|Culture Crossing’s Weekly Feature Interview
Carl Safina is president of the Blue Ocean Institute, an international nonprofit conservation organization. This week Carl tells of his experiences in Kenya.
||Biologist, Conservationist, Writer
||Life on Earth, wildlife, oceans, fishing, falcons,
Name a country where you’ve experienced cultural differences: Kenya
Describe one of those experiences: In the Loita Hills in Kenya I met a young Maasai man who lived in a dung hut but was exceptional in many ways. He?d worked with scientists and traveled much within his country. But his tribe was not favored by government, and he did not have the kind of education that would allow him to really go places. And if he did, it would have wrenched him from his community and it might have destroyed him. Most recently, in Alaska, I visited a settlement of 600 called Shishmaref near the Arctic Circle. They?ve lived there hundreds of years. Now the place is being washed away by the combination of winter storms and lack of sea ice from global warming. With no ice, they?re losing land and houses to winter waves. So they have to move, somehow. Their biggest fear is that they will not raise the money to move as an entire community and their collective identity will dissipate.
What did you learn about your own culture from that experience?
They're very different experiences and different dynamics but they're related because I learned that there is nothing in American experience that carries the same sense of deep personal identity in community as native peoples have. And that being part of a native community does not translate well to modern life, where being free and fluid and mobile and having opportunities is what creates personal success. People in traditional communities have the advantage of the deepest roots, but the world is not changing in their favor, so they have the least options. Nor are the rest of us learning more about community and identity from them.
If you were going to adopt a custom, gesture, or trait from another culture,
what would it be? Many people are more quiet than Americans. And I like bowing when it conveys mutual respect among peers.
Where would you like your next culture crossing adventure to take you?
Probably to Belize, to the coral reefs and fishing people of that country.