The River of Culture by Paul Salopek (Audio and Text)
THE RIVER OF CULTURE
By Paul Salopek
I will be walking through many cultures on my walk. Already, I have trekked through a part of Ethiopia where two different groups of people herd their goats–desert nomads called the Afar and Issa. In the small Red Sea country of Djibouti, there were all kinds of different people mixing on the waterfront capital: French soldiers, Somali traders, Syrian ship captains, restaurant owners from Yemen and American diplomats.
On my walking route across the globe, I will be meeting people from hundreds of different cultures.
But what *is* culture, really? And how real is it?
Back in the old days, people used to think of culture as something hard, inflexible, a collection of simple social features–food, dress, language and even a well defined set of collective personality traits. (Russians are sentimental, Americans are loud, the British have dry humor, etc.) But in truth, culture isn’t so simple–or so unchanging.
Cultures change. Modern-day suburbs where people drive cars and watch TV are as “authentic” a human culture as a remote mountain farm where people still light their mud brick houses with kerosene lamps. Cultures also mix and merge constantly as people move around, absorbing new ideas. To put it in terms of landscape:
Culture isn’t an oasis, a pool of water in the desert, separated from another culture by miles of sand. Human culture is instead like a river, constantly flowing, mixing, with whitewater rapids and still pools, to be sure, but it is all interconnected. Culture is restless. It flows. It lives.