The Glass Darkly

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Taking time to visit

I love sitting and chatting with people and I'll do it anywhere I need to go to find someone who might appreciate a visit.

Today I visited a family, albeit under not so happy circumstances, who live in an apartment above their little deli shop. Life is not easy for them, but I was honored to have had the chance to connect with them where "home" happens for them.

I know a principal at one of the city elementary schools who does home visits on the weekends. How special . . . I would love that but I wonder if all families would appreciate that.

There are some cultures that are much more oriented to visiting. Growing up in a very rural area, we dropped in on our neighbors all the time and it was fine. Sunday afternoons we'd often go for a drive and stop in, unannounced, to visit a friend or relative if they happened to be home.

As I got older, I learned new ways of relating. Visiting is sometimes a more formal event. It took me a long time to understand why my in-laws felt they needed to call ahead to the home of their neighbor whose house is less than 100 ft. from their garage door before stopping over to ask a question. Why couldn't they just walk over and ask? Ways of relating and visiting is a cultural thing and depends on the level of privacy expected within the culture.

People hang-out in front of many of the homes along the streets near where I live now. Children play; young people blare their music; and adults sit and talk. The same was true on most of the roads in Cambodia. There, time was less important than building relationships, so sitting and talking was very important. It didn't matter so much what you talked about, just that you took the time.

This happened often in the village where we lived. As I'd meander over to visit a friend, I'd often stop at one of the snack stands to get something for my kids or a soda for me. Inevitably one of the ladies would invite me to sit "first" before I'd continue on. It was the polite thing to do and the primary way information was shared in the village. If I was in a new village, the ladies would want the scoop of who I was and what I was doing there. In my own village they'd ask questions about my landlord and their latest remodeling project . . . how much they spent or if I was helping to pay for it (as if my landlord hadn't told them already). I often got questions about my home country, my salary, my rent, why my children looked different than me, etc.

Americans often had a hard time with all the invasive questions Cambodians would ask in their "visiting" times. Visiting requires skill and some understanding of culture to make it meaningful within the context. But I find great joy in meeting people on their level and in their context.

And that sense of building relationships stirred within me again today as I chatted with a mother and grandmother about their young person. Sharing a little about myself and learning a lot about the other can go a long way in spreading care and encouragement.

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