Wednesday, March 4, 2009
In Western teaching contexts teachers are discouraged and often fearful from having any direct physical contact with students. A hand on the shoulder could be misinterpreted as a come on, paying too much attention to a particular student could be seen as inappropriate. While granted there are incidences where such over-caution is warranted, the majority of it is characteristic of the Western World’s oft sterile and individualistic cultures. Take away touch and you take away the warmth of human contact. Stay away from me you have germs.
Such phobias are unheard of here. Touch is an integral part of the cultures and communities within which I work. Students are extremely affectionate with each other, constantly holding hands, arms draped over and around each other, regardless of gender. Teachers are the same with one another, and constantly speak to each other using such affectionate terms such as ‘sweetie’, ‘baby’, ‘darling’ and ‘my angel’. The issue of personal space is a foreign concept. Behaviour that may be considered improper on a different latitude is part of the everyday. Being a very tactile person by nature, I thrive in such a context, particularly with my students who smile when I call them sweetheart or greet me with hugs after an extended break from school.
South Africans often kiss on the lips when they greet. There is nothing sexual about this. Family members do it. Friends do it. Sometimes people who are meeting for the first time do it. Having first being exposed to this practice when I lived in Australia among many Zimbabweans and South Africans I was not surprised the first time a man I had just met (a friend of a friend) kissed me on the lips when we parted ways. I can’t help but laugh however at the thought of how such a custom would be interpreted back home...