Thursday, February 16, 2006

Outdated cultural beliefs

One of the young Timorese female volunteers that works with my team told me to be careful sitting in front of the fan because I would become sick. Apparently, the fan blows round germs and viruses and I am liable to fall ill as a result.

I cannot begin to tell you how much these ridiculous beliefs with no basis in scientific reasoning irritate me! I will not get sick from cooling myself in front of a fan! I nearly lost my temper with her and tried to explain that it was a Timorese cultural belief not one that people from Australia shared. I had to restrain myself from saying, “you stupid girl, what utter nonsense!”

Dili is such a horrid climate to live in and yet the Timorese have no means of cooling themselves because even if they had the money, their adherence to these outdated irrational cultural beliefs would stop them from purchasing a mere fan. Air conditioners and fans are relatively “new” inventions for the Timorese and when one is available for use (usually at work), they generally won’t turn one on because they believe the moving air will make them ill! Ugghhhh!!!!

This cultural belief is so widespread that it deserves equal footing with the host of others I have come to learn of:

  • wrapping babies, infants and new mothers in layers of clothing so they overheat, with the intention of inducing a fever, in the hope of warding off any possible infection whether one is likely or not (unfortunately it is an infection that will induce a fever, not the other way round);
  • women not being able to wash their hair (and possibly bathe) for 40 days after giving birth while drinking only hot liquids, bathing in scalding water and sitting close to an open fire (again in the belief that it will ward off any infection);
  • not feeding newborns colostrum (not sure why they think this very rich initial breast milk is so dangerous);
  • keeping hats on infants heads way past their necessity (possibly again to ward off any possible infection; unfortunately this habit combined with dehydration (which is common) and over-exposing the child to the hot sun can result in sun stroke, and therefore permanent brain damage);
  • women not bathing after dark (probably because the animist male gods disapprove);
  • and on and on it goes.

Category: Timor-Leste (East Timor)

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