Thursday, October 07, 2010

Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, Sarajevo Style

Last weekend we ran in the Race for the Cure. Unsurprisingly, there were a lot of Americans there. It was easy to spot each other because we were the ones wearing tennis shoes and running clothes. Most of the Bosnian women there were in high heels. We Americans clumped together while the pre-race program went on. And on. And on. Speech after speech after speech, interrupted by musical numbers. "When is this going to start?" "How far is it anyway?" "Are they really going to run in those shoes?"

Finally, an hour after the announced start of the race, it did. The Americans predominated at the front, running hard for the entire two kilometers (1.2 miles) of the riverfront race course. After I had turned back at the halfway point, I started passing some high-heeled walkers, but many had simply melted away to nearby cafes for coffee or to park benches next to the river for cigarettes (ironically).

I found the whole event very odd. Today, when I learned a new Bosnian word, I figured out why. The word for "walk" or "stroll," šetati, looked familiar when I first looked it up. Sure enough, I dug out the Susan G. Komen race brochure

and discovered that right next to the English "Race for the Cure" announcement, it says in Bosnian, "Let's Stroll Together to Cure Breast Cancer." The Bosnians and the Americans had attended two different events! The Bosnians were there to stroll together, and the Americans were there to race.

The difference in translation highlights a cultural difference. Bosnians are much more likely to try to solve a problem together by trying to build consensus--"let's get coffee and talk about it." Americans tend to want individual action now--someone's bound to win the race (or cure cancer) if we get enough individuals out there running.

I suspect my ability to solve problems would improve if I added a bit of strolling to my toolbox.

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