Mike Tidwell’s “The Ponds of Kalambayi,” tells a story of man sent on a mission of cross-cultural experience. He began his journey in the Peace Corps, lead by a women named Rayleen who taught him how to give villagers the skills to farm fish in ponds. “So much time in the Third World left inside her a hard-earned knowledge of poverty’s sadness and an understanding of how hard it is to change. But change was always possible, she told us” (Tidwell 16). The Peace Corps sent Mike on a journey that taught him more than just how to farm fish, but a trip that changed his idea of connection, realization of disconnection, awareness of the world, perspectives of “the other,” and the basis of community.
Connection and sharing go hand in hand, these are factors that keep the Kalambayi people and culture alive. Sharing is so vital in the Kalambayan culture because of its usefulness as a survival method. An example of this is when the Kalambayans who own ponds give away 20-50% of harvested fish to the rest of the village. Being that Kalambayi is an interdependent community means that the people are dependent of each other in order to survive which requires help from everyone. Mike, a westerner living in America which is an independent community, at first only sees a fish farming enterprise. He struggles to understand these foreign normalities in Kalambayi because he lives in a capitalistic world, where a life of individualism not only occurs but is encouraged. Sharing in America is seen as a mere polite action, by means of gift giving for friends or loved ones on special occasions. Mike looks at giving away nearly half of a harvest extremely odd because he is not accustomed to sharing being such a huge piece of inter-connectivity in social life. The Kalambayan people do this because the village is under attack from disease and malnutrition, sharing food prevents death allowing their culture to thrive. This is a mechanism that prevents population decline, without this adaptation there would be little to no Kalambayans in our modern world. The worst action you can make in a community where sharing is a central society component is not sharing. Mike found this out the hard way when he found himself shooing away a poor village beggar women named Mutoba who needed necessary items. Mike even resorted to yelling at the woman after she made a scene on his front door. This eventually provoked the village to refer to Mike as “Muana Tshitua” which translates to the one who doesn’t share. It is normal for villagers to keep their door open to guests like Mutoba who are in need and deserve necessities just like all the villagers. Mike soon realized his problem saying, “My problem, in a big sense, was greed, I wanted to take as much from this African World as I could, to learn the experience, without surrendering any large part of myself, or replacing the faulty moral compass I had come with with one that made more sense in this poor setting” (Tidwell 72-73). His capitalist values showed through as he felt like he was too good to help the beggar woman, which followed the disapproval of the villagers. Even Chief Ilunga did not see himself above his people and shared what he had, as well as leaving his door open to his village. The idea of connection goes beyond just the idea of a community, it is this core value that is reciprocated throughout the village that generates enormous success. Connections are so important in the interdependent society of Kalambayi because when an individual or family goes through a hardship such as lack of food or crop failure they can rely on others to help and contribute their own resources. A cycle is created when the people that are supporting understand that eventually the action will be reciprocated if they endure similar hardships.
Kalambayi revealed disconnections for Mike like the extreme importance of children and family, so much that many cannot become truly happy...
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