One of the things I really love about culture is the fact that each group of people has a flavor, if you will. Yet, it isn’t necessarily that we are so different; but more about the different way that we combine ways that we are alike. We are much like a group of recipes which include almost the same ingredients; but produce a different finished dish. After all, we are all people and there are only so many sounds we can make, foods we can eat and types of art that we can use to express ourselves.
In essence, we are all variations of one another. Please don’t misunderstand this to mean that we are the same or that all cultures are identical or equal… that couldn’t be farther from the truth! But, as I like to tell my children: “If you sit two people next to one another and they decide upon open honest dialog, they will discover that they have more in common than differences.” The more I travel, the more I learn the truth in this statement. Sitting at a table in Eritrea with friends or family means eating spicy foods, sharing a common dish, and eating with your hands while drinking homemade beer called “soowa”. In Korea, being invited to share a meal with friends at their home means roughly the same thing: shared dishes, spicy food and homemade beer or wine… only you’ll get chopsticks and a spoon. Your meals will have been prepared with the same love. And yes, if you are in the countryside, you can know that the meat was probably a sacrifice to add to the meal. The ingredients vary and the preparation might not be the same; but the experiences will be similar.
Many years ago, I was at a park and walked over to see an African woman stooped down playing a game with two Korean ladies. I was amazed at the fact that they didn’t speak the same language; but were playing together while laughing. I asked the African woman how she knew the game’s rules. Her reply: “We have this game in my home country too, it’s called gebetta. As children, we dig holes in the dirt, find small stones and play it. When I saw them playing it, I watched to see how their rules were different and I just walked over to play. I think that they were wondering how I knew a game from their country as much as I was wondering how they knew one from mine.”
It is dozens of moments like this that remind me how our lives aren’t so different after all.
So, the next time you are seated watching your television or reading the news about those far off places called Kenya or North Korea or Zimbabwe; remember that you are connected in ways you haven’t even imagined to the people who are suffering. Had you been raised in a different nation, their story might just be yours.