Sunday, April 15, 2007

Friends and Family: by Ben

Having Travis with us for the past week really made me wish that all of our friends and family were closer. It feels like there is something “hard-wired” into me that makes me crave long-term relationships and regular contact with those I love most. Many of our African friends have such pity on us for being so far away from our families; they can’t imagine a life so far away from their families. In the West, we have access to travel that takes us to the ends of the earth in relatively little time. Jobs easily take us to other cities, states, and continents, and our contact with our loved ones diminishes.

I just finished a training on indigenous ways of healing. In this module we discussed ways in which people have traditionally sought healing through community collectivism and various ceremonies. I learned so much, and was amazed at the richness of social support built into the culture. We learned traditional ceremonies meant to cure physical, emotional, and spiritual illnesses, but we also learned about lifestyle practices such as hunting (dwar), sitting around the fireplace (Wang Oo), and dancing/singing (Myelo/Wer) that naturally build a sense of community cohesion.

There is a controversial debate whether resilience is a product of nature or nurture. Some people believe that resilience is inherited; that some individuals have a resilience gene or perhaps inherit a resilient personality. Others believe that it is the neurobiological process that occurs after the initial fight/flight survival reaction. The absence of “calming” hormones after the survival reaction leaves people over-alert; consciously and subconsciously awaiting a reoccurrence of the traumatic event. Such hyper-vigilance also works against our physical bodies. Others believe it is the social support offered after an individual has endured a traumatic event.

(This is one of seven parent support group representative trainers)

I suppose the answer should consider all of these factors. However, living in Uganda has highlighted the social support component of resilience. Imagine the personal resources someone has when in the presence of generations of family and a cohesive community versus going through a mental breakdown in an alien or isolated environment such as a hospital. All this to say that my heart is torn between the longing I feel from being so far away from friends and family and the joy I feel in sharing my life with remarkable friends here.

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