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?
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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