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Pain and Growth in the Battlefield of Cultures

A few months ago my son, Kithetheesyo, came home from school excited that his teacher was expecting a baby. The class of pre-scholars had participated in measuring the circumference of their teacher's stomach.

After he finished telling us the story, he picked up my tape and tried to measure the circumference of my stomach. I happen to be relatively blessed with a stomach that can be easily seen, and my son probably thought, "Oh well, maybe daddy is expecting, too."

I labored to explain to this four-year-old boy that men don't get pregnant while my loving wife and his sisters were literally on the floor and out of breath, laughing.

This was not my first revelation of cultural battles. It happens in workplaces and medical centers. For instance, testing potential employees for use of illegal drugs, and random illegal drug test for employees are practices used by many organizations. I have no problem with that. However, there are no mechanisms established to help minimize cultural turmoil, especially for employees who are from other cultures.

I came to Idaho for a job with the full knowledge that I would be tested for illegal drugs. On the morning of the sample collection, I was given a small bottle and shown the level the urine sample should be at. No problem so far. However, the gentleman waiting for my sample stood a few feet behind me?a cultural taboo. A Mukamba is not supposed to do that in the presence of a stranger and someone of a different age. After what seemed to me an eternity, I said, "nothing is coming." He asked me whether I could drink coffee. It was about two hours later when we had enough sample even with the catalyst of coffee.

A few years later, the manager of my department casually asked me to report to his office the following day. While at his office, a woman came in with a box and announced that she had come for a random drug test. The initial part, drawing my blood was fine. Then, it was urine sampling time, again. Leading the way, she knocked at the gentlemen's bathroom door to make sure no one (who possibly could give me drug-free urine) was inside. I entered, and she stood at the door to deflect anyone coming in.

I was furious. I wanted that sample (immediately) so that I could make it clear to the department manager, that enough was enough!

But cultural variations, albeit sometimes humiliating do exist in medical related practices. My daughter complained of back pain. I took her to see the doctor at an outpatient center. When her name was called, I remembered my wife's wisdom and admonition, "It's good to stay with your child if a doctor is not accompanied by a nurse."

He asked good medical questions that were culturally humiliating. This was too much. I called my wife using the doctor's office phone and told her, in our native language, my predicament.

She said "Come on honey, it's good you learn what's causing our child's pain." Note, she didn't talk about my cultural pain.

For my physical visit months later, I was surprised when I handled it well and left the premises with some level of dignity. Thinking about it later, I realized the doctor and I talked about life, foods our mothers cooked, how we started our own businesses and the challenges of raising a family.

That was it. Commonality. Finding the threads of life that are shared among diverse cultures, while learning differences, can ease a patient who is going through some experiences that are otherwise questionable in his or her culture.

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