Relationships with Light in Separate Cultures

By Lina Ware

I come from a society in which having light means a lot of things. Light means functionality in the early morning + the late night, security within stores + households, a sense of safety at the end of the day, and much more. At home there are lights in every room, lights on the exterior of my house, and at least 2 street lamps on every block. Not every home in America is like this, but there are always similarities in some shape or form; meaning that to a majority of people within American society, light is associated with security, safety, and efficiency. This relationship between us and light in America can serve both as a freeing aspect-allowing us to perform tasks once the sun’s light is no longer available- but also as a chain. In my lifetime I had never seen the milky way in the night sky with my naked eye due to my constant embrace with light, but now that has changed.

            I have recently spent 3 days and 2 nights living at a homestay with two classmates in a village called Gondeni. This homestay experience had a lot of anticipation surrounding it, as it was expected to be the largest leap from what us students are accustomed to in America; and a leap it was. The homestay in which I lived consisted of a small 3-room house, a kitchen hut, and a hut that serves as a guest room ( a rhondaval).Upon settling in, we realized that If we had not been instructed to bring our flashlights, our only source of light past the sun would’ve been two small lightbulbs -one inside the guest house, one outside- and the cooking fire lovingly tended to by Constance, our homestay mother. To us this was quite different from what we are used to at home, and this difference caused us to struggle with a few things. The lightbulb inside the rhondaval was so faint that it took a lot of rummaging around our luggage to find specific items-a decrease in the efficiency we are used to at home. During the night, we walked around and walked to the latrine in complete darkness (the moon was new during our time here); we knew we were safe in this area, but there were some moments in which I felt vulnerable and exposed in this darkness. This showed me how much I tie my sense of security to being able to constantly see my surroundings, especially with the dangers of being in darkness alone I’ve been taught to fear back at home.

            These “inconveniences” (if you can really call them that) by no means hindered our stay at the homestays, but they still had a minor psychological effect on us. It was when I noticed the comfort and lack of these fears within the children and adults who lived in this village that I realized that they had a very different concept on the necessity of light. In terms of their household metabolism, their efficiency rotates around the sun and their fires at night; at my homestay it is unlikely that you would find someone using artificial light late in the night for the purpose of continuing their work from the day. I respect this idea, once the sun is down and the fire is out, the day is done and work will continue tomorrow. I feel as though our society tries to squeeze out every hour of the day to get that last drop of productivity before going to sleep, many times we will choose productivity over sleeping; a behavior that has proved to be unhealthy for many of our mental states. The children especially have shown me a lack of fear or annoyance since the sun goes down, they will continue playing, talking, and eating until they can no longer see their hands, and that isn’t a negative thing to them. This shows to me the existence of a social connection that does not require the presence of sight, they can feel each other’s presence and share their comfort with each other without all six senses.

In the end, I do not feel that one society’s relationship with light is better than the others. There are complexities that arise in these relationships, both positive and negative, but I think that having lived and observed both of them I can embrace light with a new perspective and have the potential to change my livelihood for the better.

A picture of the ceiling of the rhondaval, door is open to allow outside sunlight.

A picture of the ceiling of the rhondaval, door is open to allow outside sunlight.

A picture of the ceiling of a guest room within my house at home.

A picture of the ceiling of a guest room within my house at home.

Natalie Miller