I have been on buses in South America ever since I can remember and they are always an interesting experiment in cultural appreciation and adaptation.
Just the other day I was talking to some Americans here in Quito that are visiting and learning about different projects that are going on with the Mennonite Church here that my brother and sister-in-law works at. Of course they asked me the usual questions that most Americans ask: Where are you from? and then the elusive (for me at least), What is it that you do?
I told them that I was an Educator (in the nontraditional sense) and that at the moment I am between jobs. As we were talking, one of the ladies, a member of the Cheyenne tribe in Montana asked my advice. She said that she went to the juvenile detention center at the reservation every week and did different workshops with the youth there and that one of the things about her work that she found astounding is that the kids were starved for touch. At the same time, one of the rules in the center was that visitors, volunteers, whomever, wasn’t allowed to touch the youth in any way.
When she led workshops she realized that whenever the opportunity arose for the youth to even brush her hand, they did, just because they were so starved for touch. She let them know that when they got out of the detention center they should come by her thrift shop (where she works) for a hug. And she said, to this day, the youth come by for their hug as soon as they are out.
I commented that in my experience, most people in the U.S.A. are touch-starved. I realize this as a yoga teacher in my classes when you approach people and touch them even lightly it’s almost as if they startle and then lean into your touch. This signifies to me that people are not used to being touched (especially not by “strangers”) and that when they are touched they realize how much they like it and want more of it.
Her direct question was asking if there is any research out there to suggest that touch is something that helps with healing and growth and overall nurturing. Of course this has been proven in a psychological sense since the near beginning of psychological experimentation. Once such study was by Harry Harlow that studied monkeys and their attachment to mothers. One experiment he conducted had monkeys choose between a “mother” monkey made out of wire and wood versus one that had cloth on it (to make it softer). He found that even when there was a bottle the monkeys could feed from, they still preferred being close to the mother monkey that had a cloth on it, seemingly for the comfort that provided them.
We humans are much the same. We like to be close to each other, touch each other, receive contact in a loving and nurturing way. Here in Latin America, this is more the case, and even on the buses you can see this happening. People like to touch you and push you and press into you (in the States if you touch anyone’s finger even, the person will excuse themselves profusely). Aquí, no hay disculpa ninguna y el roce y el tacto en los buses es algo usual, común y corriente. Here excuses are not even thought of and brushing up against someone or touching someone on a bus is something that is pretty common. Today on the bus I was doing a kind of unintentional dance with the fellow next to me as we were both swaying back in forth with each lurch of the bus. Our hips bumping together to the rhythm of the ride. Of course, I can tell you of some pretty awful moments on buses when hands went where they were not supposed to go, but in general, this particular cultural phenomenon in this part of the Americas is fascinating.
So, my invitation to us all, is to touch more freely and readily, those we love, because you never know when a hug can bring the human connection that person really needs.