In Galmi, we play chicken a little differently than in the US and other parts of the world. Instead of two cars charging head-on until one swerves (or they collide), we play with humans . . . in the hospital hallways.
Often it's with a family member of one of the patients, but it's always the same thing: I move right, she moves right; I go left she goes left. This continues until we meet in the middle for a either a slow-dance step or a more sporty fake-turn-and-run-with-the-ball type move.
Maybe its the OT in me, or maybe I'm just weird, but for the past year I've been analyzing this societal trend:
Why does this game of hallway-chicken happen so frequently? Why does it seem so many people can't figure out how to walk through a hallway with on-coming traffic? How can the idea of move-to-your-side-of-the-aisle be so difficult? How is it that an entire population of hospital visitors do not understand the physical laws of a hallway?
And after months of careful occupational and anthropological reflection, I've developed a theory which leads me to a brand new diagnosis:
The inability to adequately motor plan while passing another person in a corridor so
as to avoid a physical interpersonal collision.
Motor planning is one's capacity to organize, initiate, coordinate and effectively execute movements. In other words, it's the ability to make your body do what you want it to do, and go where you want it to go when you want it to.
Motor planning is when your brain says to your hand 'Hey, hand! Pick up that glass and drink the water' and your arm obediently reaches forward while your hand takes the initiative to extend your fingers around the glass, flex them to secure the cup of water, at which point your wrist stabilizes, and your shoulder and elbow simultaneous flex in such a controlled manner that the water doesn't spill. Your wrist then deviates and gently tilts the glass to your lips . . . and . . . well you get the point.
Apraxia, however, looks a little more like the glass lies shattered on the floor, water is spilled down the front of your shirt, and you sit wondering why they don't sell sippy-cups for adults.
Now, take my example of the cup of water. If there's a breakdown in the communication between your brain and your body, a simple task such as drinking becomes an arduous, laborious effort of work that does not yield the desired outcome. It is common to find apraxia in patients who have suffered a stroke or brain injury, kids with developmental disabilities, even older adults with dementia.
But I'm not referring to individuals with impaired capacities. This is a continual occurrence with highly functioning, mature adults.
Go ahead, accuse me of over-analyzing the minutia, but I find this phenomenon totally fascinating! And I really think it has important implications for any of us who work cross-culturally.
I spent the first 29 years of my life living in a context that valued hallways. We valued them so highly, we stopped thinking about them . . . we don't even notice they are there . . . except of course when its time to transform their walls into our very own in-home-gallery of family portraits.
Our homes have hallways. Our places of work and government buildings have hallways. Our schools have hallways . . . shoot, we even learn hallway etiquette as children!
But here, in rural Niger, the closest thing we have to hallways are the dirt roads that weave between homes. And the way houses are designed, each room is separate on the compound . . . none are adjacent, and the courtyard is vast. The village chief has a lean-to where he sits on a mat with the other elders . . . no hallways. If there is a school, it is long collection of classrooms that open to the outside, similar to a strip-mall setup.
Of course there is a societal pandemic of Hallway Apraxia! THERE IS NO CULTURAL CONTEXT FOR NEEDING TO KNOW HOW TO WALK DOWN A HALLWAY!
It's just not a necessary skill.
Which makes me wonder . . . how many other 'life-skills' I've placed in the 'deficient' column, when in reality, they don't actually exist here.