See where the little red balloon is above? That’s where I lived in Africa for about two years: Kananga, West Kasai Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Shortly after I arrived there, I was unexpectedly pressed into community duty when the nearby river threatened to flood a village. With others, mostly Congolese, I began shagging sandbags and other materials in order to shore up the village against the flood. There was a lot of chatter in two languages–Tshiluba, the tribal dialect; and French, the language that Belgian colonizers planted in the Congo. Not knowing Tshiluba, I spoke in French.
At one point, a fellow worker, whom I’d not yet met, turned to me asked (in French), “You’re an American, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” I answered. “How did you know? Was it my accent in French?”
“No,” he said. “It’s because you’re telling everybody what to do.”
Ouch. The longer I lived in Africa, the more I saw that he had a point. We Americans tend to start our discourses with “Here’s what you need to do!” And we usually say this before we have asked our audience, “What do you want to do?”
For about, thirty-five years (most of my adulthood) I have struggled ferociously to train myself to “Shut up and listen!” And I confess: I’m still not fully trained.
The next two podcasts–“Would You Please Shut Your Yapper?” (released today) and “Hi, Kids! I’m an Anthropologist” (to be released July 4)–will chronicle the struggle to shut up and listen.
Here’s the new podcast that was released this morning. I hope you enjoy it. (C’mon wid it!”)