I've realized that when writing about cross cultural experiences, I have tended to do so with somewhat of a negative slant. Completely unintentional, but true nonetheless. It's probably because when something comes up to write or share about, it's usually something that I don't understand or don't like or is frustrating in some way. So anyway, in thinking about that, I decided I should intentionally write about a positive thing or two in regards to the culture in which we have chosen to plant our lives. There are many that I could choose from, really.
I think it's safe to say, that for the most part, Arab peoples, Muslims in particular, are largely misunderstood by many Americans. Our lack of understanding for their culture and our lack of information about various cultural nuances causes us to look on them with eyes of fear and often judgement. Sad but true. And just because I live in this part of the world, I do not exempt myself from this tendency.
Anyway, as I thought about this, I decided I wanted to share some of the things I love about my Arab neighbors and the way they do life. Like I said, there are many positive things that I could choose from, but due to several experiences over the last few weeks, one aspect of the culture jumps quickly to my mind.
Listen up fellow Americans. We could take a lesson from our Arab friends and neighbors around the world on this subject and be much better off! I'm not necessarily talking Biblical community here- a subject for another day possibly. I'm talking good old fashioned, neighborhood style community. Think Mayberry. Barnie Fife. Andy Griffith. Community. Sitting on your front porch sipping lemonade waving at your neighbors community.
If you're close to my age and grew up in the 80s- think playing hide-n-seek around your entire block until 10 o'clock at night and feeling safe doing it kind of community. Think going on bike rides around your neighborhood unaccompanied by an adult as a middle schooler community. Think safety because there are other parents and neighbors out there who know your kids and are looking out for them kind of community. The communities we have lived in on this side of the world have not lost that feel and I love that!
I can send my 3 older girls (yes, that includes my 6 year old!) down the street and around the corner to the neighborhood convenience store without concern for their safety. I know the shopkeepers and they know me. They probably even know where we live which may initially seem a bit creepy, but here, it's really not. They just know their neighborhoods and what goes on in then. I was at the pharmacy last weekend which is a good 5-10 minute walk from my house, and another customer came in whom I vaguely recognized. Turns out, he's the guy who delivers electric bills. He pulled ours out of his pocket and gave it to me to save himself the trip to our building. And knowing the community culture like I do, it honestly doesn't freak me out at all that he knows exactly who I am and where I live and which electric bill is mine.
There's also a sense of trust that kind of goes along with the whole community thing. Or maybe trust is not the right word. It's more a sense of honor in regards to standing by what you say. This is very much an honor/shame society. And no, I'm not saying that's always good, but I do think we could learn some lessons from it. Truly, there are negatives, for example, kids being shamed in a school setting is not so great but when it comes to the honor of keeping your word, for example, it can be a good thing. Here are a couple of examples from our daily lives- all of which have happened within the last month showing that this is not so much a coincidence as a pattern of life here...
The girls and I have become regulars at the pharmacy that is right across from our pediatrician's office. Between Abbey and Naomi's allergies and Anabelle's ear infections, let's just say we've become "frequent flyers" (to use a term we used when I worked Labor and Delivery and had desperate mom's come in over and over during the last few weeks of their pregnancies...). Anyway, frequent flyers, that's us. This pharmacy, by the way, is in a kind of medical district and would not at all be considered "close" to our home by Amman standards. So we are there a few weeks ago and with all our allergy meds and antibiotics, I owed 48 JOD- a little less than $70. Well, apparently the pharmacy had decided since our last visit that they no longer accept Master Card, and conveniently, I'd forgotten my debit card (which is visa). All that to say, I had $70 of meds to buy and no way to pay for them without piling all 4 girls in the car and driving around to find an ATM- NOT easy at 5 o'clock rush hour. Seeing my frustration, the pharmacist asked what neighborhood I live in. I told him and he immediately smiled, "no problem" he says. Gesturing to an assistant, he says, " He lives there. Give me your phone number and he will come by your house tomorrow or whenever is convenient and get the money." Awesome. And, no I was not afraid to tell them where I live, knowing that they genuinely were helping me!
A few weeks ago, Anabelle and I were out for a walk and we stopped at a neighborhood store to pick up a few things. I realized when I started to pay that I was about $2 short, so I started to put a few things back. The cashier's response? (someone who doesn't know me AT ALL, by the way)... "No problem, no problem. Bring money tomorrow or as you can. Please take what you need."
Just a few days ago, when our car was being worked on and I was trying desperately to stretch our groceries so that I didn't have to make a big grocery run via taxi, I loaded Anabelle into her stroller and walked around to our neighborhood shops which include a bread store, a store with hummus and falafel, a produce stand, a convenience store and a pharmacy all grouped together. Conveniently, there is also an ATM which can be randomly hard to find! Anyway, my plan was to get some cash out and then get what I needed at the various stores knowing in advance that I needed a good bit and that they didn't take credit cards. My first stop was the convenience store that I send the girls to pretty regularly. After I had unsuccessfully attempted to maneuver Anabelle's stroller through the VERY small aisle and ended up leaving her sitting essentially blocking the door while I gathered the things I could reach and asked for assistance with the things stacked to the ceiling, I realized once all my goods were piled on the counter that I had forgotten to go to the ATM first. Great. I explained to the shop keeper that I was going to walk down and get cash and return quickly. He was almost offended as he quickly corrected me saying that of course I did not have to pay right away. I could come back "anytime, anytime" or, even better, I could send my "beautiful, wonderful girls" to pay whenever it was convenient. It's really quite amazing here that, despite the lack of customer service that I have complained about many times before particular at the large chain type stores, when you get into the little neighborhood stores, they are all about serving you, trusting you and making you feel at home in their store.
So thankful for the sense of community that in so many places is long gone. Here, on the street where we live.