Sunday, March 31, 2013

International Living in the Middle of the USA

So I had a few more posts planned out for my series on religion in a cross-cultural relationship, but I've decided to forgo that route and discuss something different. 

On this Easter weekend here in the US, Facebook was a buzz with pictures of cute kiddos hunting for Easter eggs, pictures of bunnies and spiral ham dinners - American traditions.  We unfortunately missed the Easter church and dinner celebrations with my family due to work obligations, so we missed out on the American traditions, but we were still enjoying the weekend and the beginning of spring weather (finally!) with the windows open.  The shrieks, giggles and voices of the neighborhood children floated through the dusty screen and beckoned me to come watch the group playing down below.  There were six or seven kids of various ages running around.  There were a few older kids - maybe 7-9 years old and a few younger ones (< 3), but they all seemed to play together without drama.  Oh - and they probably represent about 4-5 different countries.  H. lives in the international family housing on his campus and diversity is never in short supply in this neighborhood. 

Just walking down the outdoor apartment walkway one can savor the scent of curry simmering on a stove, and almost taste the garlic frying in several kitchens.  My mouth waters every time I step outside.  Next door is a Malaysian family, downstairs is a family from Nepal, at the end of the hallway a couple and toddler from Afghanistan, in between there are few families from China, around the corner 3-generations of Lithuanians.  Yes, I can easily say that H.'s apartment is the most diverse living space I have ever had the privilege of residing in.  I can only imagine what it must be like as a child.

Saturday, as I stood at the open door, watching the children playing in the grass below, I heard one of the older boys ask another little boy with a bit of aggression "What are you doing?"  The inquisitor was definitely the leader of the group.  The other boy was squatting in the grass, picking pieces of grass, or twigs - something like that.  "I'm getting ready for Easter." He replied.  "Easter isn't until tomorrow"  the slightly aggressive inquisitor responded.  "Well, in my country we gather plants and we make a basket for the eggs, so I'm gathering some plants to make our baskets."  The boy replied with the most matter-of-fact, non-combative tone. 

I smiled.  "In my country…."  The boy had said the phrase with perfectly American-accented English.  There was no hint as to what "my country" could be referring to, although we knew that he was from Lithuania.   I imagined how many other moments like this occurred throughout the evening playtime.  How many small bits of culture were shared back and forth.  These children, I thought, will grow up with a greater understanding of diversity, hopefully more compassion and tolerance, and a huge amount of intellectual stimulation from interacting with so many different types of people. 

"I wish our kids could grow up in a place like this."  I've shared with H. on more than one occasion.  To have the open space outside - a safe space, to play, to learn, to grow - what more could one wish for their child.  At the same time, I have often thought how difficult it must be for families to raise their kids  in such small, cramped apartments - 4 bodies in a one room apartment or 3-generations (including 3 kids) in a two bedroom set-up.  The closeness of family beats out comfort in many cultures, and one can see this first hand in this little international community.

Diversity.  It's priceless. 

Another example: today is Easter for all Christians (and Happy Easter if you celebrate!), but here in this apartment community, a group of Indians were celebrating Holi - the Indian festival of color.  We heard the Indian dance tunes and the crowd screaming from a quarter mile away, so we went over to see what was happening.  Pink, purple and orange dust covered the concrete sidewalk and a big pink, purple, orange dancing mob was enjoying the day.  H. was immediately greeted by a friend who put a large orange smear on H.'s forehead.  Soon after a little blond girl threw some purple dust on me.  Then an Indian lady came and added a few handfuls of pink and purple dust to my cheeks, neck and hair.  Now I looked like I belonged at this party.  We didn't stay for long,  as the event was winding down, but  long enough to savor the joy. 

Holi is something like this.  From

I can honestly say, the absolute best aspect of living in the United States is this diversity.  It can't always be found everywhere and the interactions are not always pretty, but there are many beautiful moments.  Even in this small Midwestern town (albeit with a big university) you could represent the majority of the globe with the many different faces and races.  It is a beautiful thing.

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