So.Many.Stories – International Party Crashers

I love this story from Anne Bennett that gives a great recipe for adapting to a less adventurous life once you move to your passport country. Enjoy this piece on international party crashing!

I’ve lived in some pretty exotic places.  Places where a nightly blast from a cannon rattles all the windows in the neighborhood and signals that it is now time to eat after a day of fasting.  Places where your sweat begins to smell of curry after a week of eating street food.  Places where even if you were blind and deaf you would know that you are in a different world because of how the air feels on your skin.  Now we have moved back to the land where football is called “soccer”, tea is served with ice and where Coca-Cola is delivered by truck rather than on the back of a donkey.  How are we dealing with the loss of our exotic lifestyle?

We have become international party crashers.

We have chosen to live in a neighborhood highly populated with immigrants from the Middle East, Asia, Africa andLatin America.  This means that even though most of my children’s friends like Sponge Bob and pizza, their parents still prefer Bollywood movies and samosas, (or couscous or tortillas).  Friendships among children inevitably lead to the biggest event in a child’s year – the birthday party.  I always throw big birthday parties for my children, not so that they will get more presents, but so that I can show hospitality to the parents of these children and develop relationships with people who might otherwise not invite me into their life.  (Yes, I know that I’m using my children, but since they end up with more presents, they don’t mind).  Our big parties lead to invitations to the parties  of others and with that a glimpse into the culture of my fascinating friends and neighbors.

Here are a few of my favorite parties that we have either been invited to or just crashed since they were held on our communal playground:

The Bangladeshi birthday party – As my children ran around on the playground, oblivious to the fact that they were the only white faces at the party, my “American-ness” was confusing to the other adult guests.  They were all polite, but were obviously not used to the idea of an outsider wanting to participate in their activities.   When I showed an eagerness to try their food and even eat rice with my hands, their confusion turned to appreciation at my efforts to honor their culture.  We, in turn, received honor in a wonderful custom when the birthday girl fed each guest a bite of cake before feeding herself.   The fact that it was a Tres Leches cake bought at the Mexican supermarket made it all the more fun.

The Kenyan birthday party – Even though this party was held in a beautiful home in the American suburbs, it did not mask the fact that it was very Kenyan.   The older aunties busied themselves in the kitchen stirring rice and cutting lamb while the younger aunties played with a large group of excited children.  The uncles and grandfathers sat in the living room swapping stories.  The fact that half of the people there were not technically related made them no less a part of this extended, cultural family.  This warm and accepting group of people called me “Mama Jasmine” (my daughter’s name), and made me want to be part of a Kenyan family.

The Palestinian birthday party – This simple party of cupcakes and juice boxes was mostly an opportunity for the mothers to talk while the children played by themselves.  Unlike most conversations I have with immigrant women, this conversation turned to the subject of politics in theMiddle East.  Instead of trying to figure out why Palestinians think and act the way that they do in regards to the conflict in their homeland, why don’t we just ask them directly?  This birthday party gave me the chance to do just that in a non-confrontational way as we munched on neon-colored cupcakes.

And then there was the Mexican birthday party, the Vietnamese birthday party, the Afghan party and the party where the other children recited the Qur’an for the video camera while my daughter sang “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in Spanish.  We could choose to raise our children in a neighborhood surrounded by white, middle-class Christians like ourselves, but where’s the fun in that?

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Anne Bennett is the pen name of an American wife, mother, follower of Jesus and friend to Muslim women.  She has lived in Pakistan and North Africa and is now living in a unique corner of the Bible belt where she is happily surrounded by Muslims.

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18 thoughts on “So.Many.Stories – International Party Crashers

  1. Love, Love, Love this post. How delightful to enjoy and experience the world right outside your door. I have had the privilege of attending a Burundian wedding including the traditional goat, a Korean wedding, Indian first birthday party and now I want to attend so much more. After our family invited a Indian couple over for dinner, they told us we have been the only Americans to invite them into their home. How tragic. Recently we met a young woman from Ukraine who also told us that they only time she has been in the home of Americans is to clean their houses. We had the privilege of hosting 2 Turkish girls for a month, and also welcome a couple Serbian students as they awaited their dorm rooms to open. We were the richer for these opportunities. Hospitality is such a gift and a way to touch their lives and the host family as well. Our children are grown now, but I do believe they were shaped by the many cultures that shared our home. I am a bit envious of your residence among the nations. The Lord bless you and multiply your touch on the lives of others.

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  2. I remember going to the wedding of a friend whose family had come from Bangladesh. She herself (as well as her husband) though had been born and brought up in the UK. And yet I was the only non-Asian person there, and people didn’t quite know what category to put me in :-)
    It also makes me sad how many international students go back to their home countries after a year or two, never having set foot in a British home.
    We miss out on so much by not stepping outside our own little communities! Yes, there are awkward and difficult moments, but the fun and the joy far outweigh those.

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    1. I’ve heard of internationals living in the west for several years and going back home with a worse opinion of the people than when they arrived. I doubt that would happen if a family chose to invite them over and invest in their lives. They still may not like aspects of our culture, (and rightly so), but they will know that there are good people that live in America and the UK.

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  3. Wow, I SO love this post! I also very intentionally spend alot of my time with international folks, and I love it. Every minute of it. I can relate so well to this: “This means that even though most of my children’s friends like Sponge Bob and pizza, their parents still prefer Bollywood movies and samosas, (or couscous or tortillas).” Just this afternoon I had to laugh at that one – watching my Nepalese students delighting in their Sponge Bob books while their parents sit at the computer watching Bollywood movies. I love it. :)

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    1. Poor parents. I can’t imagine having a culture gap as well as the normal age gap with my children. One friend told me yesterday that her little boy was speaking to her in English and that she couldn’t understand him so she had to call her husband at work to translate. He is becoming incapable of speaking his native langauge, even though it doesn’t understand it.

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  4. This is a great story! Thanks for sharing your love and passion for all nations. I believe that is the heart of the Father. Truly we can learn so much from one another’s culture and become better people and people of peace.

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    1. And these days, we can learn from other cultures without leaving America. I wish more people saw our changing cultural landscape as an opportunity rather than a threat.

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  5. I love you Anne! I wish we lived closer… Burn out after 13 years in South Asia has left me with several fuses still blown. Hospitality is one of those fuses. It’s further complicated by the fact that I’m not sure what American hospitality looks like. It’s intimidating to not know the rules…. I know how Eastern Cultures do it though… it’s comforting and engaging, accepting and non-threatening. You’ve entered into it with full force. I love that about you! Thanks for sharing these stories!

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    1. Robynn, we could have fun if we lived in the same city. I would do the work of hospitality and you could just show up with your sparkly personality and make the party meaningful.

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    1. Thank you Bettie. It is easy to find immigrants where I live, but most Americans don’t take the time to befriend them because of either busyness, fear or even prejudice. Most of my friends have told me that I am their first American friend even though they have lived in America for several years. It is not that difficult to become friends with people from other cultures and the relationships are very rewarding – for both parties.

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      1. Anne, I guess I’ve changed hats so many times in my 80 years that crossing another boundary is just second nature! Remembering how I made efforts to cultivate friendships in Pakistan enables me to keep on trying here in America. Sometimes it is more difficult with fellow Americans than with the expats among us! I do know that most people from other cultures appreciate an American friend who can help them interpret local customs. It doesn’t cost a dime to smile, say hello, may I help you, or whatever to break the ice. It may lead to a short lived or long lasting friendship. Just a little effort goes a long way. Passing up on opportunities to interact is my loss.

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    1. Not only can we learn a lot from people from other cultures and expand our view of the world that God made, but cross-cultural friendships are fun! I never would have eaten dhosa or Iraqi sweet rice if it weren’t for the friendships that I have pursued here.

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