People Have Friends; Governments Have Interests

When I first began dating my husband, I would joke that I dated him and 30 Iranians. Cliff had hundreds of friends and most of them were international students at the university he was attending.

During those initial dates we would go to underground Marxist events, Nowruz parties, or sumptuous Wednesday night dinners of kebabs, pilau, torshi, and tea served in special glasses with sugar cubes — all with Iranians. He counted them among his best friends. Through our courtship and then marriage they became my friends as well, some of them young men; others whole families. I became convinced that God created Iranian women first and used up so much beauty that there wasn’t much left for the rest of us. Bad theology? Maybe. Truth about their beauty? Absolutely.

It was during the Iran Hostage Crisis that my husband befriended these students and families. In a recent conversation one of his friends admitted that several of them thought he may be with the CIA. Who else asks that many questions?

Iran was not popular with the United States at the time. Three decades have gone by and not much has changed.

The number of countries that the United States considers dangerous has only increased during the past three decades. Different administrations have made a variety of statements and decisions about who is safe and whether they meet the litmus test of coming to this country.

During the same period of time, our friendships with people from these countries has only increased. In the last 7 years, we have had the privilege of traveling to Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan, We have also formed friendships in Cambridge with people from Iran, Turkey, Palestine, Israel, Syria, Algeria, Somalia, and so many more. Two years ago, we were able to introduce a young Syrian family to a young Israeli family at a Thanksgiving gathering. Watching them talk and connect was incredible. Their former views of each other’s respective countries was through the barrel of a gun, not over tea and pumpkin pie.

“People have friends; Governments have interests” is a quote that I’ve heard many times. Living in the United States affords many of us unique opportunities to form friendships with people who are from countries considered dangerous, countries that are not counted as ‘friends of the United States’. Because we are not our governments. Our decisions on who to love, who to trust, and who to befriend are not dictated by who or what our government does; by who our government does or does not deem ‘safe’. 

Too many times we confuse the two. Subconsciously our attitude becomes: If the United States Government and the mainstream media sources do not trust a country, then we can’t trust people from that same country. If they are on bad terms we must be on bad terms. 

My husband and I are not unique in having Muslims as some of our best friends. We know many Christians who claim the same. And we are among many who believe friendship and dialogue trump government interests and activity every time. As I’ve seen articles and been in conversations there are times when I fear some Christians in the west allow government policies and opinions to dictate their friendships; other times when media sources control their hearts and minds. I would suggest that this is misplaced loyalty creating a poverty of thought and spirit preventing us from befriending and reaching out to those who God has placed around us.

From Cambridge, Massachusetts to Tehran, Iran, the last few years have given us uncountable opportunities for meaningful interactions, because people are not governments.

“If we leave it to the mainstream, corporate media to form our conception and understanding of the surrounding world, the entire universe will be a gloomy, failing and disappointing entity in which no sign of hope and dynamism can be found.”*

There’s more to say on this topic, but I want to open it up to you. Wherever you live, how does the government and media affect how you view people? Who you will or won’t let into your life? Do you agree with the quote “People have friends; governments have interests?” Why or why not?

*Quote from Kourosh Ziabari — an award-winning Iranian journalist, media correspondent and activist

Note: This post was revised from another written in 2014

“Talking Together Makes Wise”

I first published this post in January of 2011. It is as true today, as it was then! Enjoy.

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Egypt, Cairo, Minarets

In a book titled “Tomorrow, God Willing a Norwegian anthropologist writes from her experiences befriending a family in a poor neighborhood in Cairo. The book gives a portrayal of life in Cairo primarily through the perspective of Umm Ali (Mother of Ali) with others from the extended family lending their voices to the narrative. It is one of my favorite books for a variety of reasons, one of those being my love for the city of Cairo and Egyptians.

The prologue quotes Umm Ali saying:

“I like talking with people, Talking together makes wise. Where had we humans been and what had we understood if we did not tell each other what each of us thinks and feels….it is a life necessity to be able to talk.”

She then proceeds to let the author enter her world, a world of loss and tragedy, poverty and joy, anger and love, allowing these stories to be communicated on paper, public for the world to see.

Umm Ali gets the importance of ‘talk’ in communicating the ordinary and extraordinary events of her life.

The back streets of Cairo are an unlikely setting and Umm Ali perhaps an unlikely source of wisdom, but wisdom it is. She viewed talking as a gift to “purge you of sorrow/anger and invigorate your soul”. This quote from an Egyptian woman living in poverty with no education. In light of a media frenzy over the power of words over people, Umm Ali recognized their power in the best way possible. To communicate to express her feelings and life story, and in doing so create understanding between people who don’t live or think in the same way that she or those around her do.

Cairo is a city of over 16 million people. That’s a lot of voices and a lot of stories but sometimes one story is all it takes to “make wise”.

So.Many.Stories – Primary School Pentecost

Many who read Communicating Across Boundaries live in communities where the world is at their doorstep. This story takes us to a classroom with representatives from all over the world and one woman’s interaction in that classroom. Enjoy this post by Allison Sampson who writes about everyday things at www.theideaofhome.blogspot.com

Every Tuesday I spend time in a classroom with kids from all over the world. Most are from the Horn of Africa; others are from Burma, Pakistan, China, or Afghanistan; and a few are Anglo or Indigenous Australians. We all speak Strine; most of them speak Arabic; and many have a third language up their sleeve.

Together, we read, write and tell stories; and this year, we are experimenting with journaling. What this means is that I read a picture book aloud; we sit in silence for a minute; we ask some wondering questions; and then we write.

On a recent Tuesday, we delved into a story about a ‘half’ birthday. Afterwards, a girl and I wondered. I wonder how the family crossed the busy road? I wonder why the birthday boy fell asleep? I wonder where their dog is running through the trees? I wonder why they celebrated a half birthday? I wonder why his sister took her dinosaur back? I wonder what we celebrate, and how?

After a bit more wondering, the girl decided that we would each write about one of our own birthdays. While she scribbled away, an arm crooked around her work, I remembered turning four. My mother asked me what sort of cake I wanted. ‘A crooked man cake!’ I said. My mother rolled her eyes, then squared her shoulders and set to work. She baked a slab cake, then sliced off a wedge so that it sat crookedly. She iced it and set Lego doors and windows skew-whiff. A path zigzagged from the front door to a lopsided stile, where she leaned a bent Lego man. She found a small curled cat and made a mouse with a pipe cleaner tail (crooked), and added them to the scene; and finally she placed a snapped chocolate coin next to the stile. Thirty-odd years later, the memory still makes me smile.

I wrote it all down and, when our time was up, I read out my piece through the small lump in my throat. Then I taught the girl the rhyme ‘There was a crooked man who walked a crooked mile. He found a crooked sixpence beside a crooked stile. He had a crooked cat who caught a crooked mouse and they all lived together in a little crooked house.’

She repeated it over, committing it to memory. Then she read me her piece, a story about too many lollies, some extra television and a very late night.

As she read, I reflected that we were communicating across so many boundaries: age, religion, family background, country of origin, income and culture. Our stories may have been about small things, but they were about the special times which shape our identities; they were stories of our lives.

As I looked around the classroom I was taken back to a time long ago when boundaries were crossed; a time when Christianity was just beginning.  I reckon the earliest Christians looked a lot like the children at my primary school. Just like the residents of my inner-city neighbourhood in Melbourne, Australia, the earliest Christians came from all over the empire, places we now identify as Greece,Italy,Palestine, the Middle East, and North Africa. Most spoke the language of an earlier empire – Koine Greek – as well as their native language. And many years ago, on a day that is commemorated by Christians around the world during the Festival of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended like fire on a gathering of disciples, bringing with it the gift of language; and we are told that they began to communicate in each other’s mother tongues.

Reflecting on what a great privilege it is to be able to speak and listen to all, I gave thanks that I belong to a tradition which continues to share stories across boundaries, whether it’s with children at my local primary school or you who read with me now; for it is in these stories that we learn to love one another, and bridge the differences which threaten to divide.

About the author: Alison Sampson is a mother, a writer, a dreamer, a cook. She writes about small things at www.theideaofhome.blogspot.com

So.Many.Stories is usually posted on a Friday but this week I’m posting early because of a family birthday. If you would like to participate in So.Many.Stories read all about it here and send an email. We want your story! 

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Reclaiming My Voice

In a commencement address at the University of Virginia a couple of years ago, John Grisham cautioned graduates that the most difficult thing for an author is not the plot, not the characters, not even the dialogue – the hardest thing for an author, he said, is deciding what voice to use in the writing process. He went on to say that the job of a graduate is to find their voice in life. I have thought a lot about this since hearing a brief excerpt of the speech.

I am no John Grisham (and I don’t want to be) but lately I have struggled to find my voice in writing. I began the journey of daily blogging with confidence, determined to find a niche and have a voice. I now sit blankly and the words “I’ve got nothing!” clang like cymbals in my ears. I then over analyze and begin to worry about what people think of my writing and my voice echoes the thoughts of others and not my own. So – I’m taking a break until Monday. I’m not going to look at stats or worry about comments. I am going to relax and reclaim a love of communicating through writing. This week is a great time to do this – I’m in Seattle for a consulting job so will not have much time.  I’ll repost some blog posts that I have done in the past that have not had many views. In giving myself and readers some space, I hope to rejuvenate both! Thanks for tuning into this blog! I appreciate it more than you know.