I recently read a study a colleague of mine completed during his time abroad and the journal he kept of his experiences there. My interest was peaked and it was then that I decided I wanted to go abroad myself. Through a program in the sociology department at the university, I was matched with a family in one of the regions that is considered to be more industrialized. The people in the region call themselves Elibom-ians. My purpose was to study the daily life of teenagers in the region. Thus the family I was matched with had two children, one male and one female, both in their teen years. The things that struck me the most during my time there was the torture the Elibom-ians put their bodies though in the hopes of attracting a mate.
Upon arrival, I was introduced to the seventeen-year-old male, Nhoj, and the sixteen-year-old female, Haras. When the girl smiled in greeting, I was shocked by her teeth. They were covered in strange wires. I was later informed that many of the Elibom youth, both male and female, received similar wires during late adolescence because they believe the wires bring about some type of oral transformation that is necessary to attract a mate. It was my understanding that those who could not afford to pay a local tooth “rotcod” for the appliance, years of maintenance, and eventual removal of the wires would struggle to find a mate.
I trailed the girl first, and one of her bi-weekly rituals included meeting other girls of her age at a hand health building. There, they would pay female hand rotcods to grind and cut at their fingernails and cover them in different brightly colored liquids. Again, the females believed this made them more attractive to mates and again, this was not something everyone could afford.
When trailing the boy, we frequented a big grassy field. There he would meet other boys of about the same age. They would play an odd, violent game. They ran around chasing one another with a ball made of dried pigskin. The unfortunate fellow who was holding the ball would be charged at and pushed down by the other players, who were trying to prevent said player from reaching the other end of the field with the ball. When I asked why they played the game, one of the primary answers was that it made them look “cool” and more desirable to potential female mates.
The most confusing aspects of Elibom-ian life were the palm-size, rectangular boxes they all carried around constantly. They almost always kept them in their hands, unless they were sleeping, at which point they would be placed beside their bed. Teenage males and females alike would sit around and stare at the boxes, and even chose to partake in the staring over putting the boxes away and communicating with the other people around them.
My experiences abroad were very valuable and I learned a lot, but I was more than ready to return home when the time came. I just couldn’t become accustomed to some of their odd beliefs and traditions.
The purpose of this writing it to prove how odd and different things can seem when they come from a "different" culture. The things we find normal may be odd to other cultures as well, so try not to judge others too harshly.