Rachel’s ability to make connections where ever she goes and maintain them challenges me. Love your heart for people, Rach!
Harrisonburg is a diverse city blessed with people from so many different ethnic groups. My life has been enriched by some of these people. Learning to know new people makes me learn new cultural practices, and sometimes that is not always comfortable for me. Do I take my shoes off when I enter the house? Which side of the face is the right side to start out the greeting? How many times must one kiss into the air? What is the most comfortable way to sit on the floor when eating?
Middle Eastern people are extremely generous and welcoming. Sometimes ithas been overwhelming. My friends Ahlam and Ayaat are Muslim, and I’ve spent many hours at their place. They always make sure I have something to eat when I get there. Several times in particular that stand out in my mind are when they invited me to break the fast during the month of Ramadan. Their mom thought that I didn’t eat enough even after I have eaten a whole bowl of rice, some chicken, shrimp, keobabs, meat wrapped in onions, some salad, some Khubz (a flat bread), and fruit and cake for dessert. And did I mention that thirty minutes prior to the meal, she had served my favorite Iraqi cookies, candy, and a soda? The food was fabulous, but I was beyond full, and she just kept putting food on my plate. I had to come to realize that they wanted to make sure that I felt welcomed and special. Once I just said thank you and ate part of it, they were happy.
When I first learned to know my friend Ansaam, she tried her best to convert me to Islam. She also interigated me with all sort of questions that I had never thought of before. I guess when she realized that I wasn’t going to be trying to convert her this instant like previous people who had visited her house, she relaxed. Now, I go, and we talk about life. Sometimes religion comes up, and I try to speak the hope of Jesus into her life. I read to her children. I play games with them. I have become their “auntie.” That is special to me.
The Latin American culture is very inquisitive. Things we white Americans think are private information are not necessarily private when talking with these friends. Questions such as, “How much money do you make in ayear teaching school? How much did that laptop cost you? What do you weigh now?” Sometimes these questions have taken me off guard, but really these questions sometimes give me opportunities to ask questions as well that I have been wanting to know about them. Getting offended will not help out the friendship, and being secretive will not build trust between you and your friends.
We Americans often like people to call before they come over. I learned that is not necessary in both of these cultures. Visits for no reason at all are the best for these two cultures. Both Middle Eastern people and Latinos enjoy fellowship, and know how to relax and have a good visit.
I’ve had to learn, and still forget sometimes, that greeting people and checking to see how they are doing is the most important way to start out a conversation. Then after the chit-chat is over, then it is okay for me to ask the pressing questions that were the orginal reasons for calling to stopping by their house.
The rewards of relating to different cultures has far exceeded the frustrating moments.