25 June 2009

Cross-Cultural Respect, Rumbi

“Tete, why is your skin so different from mine?” Rumbi asked as she rubbed my arm.
“Cause God thought variety was better than everyone being the same?” I suggested.
“No. I don’t think that’s it.”
“Uhm, cause it snows where I come from?” I ventured.
“Nope, but I guess it doesn’t matter. I love you anyway,” she affirmed as she ran off to play.

Living as the only white person amongst 90,000 black people in remote districts of southwestern Zimbabwe had its lighter moments. Being called Tete, short for Vatete which means Aunty or specifically, sister of the father, was one of those light moments. It warmed my heart. It usually takes time or a crisis to be included in a familial way into a culture. For the most part, I had just done the time. I had been around for celebrations and sorrows, at ball games, meetings, funerals and meals. I served as a teacher and a learner, living a life of reciprocity in a culture very foreign from my own.

My home was “open plan” as it was a huge room built over what had been a porch on the end of a large house on the hill. Two other apartments had been carved out of the larger dwelling and housed our mechanic and another teacher. By day, my bed in the corner, looked more like a sofa, offering more seating for visitors, who often admired my collection of African craftsmanship; spears, drums, baskets and toys. Dolls woven from sisal and cards made from wire could actually be played with. I preferred the spear remain on the wall. The floor was covered with a sisal mat and a chiShona Bible was usually near at hand.

I was comfortable with my biculturalism, knowing I’d always be a Hoosier from Indiana, but content in my home in Bikita. I hoped my visitors would be comfortable too, thus I did not decorate as if J.C. Penny’s were just down the road.

In answering Rumbi about the difference in our skin colour I made light of the matter, knowing her question was a passing curiosity, but one she might return to seriously someday. What I hope she’ll also consider then is that differences that matter are the differences of substance, not just of appearance. While we are different by culture and by colour, we need not be different in the things we cultivate in our hearts and in our society; mutual understanding, appreciation and respect.

1 comment:

BethH said...

Awwwww, so sweet. And, so true..cultivate those things in our hearts that are the same. Sweet sweet and makes me long for Zim days!