Culture Clash

When was the last time you wore fisherman boots at a hip-hop concert performed by a Native Alaskan? Oh really, you’ve never done that? Well, on Friday night I found myself in that exact scenario. And while I listened to “Half Smoked,” a local Sitka rapper who is the son of one of my co-workers, with a fog machine on stage and green lasers shooting around the room, I couldn’t help but think of a few recent culture clashes I have found myself in.

I joked with people before I came to Sitka that I was trying to experience the greatest culture shock while remaining in the same country. But honestly, with globalization who really needs such a drastic geographical relocation to find interwoven cultural experiences and expressions?

Perhaps one of my favorite activities during my time at Jubilee was when we took the refugees to a University of Georgia gymnastics meet against UCLA. I personally had never been to a gymnastics meet, especially not one of a NCAA national championship team, so the fireworks and fanfare at a gymnastics meet were quite unexpected. Obviously, the best part though, was experiencing it with the refugees. Walking into a huge sports arena, mingling among other spectators, and watching the ridiculous flips, spins, and jumps became all new to me as I tried to imagine what it must be like to see it through their eyes. How ludicrous and overwhelming must it all have seemed?

There were also so many moments when the Karen and Karenni refugees blended with southern American culture and I observed it all with my northwest perspective and I honestly had to laugh in total amazement at the whole scene. I definitely had one of those moments when I attended a wedding for two of the refugees held in a small white Southern Baptist church in rural Georgia. How do all those elements come together? Of course, it isn’t really a “white church,” but there certainly wasn’t much integration among the local white and black communities. The wedding was performed in both languages, a hymn and Karen songs were sung, and the church was packed with refugees, Jubilee folks, and the usual church-goers. The church ladies went straight to work after the ceremony getting the potluck dishes ready downstairs in the fellowship hall while the Karen performed a bamboo dance outside. I texted my friend Sharif telling him a few details of the event, and he responded, “Bamboo dancing at a wedding in Georgia? You lead quite the life, Liz.”

And it would seem as though Friday’s hip-hop concert only proves that statement to be true once again, which was, of course, topped-off by Saturday night’s activity of attending a wildlife cruise! (Seriously, I just feel like a jerk bragging right now, this is what happens when you volunteer, you get to do cool things and go amazing places!). My entire house of JVs got to join in on the fun since it was a fundraiser for Big Brother Big Sisters where one of my housemates works. We first journeyed just offshore to see sea otters and bald eagles. But things got really interesting when we went all the way to St. Lazaria Island (a former wildlife refuge) where we saw puffins! And then . . .  (yes, it kept getting better) we boated out to open water to see humpback whales!!!!! AMAZING, totally amazing!! It was a perfect night on the water and ranked right up with the African sarafi in Botswana in terms of wildlife experiences/encounters. Pictures will be coming (to prove I’m not making this up!).

Before starting the second week of work on Monday, two of my housemates who were taken out fishing on Sunday afternoon walked in with six salmon, which were promptly cleaned in our kitchen sink and one of them cooked for dinner. It simply does not get more fresh than that. They were just pink salmon, however, and I am learning that just like the wine snobs in the Napa Valley, there are fish snobs here in Sitka. Our friend Tyler, who took them fishing, won’t even eat pink salmon but reserves his efforts only for the King Salmon. For now, we’ll take pink, but perhaps in a year my tastes will be more refined.

Among all the consumption of great salmon, attendance at hip hop concerts, and viewing of wildlife, I have jumped into my second week of work, getting to know co-workers better, going to hear cases in court (which so far has been super interesting!), getting more training, and generally learning the many elements of what it takes to run a shelter, provide support for women in crisis, and what exactly an “advocate” does. Yes, I realize that was a long, drawn-out sentence, that’s why it captures the essence of what I’ve been up to! Time is already moving along quickly and like everyone else, I’m sure next August I’ll be asking, “Where did the year go?” I’ve mentioned to several friends that I’m excited to see what stories I’m telling in November, March, July as I watch the year unfold and another set of friendships and a new community develop.

Thank you again for the comments, love, and support.

2 thoughts on “Culture Clash”

  1. PUFFINS!!! HUMPBACK WHALES!!! And Native American hip hop with laser show!!! I am officially jealous and definitely want photos. Are you sure you are actually working up there? Always love to hear your adventures and can’t wait to hear what happens next!

  2. Liz, you are so amazing and I love following not only your adventures but your awesome thoughtful response to life.

    Love to you from “the south”
    Margaret Quinn

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