Sunday, September 11, 2011

Cultural Awareness

Continued from See The World No Visa Required

"I will miss you," he said as we stood in the awkward crack of dawn’s light, all four of us, whispering farewells; taking care not to wake the rest of the household. It was the last morning of our cultural exchange week. Daniel and Kame were leaving for Beijing.

I scanned the metal rims of the spectacles on Daniel’s face, weighing the four choppy syllables just delivered, studying the mechanics of his message, its verbal and nonverbal connotations. The deep resonance of his voice belied his thirteen years. The sophistication in his carriage reflected an expanse of knowledge borne out of the experience of travel I was sure. I had observed the same sense of self-sufficiency in Kame throughout their week’s stay.

“I will miss you.”

Was this his disciplined regurgitation of a guidebook phrase, an appropriate thing to say to a host family, upon departure?

Still, the phrase elicited feelings of happiness in me. Hence, I took the freshly uttered words hanging in that morning air and I folded them into a ditto-type response.

“We will miss you too.” The full measure of my sentiment would reveal itself weeks later.

Our great Africa-China-America experience had ended. A time when we shared five quality evenings and a full weekend engaged in intercultural communication




They arrived in time for dinner, on day one, having spent the morning at the Aquarium and the afternoon at Centennial Olympic Park – a full day for the boys who had flown from Beijing via California that morning.

I served white rice with beef stew seasoned with Royco Mchuzi Mix and Chapatis on the side.

“Help yourselves,” I prompted them after we had said Grace.

“Do you like rice?” I asked, to my son’s dismay. I had managed to ask a stupid question just to occupy the loud moments of silence.

“In China we eat rice every day,” Kame explained carefully, as if bestowing upon me, a valuable piece of information.

"Ohhh, I see,” I sounded out my understanding, and caught the upward roll of my son’s eyes even as I chided myself for the pretense.

"Daniel, when did you get your English name?" I began, thinking the question fitting; ignoring my son’s glare, because the Student Personal Information table had four interesting sections:

Chinese Name ___________
English Name ____________
Last Name ______________
First Name______________

"When I was three years old, my father gave it to me,” Daniel responded, “to use when traveling, or with foreigners."

Kame nodded his agreement. “Me too.”

***

Wiki njema,

Mama Shujaa.