This week I’m re-blogging an update to my very first post. Since this blog has been accused of rambling without any clear direction (just like its author!), I’d like to inform my readers of my original purpose for developing My Quest Blog. Thanks for reading and please feel free to share any and all thoughts you may have!
I’m just back to Colombia after spending two months in the USA, so I’m experiencing both major and minor cultural tremors on a personal level. Add an extended rainy season in the Colombian highlands (leaking roof and windows!) to the usual adaptation one experiences when culture hopping and you get the picture.
My half-opened door in the small Colombian highlands town of Guatapé
Visiting and spending quality time with my two unique Sisters in the USA is always a trip—in the literal sense. What we share genetically more than anything else are our eccentricities.
While we all have our own idiosyncratic personalities, and despite the challenges apparent in placing three older-adult siblings into the same living space for two months, this scenario always provides me (and I hope them as well) with a great opportunity for personal growth. We’re all three prone to saying “It isn’t easy being us” far too often. 🙂
It’s late spring/early summer in the Northern Hemisphere which means snakes and other reptiles are once again active. This past week, I had multiple encounters with beautiful snakes in my sister’s yard here in North Carolina where I’m visiting. Of course, I do realize not everyone shares my love of nature, nor my fascination with snakes. Some of you are surely cringing right now at the mere thought of being greeted by a snake outside your door, especially a surprise visit because you had forgotten to be aware of them.
My sisters and I agree (as snake experts recommend) with letting the harmless snakes, such as the Black Racer, have free reign outside because they control rodent populations and actually keep poisonous snakes away from the house. I have some friends who say the only good snake is a dead snake. However, I think those feelings are a result of not fully understanding how snakes fit into the ecosystem.
I had a dream this week–one of those part whimsical, part terrifying nocturnal romps through the subconscious mind. I’ll warn you, the dreams that I remember the morning after are in vivid color and peppered with detail.
In my dream, I found myself standing in a crowd that had gathered along the fence facing the North Lawn of the White house. Between the fountain and the north portico of the building stood Donald Trump, dressed in full-on matador costume complete with a glowing red cape he held aloft in his tiny right hand.
The North Lawn of the White House with the sidewalk along Pennsylvania Avenue at bottom–the setting for my dream. Photo Credit: Wikipedia
The future of the citizen workforce
As teachers charged with preparing young adults to become productive members of their society, it was important for my colleagues and I to first understand the peculiarities of the Gulf labor market. We were informed by periodic seminars and workshops, conversations with industry representatives and recent graduates as well as through personal research projects.
While Oman’s wise Sultan’s plan has long been to train Omanis for white-collar jobs in education, business management and the STEM industries, the reality was that in many instances this was a long-range goal. Maintaining expat labor in supervisory and management positions was key to keeping the economy humming in the near-term. What I clearly heard from my students was that they weren’t interested in being part of the blue-collar workforce. They wanted a job, preferably with the government, that came complete with their own desk, computer and a sufficient salary.
Students taking an exam at one of Oman’s major universities. The percentage of females studying is considerably higher than males at many of the Sultanate’s universities.
But, things are SO cheap here!
The Gulf was one of the few places I’ve lived where many of my teaching colleagues hired help each week, especially for house cleaning and car washing. For less than US $10, a teacher could hire the services of a cleaner for an entire weekend afternoon. Call me crazy, but I like doing my own cooking and cleaning so I never went the way of many other expats while I was living there.
During my first two years in Oman, college administration officials allowed faculty to have their cars washed on campus. This practice gave some of the college-sponsored laborers the opportunity to add to monthly salaries as low as RO 40, or a little over US $100. I was accused more than once by co-workers of ‘spoiling’ the system because it was difficult for me to pay one of these laborers the equivalent of US $1.00 for hand-washing the exterior and cleaning the interior of my car in temps that would bring on heatstroke for an average person. In reality, I wasn’t alone in paying more than the standard rate for such services.
Another example of low-tech construction methods–workers routinely dug trenches by hand before burying water pipes or electrical cables.
Here, as in many of my posts, I’ll be walking along a precipitous slope while making cultural comparisons based on my personal experiences and research while living and working in different regions of the world where cultural norms and practices may contrast starkly. My aim is not to find fault or present one culture as being superior to another. As I’ve stated repeatedly in this blog, it’s my belief that all cultures hold valuable lessons for others to learn. These posts are simply meant to be a starting point for discussion on topics I feel are important, not an indictment of any specific people, religion or way of life.
Understanding that we’re all products of our own cultural upbringing and accumulated life experiences, I’ve admitted repeatedly that it’s challenging for me to maintain an objective cultural perspective, especially while living and actively participating in life within a given country and culture. I’ve found it’s much easier to see all sides of an issue once you’ve put a bit of distance between yourself and the major challenges of the moment. With all our shared human flaws, we’re more likely to achieve a balanced point of view by reflecting on experiences over a period of time.
So, with that in mind, I’d like to share some thoughts I had this week while visiting one of the huge building supply stores here in the USA. While searching aisle to aisle for just the right type of lumber, hardware and screws to complete a small project, I was reminded of the differing perspectives on physical labor and the concept of self-sufficiency that are evident from one culture to another.