Some were frank enough to claim that chauvinism thrived in their native country due to lack of education.
Also, I attributed the idea of exposure among the students to the surprise turn of events I noticed at the concert. Our university hosts a variety of students from different cultures. The students exhibit distinct behaviors, customs, and opinion about general life, including gender relations. Probably, the Sudanese comrades at our university might have interacted with such cultures and assimilated them among them. For example, Canadian students live with the policy of their country that advocates for gender equity. As a result, they support equality among genders through their actions and legislation. Sudanese foreign scholars always witnessed such activities due to exposure to the global world. With such exposure, the students will practice the same on their native counterparts back in the country. The move is capable of transforming the mind-set of a whole nation to eliminate traditional vices like war and corruption. Besides, it will limit gender and racial discrimination when they settle in Sudan later in life.
Regarding stereotypes, I attended the concert with a predetermined opinion that Sudanese nationals were warmongers. I thought they were so inhumane and unfriendly the same way history has portrayed them for a long time. Also, because they are a Muslim majority, I went into the concert with a mind that they despise women by not allowing them to participate in the event. Most Muslim dominated nations like Syria and Iran have demonstrated hostility towards women by creating discriminative laws against them. In several occasions, I have heard news regarding tribal and religious hatred existing in Sudan. Recently, some tribes in the southern parts of the country, who felt marginalized decided to break from Sudan’s mainland and created an autonomous South Sudan as a country. Such happenings painted a picture in my mind that views Sudanese people as ones full of tribal and racial hatred.
Meanwhile, attending the concert expelled such stereotypes because I met a completely different group of Sudanese people. While I thought that war was their hobby and the gig would hardly finish without dispute amongst them, they disapproved me. Instead, I met a group of humble scholars who showed love for one another. They shared their food and even danced to their cultural tunes together while embracing each other as equals. Not even a single incident occurred during the dance and culture concert to signify war. Also, I encountered very humane and friendly fellows who cared for one another, including people from other races whom they hardly knew like me and my Serbian counterpart. They further brushed off my fears concerning their treatment for the female gender. The concert was full of women who not only sat and watched but participated in the concert’s event actively. However, there were a few actions that triggered the existence of elements of female discrimination. For instance, they did not allow women to access the dance floor before men because they viewed, such as an abomination. While dancing, women were also not allowed to embrace women. Some of them confessed to me during our conversations how they despised women back in their country. Such were triggers of the real situation regarding the treatment of women in Sudan. My initial thoughts of their tribal hatred and racism diffused based on how they welcomed us warmly into their events.
I must confess that we were both comfortable as the event progressed and not even a single incident threatened our security at the concert. The Okra stew kept us active and alive because we ordered it three times in eight hours. The patron of the ceremony had dedicated a beautiful Dinka woman to attend to all our needs. Through her, we overcame hunger which had been our primary source of fear initially. Every time we needed to respond to the calls of nature, Clara Achok was at our service. I hope she continues with the same spirit and provides similar services to future attendees. However, our primary source of discomfort was the language barrier because they used their local language throughout the event. Many times, we relied on our immediate neighbors update us on the happenings. Although that was a source of discomfort, we understood that it was a cultural event which identifies with the traditional language. I remember, we found ourselves dancing to a tune that required participants to stand still. Fortunately, the steward signaled us to follow suit, and we responded immediately. Overall, we interacted well with our hosts, who also asked us relevant questions on our culture. For instance, Clara asked us to explain to her the procedure involved in our marriages. Of concern was their need to know why there were many cases of divorce in our culture than theirs’. Many of them also sought to know if we had specific traditional staple foods and if people still consumed them in the era of fast foods.
The Impact on my Value System
Attending the event impacted on my value system in several ways. Initially, I was a very judgemental who believed in stereotypes surrounding certain countries and tribes around the world. I am the kind of person who would judge people based on their countries of origin. At the campus, I have interacted with many individuals, including those from South America, Asia, and Europe. I am sad that I have always judged and treated them based on their countries of origin and even race. I believe this has changed after attending the Sudan Dance and Cultural Troupe. If I had not attended the concert, I would still be holding many negative opinions about Sudan and her people. In the past, I knew that all Sudanese people loved war because some histories books have written about it. International news agencies have also been on the topic of Sudan reporting the extent of rot in their security system. However, in my eight-hour interaction with these people, I felt ashamed for having held them in that regard for quite a long time. I met a group of friendly, reasonable, educated, and loving individuals who knew nothing about war. Many of them were initiating programs to go back to their country and sensitize other Sudanese to embrace similar changes.
Furthermore, the decision to attend the Sudanese Dance and cultural event have changed me from a fearful individual to a bold one. Because of fear, I have always feared to move out of my comfort zone to explore some challenging opportunities. As such, I requested my friend to accompany me to the African event just in case of any uncertainty. I have missed several inter-cultural events because I associated them with fights and discrimination. However, after attending one that students from Sudan organized, I have overcome fear and plans to participate in many more of such events in the future. Contrary to my original reservations regarding such ceremonies, I have learned that they are the best places to interact and learn more about individuals and their countries. I will attend future cultural events on my own without asking even for a companion out of fear. I’m beginning to embrace everyone from all walks of life without suspicion. Besides, I’m taking an opportunity to move out of my comfort zone (fear) and explore various aspects of life like cultures around the world.
Our comfort zones can be our main undoing, especially if we decide to stay in it without exploring other challenging alternatives. By taking a step out of such zones, we get a chance to learn about certain aspects of social, cultural, and political environment. For instance, without stepping out of fear and grab an opportunity to attend the Sudanese Dance and Cultural Troupe, I wouldn’t have known about the positive side of Sudan and her people. I wouldn’t have known about their hospitable nature, love, care, and friendliness. I can meet someone and testify how some Sudanese are lovely individuals who prohibit war. Also, it is worthy to note how education and exposure have played a critical role in changing the mind-set of international students within our institution. Unlike the chauvinistic elements of the Sudanese back at home, the scholars testified that the education and exposure they had received had changed their social life positively. They are developing initiatives to disseminate what they have learned at the institution to many citizens back in Sudan. In essence, the essay highlights two issues; the first one is the need of social workers to step out of their comfort zones and learn more about the cultures of the environments they may encounter in future. Secondly, social workers must appreciate the role of education in overcoming the oppressive cultures of communities, including chauvinism, tribal, and racial discrimination.
Alharafesheh, I. (2016). Discrimination against Islamic Women. Global Journal of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, 4(8), 43-47.