Tag Archives: doubt

7%

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I could delve in and out of the small, gritty details but hashing them out doesn’t really change what has happened. I started writing this by giving a synopsis of the facts (and what I know for sure) but I deleted it because that isn’t what I want to focus on. Playing cop and tracking down the guilty is exhausting. After 5 days of running through a thousand scenarios in my head and leading some kind of “investigation”, I just can’t do it anymore.

I will tell you this:

Money was stolen from me last week. From my bag. From my bag that was sitting on my table in the front room of my house.

I sold my small computer to a colleague after our GLOW party. He purchased my small, used computer for about the US equivalent of 60 bucks. The thief took a third of that, close to 25 US dollars. The thief took the money sometime between the end of the celebration and the next morning. However, I have reason to believe it occurred just before dark as girls headed home post-party. Moreover, I have compelling evidence to believe it was a GLOW girl – yes, one of my own – to do that action. You can imagine how that felt. On one hand, I was so mad at myself. How could I be reckless by leaving my bag vulnerable? And once your start chastising yourself, it can be hard to stop.

Have I been an idiot to be as open as I have?
Are these girls REALLY my friends?
Is my Peace Corps service tarnished by the role of money in some of my projects and relationships?
Have I been getting used this entire time?

And on the other hand, I just felt pure betrayal. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a small amount of money, but it’s hard to ignore the layers rooted in this problem. I can deal with the loss of money (even though I was counting on having all of it for my impending travels around Rwanda) but I am not okay with stealing. Not from my girls.

Fidele, our director of studies, and one of my good friends from the very beginning of my time as a volunteer, has been working with me on how to approach this issue. He’s insightful and often gives good advice when it comes to these sort of things. “We must search and investigate slowly. Slowly by slowly, “ he told me. He called a meeting with all the girls who had entered my house and asked where and what they did in the time the theft happened. While it was a good meeting in terms of getting things on the table, so to speak, it added even more stress because tensions arose quickly. Nothing is ever simple here. Working with young women is amazing 98% of the time. But when drama arises, it is absolutely miserable.

I started to take stock of past behaviors and tendencies in the relationships I have with each girl that could have taken the money. Those continual and consistent home visits really paid off in this situation; I know a lot more than the community might realize. I know where these girls come from, the challenges they face, and their family dynamics. I KNOW THEM and that may be the most powerful tool I have in trying to sort all of this out. I carefully considered the things each girl has told me. I thought about the times each girl has tried to create issues or conflict with other girls. Because believe it or not, this problem became a lot more than just about an incident of theft.

Cries of “jealousy” surfaced and I wanted to know their roots. Basically, one girl was accused early on as being the thief and she completely freaked out and said that it was just another example of a lie in order to “make separation between us.” “Us” refers to myself and her.

She is one of two of my girls that have frequently discussed about having “enemies” and that people in the community have tried to spread “bad ideas” so that my relationship with them would suffer. However, one skill that I have keenly developed over the past 2 years while serving in Rwanda is the ability to understand people and why they do the things they do. And as I contemplated these claims, these stories didn’t make sense in light of the behavior of the other girls involved. The girls that said rumors were being spread about them are actually the ones harboring jealousy. They are creating enemies and conflict in their head and manipulating these kind of events to hide their own insecurities . They regularly see themselves as victims. I was close with these two girls very early in my service, but as my life here has continued, my relationships with other girls have become strong as well. For whatever reason, this does not sit well with them.

And it’s these two girls where money has played a very questionable role in our relationship. There have been far too many incidents where it has been highlighted in a problem between us and slowly it’s chipped away at my level of trust for them.

I of course also considered the feasible probability of each girl involved. What kind of opportunity did they have?

Following the meeting with Fidele, I also tried to see if any of their stories had “holes”. And on an early morning run a couple days following the incident, I was able to find a small gap in one girls’ story. Her story almost made perfect sense. Almost. But I found a small lie in her explanation that could point her out as the one who stole my money from my bag.

Finally, I consulted my headmaster and we discussed the psychology of this whole thing. He studied psychology for a long time in higher education. That, in addition to his extensive experience working with students as an administrator, makes him a pretty qualified person to work with on something like this. After providing more background information, we felt pretty confident in who the thief was. However, we are committed to moving slowly. Without a confession you can never know for sure. We don’t need to come down on this girl right away, we can wait and see what happens.

It was quite painful to think critically about the inter-workings of these relationships formed over the time I lived in my village. After 2 years, it’s not always enjoyable to be honest with yourself about why people “love” you. That being said, it was simultaneously an empowering experience, because it made me more resolute and totally sure about other relationships that I have. While there are people motivated by extrinsic things (namely, money) there are still some people who love me for me. They may not be many here, but they exist. And they are (and will continue to be) some of the most loyal friendships I have had.

Fidele told me without reservation, “don’t trust anybody. Don’t trust me, don’t trust that girl, this girl, or anyone. Don’t trust.”

Though I am certainly far too giving of my trust, I am also human. And I absolutely believe that in order to have full relationships, you must learn to trust people. But he is right in that if you trust everybody you are a fool. I must trust, it’s just about knowing who it goes to.

As I said, despite having a pretty strong idea of who stole from me, there exists a tiny sliver of doubt. That’s enough; and so honestly, I’m ready to just let all of this go.

I escaped this overbearing issue for a couple of days by visiting my friend Sarah at her wonderful site, a couple hours away.

We drank a beer in public at a bar in her village – a sign we are definitely old time 2-year volunteers who are ready to let go of some inhibitions that we’ve maintained during our services – and ate some seriously good food. Perhaps best of all, she has running water AND wonderfully strong water pressure from her shower! Y’all, a shower. I’ve been taking bucket baths every night and so a shower is a beautiful reprieve and is a gem of a find in rural Rwanda. Post-shower I was clean as I have been in months. I relaxed in my blue sarong, clean, listening to “This American Life”, and happy I took a couple of days outside Ruramira and outside the stress this problem has put on my heart.

I reflected delicately over what the last few weeks has brought in my life:

  • I officially closed all paperwork for my sports grant project.
  • Margaux, the new volunteer who will be replacing me in my village for her two year Peace Corps service, visited me for three days to learn the ropes and basics of our village.
  • I finished my last leg of teaching, grading, and obligations surrounding my primary assignment of being an educator.
  • I met with my friends and their respective replacements at one of our favorite regional towns and talked a lot of about the future.
  • The GLOW girls put on an amazing party to honor our accomplishments and achievements from 2012 until now. They did me proud. It was our last time together as a group.
  • And yes, money was stolen from me and a witch-hunt ensued.

In the midst of all these doubts and disappointments considering which one of my girls could have stolen from me, I kept coming back to the most obvious fact of all:

THIS IS THE END.

It’s a matter of fact, and it’s coming. Without any regard to how my days are filled. And when I become engaged with how the days are moving along, it’s very easy to see that the transition period is in full swing. And so, the ever-present (and stressful) issues of trust (really, more about mistrust), deception, and lies will not be removed from this inevitably up and down experience. But, I’ve prayed and asked God to help me forgive and to also be more aware of the way I am trusting people. I want to accept what has happened without it defining the greater part of my service. I don’t want to leave with a sour taste in my mouth.

I recognize fully that I’ve made mistakes in my service. I didn’t do the PEACE CORPS THING perfectly. Other volunteers could perhaps look at some parts of my actions here and say that I had something like a theft coming for me. But, let’s be real, there isn’t a right way to do this.

MOVE AWAY FROM YOUR FAMILY. CRY. LEARN A NEW LANGUAGE. CRY SOME MORE. ADAPT TO A NEW CULTURE. LIVE AMONG SOME OF THE WORLD’S POOREST. MAKE FRIENDS. BUILD RELATIONSHIPS. HELP. LIVE WITHOUT EXCESS. BE SICK. WATCH MOVIES. EAT BANANAS, OR WHATEVER THE LOCAL FAVORITE DISH MIGHT BE. MAKE BEST FRIENDS WITH YOUR HEADLAMP. TRY AND DO SOMETHING GOOD. TEACH. LEARN. CHANGE. SHARE ABOUT AMERICA. AND TELL YOUR AMERICAN FRIENDS ABOUT THE PLACE YOU CALLED HOME FOR A COUPLE YEARS IN YOUR LIFE.

I’m 25 months in. When you break it down mathematically, I have finished 93% of my service. That leaves 7%.

Can I fix and correct my mistakes with 7% left of my Peace Corps life?

No.

But, I can adapt. I will be devoted to what has always been right and good for me during my time in Rwanda. I will learn from all of these experiences. And I will make my last 7% – my last 6 weeks – great. I can do this, because that’s what Peace Corps Volunteers (and really, people in general) do. Sometimes crappy things happen.

So what exactly are you going to do about it?

And now my heart stumbles on things I don’t know…
My weakness, I feel, I must finally show…
The way you invest your love, you invest your life
Awake my soul.
– Mumford & Sons “Awake My Soul”

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Aside

A few weeks ago, Meredith and I were walking around town in Kigali, most likely searching for our go-to products (oatmeal, cheese, or spices), or maybe even more likely, headed to Bourbon Coffee to scope out the ever hot commodity of internet (and duh, a white chocolate mocha or café late depending on my particular mood of the day). We passed a highly reflective blue wall on the scaffold of some building in town and for the slightest few seconds, I glanced at my image, flipped my hair, and smiled.

Meredith saw the entire thing.

Busted. We laughed and kept moving.

A slight moment of vanity? Completely forgivable. After all, I maybe look at myself in a mirror once every few days or so. Not to mention my mirror (the only one I own here) is a small rectangle, maybe the size of an Iphone. This is quite divergent from the opportunity to see your reflection back home; mirrors litter my house, the stores I visit, and essentially any sort of establishment I frequent. I’ve welcomed this change. While it makes maintaining things like my eyebrows difficult, I am also released from really giving a damn about my appearance.

That didn’t come out right.

As a teacher and the only white girl living in my community, I do want to look culturally appropriate and nice. Especially since wambaye neza (‘you are dressed smart’) is a highly valued comment in this culture. But I’m not reliant on mirrors for satisfaction in my image, and believe me, there’s a difference. That’s what cameras are for, right?

No, really, I’m not saying all of this as a way to promote some sort of new self-righteousness separation from vanity that I’ve discovered in the last year. Oh no, that’s not really my point at all. The thing is, with a significant decrease in dependence upon mirrors, I find myself separated from the exterior of myself sometimes. I sometimes forget I’m a white girl. Is that weird?

Believe me, as quickly as I forget, I’m reminded once again. A child—sometimes even a full-grown educated man—shouts umuzungu (the name typically used for white or rich person). Someone touches my skin, obviously wondering if I’m another species. A woman gropes my hair in profound wonderment—oh my god, they say in Kinyarwanda (Imana wanjye). And yes, this happens every single day. I’ve lived in the same place for over 9 months, and still being white is mind-blowing for many people I live among.

As I forget my whiteness though, I sometimes forget what comes with being a white girl in rural Rwanda. Because I’m white, people often safely assume the following:

  1. I’m rich. Very very rich.
  2. I provide sponsorships. Often and regularly.
  3. I’m better than everyone else.
  4. I know Barack Obama. If they ever did cross another white person in their life, well, then I probably know them too.
  5. I can distribute all of my own possessions—these of course, are replaceable.
  6. I speak only English.
  7. I’m like every other white person in the world.
  8. I can’t possibly cook (or do anything else for that matter) for myself.

Just writing that—making it real—I feel a tinge of anger, frustration, and hurt seethe through my body. I never imagined being white would be this challenging. Because here’s the problem:

I’m a year in.

I’m very solidly integrated into my community. I can speak enough Kinyarwanda (at least enough to get by). Apparently, you can be happy here. I’m doing it. I have relationships that have started to feel very meaningful.

So, what gives?

Well, I’m invited to countless weddings. I’m IN weddings. I’m begged to come to all sorts of church services, family gatherings, parties, you name it. I’m repeatedly requested to visit as per Rwandan culture. I’m asked to give and donate money. I’m a point person for some people who have a problem. I’m asked to take photos. I’m asked to develop photos, spending my own money. And of course, I get the blatant ‘give me money’ every so often.

But even all of that, that’s not what has got me so twisted.

What if it’s the other stuff—the relationship stuff—that doesn’t add up?

What if I am simply a means to get to an end point? You know, make friends with the rich, white girl, and hey, maybe she can hook you up?

What if those people who I love, still see me as WHITE? Not as me, be it Heather or Impano, but the white girl, the umuzungu?

 It’s dangerous territory, I’m finding, to question everything in light of who I am and how this affects the people around me. I am learning that you can never be 100% sure of another person’s intentions. We don’t exist in the heads of other people, and for good reason. You can’t guarantee people do what they do for the right reasons. It’s a tough, heavy realization—one that I’ve never had to struggle with (at least not to this degree). My best, strongest relationships in life continue with an equilibrium of trust. Relationships take two people, and it’s give and take, not because you expect that, but because your motivation is love and you believe the same is true for the other person. If you really think about it, every single relationship you have in your life—be it God, your best friend, your parents, your co-workers, whatever—it’s built on trust. Everyone says that, and it’s obvious, but when really put to the test, working through the muck is extraordinarily difficult. Painful, even. Imagine questioning every good relationship you have in reach. That’s what I’m working through now and it’s not really something I anticipated to question with close community members. I’ve found myself almost paranoid, wondering if my students—especially the ones I’m really close with—love me because of what I potentially bring to the table (money, status, connections) and not because of the times we have shared together. To think too much about that, well, it kind of breaks my heart. Like I said, it’s dangerous territory.

My concerns and worries, I feel, are absolutely justified and understandable. I have to take a step back and take stock of what is happening here because this entire experience is important to process. Yet, Suzi told me something pretty powerful the other night over our nightly phone conversation as I spilled and spewed out these reservations of where I stand relationally in my small village: here, there may always be this question. It won’t go away. You have to learn to cope, to coexist, and maybe best of all, to be free of the worry that you can suffocate from if you think about it too much. I know full well I have to move forward. I know I have to trust my relationships here despite what being white may mean. Because while doubt can act as a necessary compass, to live in doubt permanently, to let doubt consume and taint everything I do—where does this take me? Nowhere.

This will be extraordinarily hard—maybe even harder than making and building these relationships in the first place. But, I have no choice.

A dear friend recently wrote me in a letter saying,

I just flipped through some of your pictures.

You look happy, almost like something in you has healed.

I hope you are as fulfilled and joyous as you seem.

Goosebumps hit all over my arms when I read these words late one Tuesday night before I headed off to take my nightly warm bucket bath. She’s right. 100% right.

As difficult as all of this can be, both the challenges and beautiful easy parts place me in a prime position to grow as a woman. I have issues, questions, and as you can see, doubts, like everyone else, but one thing I’ve learned in the last year is how to recognize a difficulty as an opportunity. I’ve always embraced the power of positivity, but believe me, in a year of village life, even I’ve been stretched to new limits and abilities to embrace times of struggle. That’s healing, my friends. And moreover, I’ve realized that integral to this kind of healing has always been my ability to love and trust. Sometimes, you get screwed over. But most of the time, I think, when you believe in the people around you and trust that they are with you for a reason, you reap a much greater deal of happiness, contentment, and joy in life. I’m not saying being naïve is the answer; rather, taking the leap and continuing to trust in the motivations and intentions of other people will bring you a greater peace of mind than questioning absolutely everything.

And so in the spirit of living but working through doubts, I have every intention to do that with this whole issue of being white. Because these years of teaching, living, and breathing Rwanda does count for something; God put me here for a reason. This isn’t arbitrary. I know I’m more than a random white girl in the village. I know this, because I believe in my friends here. I just do. Slowly, I’m revealing pieces of me to them and, that matters. Every day, I will have to rededicate and recommit myself to this. And the most fulfilling part is that I know I can.

Have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time.

-Maya Angelou

‘all the world is made of faith, trust, and pixie dust’

living your best life (or at least trying).

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Come August—just when deep summer heat strikes the US and it will simply be just another 75 degree Rwandan month (here it’s not about the temperature as much as it is about rainfall: rain? Or no rain? That’s the real marker for seasons…)—I’ll be helping to lead GLOW. GLOW sounds like a new perfume scent recently released from J.LO or Beyonce but instead it’s a summer girls’ camp with the mission of instilling self-confidence in young women, discussing gender equality, and even creating a comfortable atmosphere to discuss HIV/AIDS.  GLOW: Girls Leading Our World. In addition to assisting in creating the schedule and curriculum, I’ll also be a cabin leader for 10 young ladies. (!!)

Maybe even more exciting (probably for me than anyone else) is that each cabin leader chooses a strong woman from any country—a “hero”—if you will, and the cabin leader is responsible for creating a cabin theme surrounding this person or figure. True to form, my friend Sara has chosen J.K. Rowling (she, Sara, is indeed cooler than me) and as for me? Well it’s a pretty obvious choice: OPRAH. Hello. I can see my girls now…cheering live your best life!…In fact, when submitting Oprah’s bio that I put together to our camp director for approval, Caitlyn, the director, applauded my detail, but gently reminded me that these young Rwandan girls would have to understand everything in the biography. And, it has to fit on a relatively small piece of paper. In essence, cut it down sister.

In doing so, I got to thinking, what’s so great about Oprah anyway?

I just read a fantastic article entitled, “The Glory of Oprah: Why the ‘talkinest’ Child Understands Women and the Power of Television Better than Anyone Else” (by Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic). A good portion of the piece is devoted to examining exactly how Oprah came out of a deep poverty in the Jim Crow South and was able to make something of herself. The article is good though, because while acknowledging and celebrating Oprah’s connection to women, it also is unequivocally fair and doesn’t shy away from issues regarding her celebrity and the controversy surrounding her almost religious (no—I take that back—her very religious) elements within her pomp and circumstance.

Anyway, that really has nothing to do with this. I just try to keep up on my Oprah reading and this writing piece was particularly riveting.

My reasons that I chose Oprah as my ‘hero’ and why the slogan Live Your Best Life appears as my ‘about me’ on my twitter account are quite simple.

I first watched Oprah in my grandma’s kitchen: newspapers scattered on the coffee table, plants creeping in from the garden outside, and often full of the irreplaceable smell of a darn good grilled cheese sandwich.

I was probably in like second grade or something, but I remember watching her speak, eating away at slices of cheese grandma had prepared for me (with a fresh apple of course), and thinking that this woman was very cool. Plus, grandma liked her, so she had to be good. Lance would be there with us sometimes (or he’d go play Oregon Trail on the big hunker of a machine that was the computer in the 1990’s) but somehow, Lance or not, it became a tradition.

Wednesdays in elementary school, grandma drove her proverbial big boat (the maroon Chevy Lumina) to school and waited for us with open arms. Sometimes we’d mix our routine up with fro-yo (YUM), the library, or a quick spin past my dad and uncles’ childhood home nearby. However, two things were constants in our visits with grandma: walking to feed the ducks at the park and Oprah viewing sessions.

Whatever episode we watched, even as a young girl, I deciphered the shows and the long, sometimes arduous lectures from Oprah with a true sense of positivity. Oprah’s message, when you really boiled it down, was about taking a problem,  our life, because that’s pretty hard too, and pushing forward. Cry, scream, smile, whatever. But do your best because you can do it. And life’s too short not to. Yeah, it’s the gospel of self-help books and maybe grandma read too many of those too (she wasn’t the cleanliest of folks and I remember these books littered around her 4 (or was it 5?) story townhouse) because as I grew up, grandma carried and shared the very same message. I don’t really know who said it first—Oprah or grandma—but it didn’t matter. Grandma’s echoes of positivity and believing in yourself, I know, came from her own life experiences. And, I believed it. And, I still do.

I don’t think my relationship with Oprah is unhealthy. I joke—often, especially with my friends—that it is, but I promise, I have my head on straight (most of the time). Oprah is not God, is not my grandma, is not the world’s perfect person or idol, however, she went to hell and back when she was young, took life by full force and followed a dream. I admire that. Plus, she’s pretty funny to boot and has about three million inspirational quotes to draw from. I. LOVE. Inspirational quotes.

The trick with all of this rhetoric about ‘living your best life’ is that’s hard. Really really really hard.

For nearly 8 months I have been living and breathing Rwanda.

8 whole months.

That’s a long time.

I think it’s possible that I’ve spent some of my very best days and very worst days here. That’s how this goes, I suppose.

I love what I do. Through and through. Even on the tough days. And it’s really coming together—my first football and volleyball practice (with me coaching!) is tomorrow. Our first matches? THIS weekend. On top of that, I have wonderful neighbors and can’t speak enough about the transformative experience of integrating into something completely unfamiliar. It’s unreal how blessed I am to have this. Yes, I love my job. That’s 110% true.

But the other truth is this: like anywhere or anytime in life, we’re human, and with that comes beautiful happiness, but also sometimes, intense sadness. Lately, I’ve been feeling sad. And there’s all kinds of sadness: sometimes I’m sad about the intense poverty here, sometimes I’m sad because every day, at some point, I am called umuzungu. Sometimes I’m sad because I wonder about how much of a reach I really have.

Am I able to do this?

Is my presence here really actually doing anything?

Yeah, self-doubt is not very fun.

But more recently, I’m sad because I’m alone. No matter how you slice or dice that, it remains true.

People are here, yes, and some I’m growing to really appreciate. I have friends here in the village, and I couldn’t even ask for more support than I’m already getting from them.

Yet, at the end of the day, the story is mine, isn’t it? How do I begin to share what life is like here? And how do I share life with these people I am beginning to know?

What a weird feeling, indeed. I think that’s one of the things that made studying abroad in Ghana my junior year so special. Amidst volunteering, studying (sometimes), and travel, my best friend, Rachel, and I were doing it together.

But here, it’s me.

For nearly 18ish more months I will continue to teach,  help, listen, motivate, share, and reflect as a Peace Corps Volunteer, out in the village, trying to figure out what this journey—this story—actually is.

For a few days now, this has saddened me. I’ve felt unmotivated, restless, and tired. I’ve cried just a couple of times and getting out of bed has felt…challenging. It feels good to be honest about all of this. It was at Rachel’s encouraging that I share this, because yes, emotional challenges have a place in this story too. I was afraid of singing my own sad sorry song, because I fully and completely realize that there is much, MUCH more in the world than my temporary loneliness. But again, it’s what I’m going through. It exists. So I recognize it, I feel it, and I deal with it. Certainly doing this—living this life—is taking a lot more strength than I imagined, particularly because some days just feel so easy and effortless. Peace Corps warned me this would happen. I can’t blame them. They told me, time and time again, that I would miss things from back home. I would miss weddings, funerals, graduations, engagements, and I would be here, away from it all. I listened. I knew it would be hard. So, this really should come as no surprise, right?

I am ready though, to take all of these emotions in stride: feel them, live them, but do not be defined by them. Most importantly, as alone as I feel, I am not.

Taped to my desk is a note from Philippians 3 that says this,

“Let us live up to what we have already attained.”

God has a hand in all of this. It’s not me achieving, accomplishing, and overcoming; it’s all possible because my strength comes from something much more than just myself.

And also, sometimes living your best life is just doing the best you can on any given day.

Some days, it’s just a smile, while other days it’s full of immersing yourself with everything you got.

Yesterday, in class, in one period mind you, I managed to teach my dear students how to ‘disco’ (and along with that, provided a completely inaccurate historical explanation of where the disco came from—I said it was because Americans wanted peace during the Vietnam War?…*) and also provided reinforcement with the verb ‘to win’. To do so, I demonstrated the power of T-Pain lyrics (an artist most of them, if not all, know) with the classic and memorable hit “All I Do Is Win.”

All I do is win win win, no matter what.

Let me just say. Watching students disco and singing T-Pain at the same time? As an educator, it doesn’t get much better. It’s quite possible my um, teaching methods, might be a little unsoud (even by American standards) but whatevs. Sometimes, you just have to have a little fun, right?

I did all of this—laughing hysterically of course—and also while dealing with this whole loneliness thing. Did I walk out of class completely cured and rejuvenated? No. Because human emotions often don’t work like that.

But, I did feel better. And I know that soon, this loneliness thing? Well, this too will pass.

 I can do it, I can do it, I can do it.

 Grandma’s mantra is fresh in my mind.

 How I miss her.

 Maybe it’s scary to know I’m doing this alone. But it can be empowering too: the stories, the experiences, everything—I have all of this to share for the rest of my life.

 Anything can be a miracle, a blessing, an opportunity if you choose to see it that way.

–Oprah

 *the history of disco is rather extensive after skimming some of the information provided on the ever-reliable Wikipedia. While some of the elements of the disco craze certainly are traced to the culture of the 70’s—largely shaped by the war—the dance itself was even considered a reaction against the domination of rock music.