Tradition- 1. the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc., from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth or by practice
2. a long-established or inherited way of thinking or acting
Change- to make the form, nature, content, future course,etc., of (something) different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone.
(Definitions courtesy of Dictionary.com)
For those of you who don’t know, Peace Corps has been in The Gambia for more than 50 years now. You might wonder why were re still here if our focus is development.
I haven’t been in the Gambia very long but there are a few things here that I have noticed. Change in hard here. Seriously!!! I was standing next to a man and we were watching jam being made and he didn’t believe it was possible.
We take for granted and may not even notice that in the West, the U.S.A. especially, change is not that hard. Yeah, people talk about the days of auld lang syne but when we think about its mostly its just feelings of nostalgia and not an actual longing for the days before hand sanitizer and Google. As a people we are able to take a new idea and make it a part of our lives as if it was always there before.
Here in The Gambia tradition is part of their tradition. People feel that because they have been doing things the same way that is the way things should be. They farm the way their parents did, eat the way their grand parents did, and for the most part live the way their great grandparents lived. Most of the new ideas circulating in The Gambia were brought from outside and the people here who want change fought tooth and nail to make those ideas stick.
Tradition is by no means and evil unto itself. Traditions is often that glue that binds generations together and allows children to know the great grand parents they’ve never met. It molds our culture and influences our future generations to be more than they’re predecessors or it can keep In them in the same place as their forebearers.
In The Gambia tradition is obeying your elders, not asking too many questions, doing what your mother did, what your father did… and for the most part… never asking why.
In America rebellion, change, and the ability to adapt to change is build into the founding of our nation. You can even say that change is part of our tradition and that makes all the difference.
Change happens when people dare to ask why and the desire for the “why” in life and how we can make things better. In the Gambia, people do ask why, but then those why’s are often silenced by a tradition of doing what your mother did, what your father did. So the cycle of stifled “whys”, poverty, and a lack of tangible development.
Some food for thought
– I’m not saying that The Gambia is doomed by tradition because things are changing (sloooooowly). I am just saying the next time you wonder why a third world country is still… well… third world think about that country’s history. Did it begin as 13 rebellious colonies with a hunger for freedom and independence? Or, was it forced into the 21st century by well-meaning do-gooders who apparently forgot about the horrors colonialism and the partitioning of the African Continent at the whim of nations concerned only with lining their coffers.
Do you come from a culture where the atypical thinker is usually praised (especially when their idea makes them a ton money) for being original and thinking outside of the box? Or, do you come from culture where stepping out of the box can leave you ridiculed? Where stepping out of the box means disobeying your elders and shaming your family in a tight knit community?
Just think about it.