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* getting reCircumcised? Not interested!

September 5, 2017

Here’s a real live example of why one (at least me) needs to be careful in how ignorant I am of wearing clothing whose meaning I don’t understand.

I was doing training for Peace Corps once in Antananarivo, Madagascar. A couple days of it on cross-cultural miscommunication, something I felt I could speak about with some knowledge and experience, at least from my side of the fence as I was pretty good at this (the miscommunication part). I also had Øyvind Dahl’s (1999) wonderful dissertation which later became the book Meanings in Madagascar: Cases of Intercultural Communication to work from.

The first morning I proudly put on the long, one piece flannel “shirt” (<<lamba>>) that goes down below one’s knees, with long pants pousse pousseand a regular shirt underneath (it’s cool to cold up in the highlands that time of year). This is what many Malagasy men living in the countryside in the highlands (where we were) wear. I felt pretty good about having it to lend some additional “authenticity” to my training. I am a lot taller than most Malagasy, so I’d had my <<lamba>> custom made for me at the market in Antsirabe, the town where we lived (3 hour drive south of the capital city where the Peace Corps training was happening).
However, in walking by several Malagasy men on the way to training, as far as I could tell they very visibly started to laugh at me. Curious at this, I stopped to ask them “Why? What was so funny?” To my horror they said, between laughs, that they needed to congratulate me because I was obviously going to my circumcision! The real kind! In retrospect I should have asked them why this is how they saw me, as that hadn’t been part of the conversation while I was ordering and buying this garb 3 hours south of where I was doing the training. And maybe I did ask and maybe they told me it was the length, at least in the capital city region as they had different customs? I honestly don’t rememgber. But I was not looking to become circumcised and was so embarrassed by it all that I pondered taking it off immediately. While I did wear it to the training, using the experience to provide me and my trainees with yet another great reminder about why I needed to be emphasizing mis-communication in the training I did.
I never wore that <<lamba>> again. And I concluded that “Be thou careful in what thou chooses to wear that ye has no concept of the meaning(s) of!”

And that’s all I have to say about that!!

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