‘Entie metzawzje?’ The dreaded question – Are you married?
‘Yes,’ I lie, ‘but I don’t have children.’
Naima frowns: ‘Leesh?’ Why?
That’s always hard to explain. I want to create something positive, and I love children. I simply never felt the desire to have my own.
I’m sitting on a family porch in Amman, Jordan. I’ve just had dinner but Naima and her family bring out bowls of olives, nuts, and dates. They ask about my life and work. Unfortunately my Arabic is not good enough to answer in depth. I promise to be better prepared next time.
It was a special encounter with this family. I saw care and curiosity. I felt welcome, even though our background and life choices are so different.
Social climate change
Brexit, the US elections, and the daily news all point to more division in our society. We see an enormous human toll in Syria. At the same time, we talk about refugees as ‘illegal border crossers’ and terrorists who need be kept out. There are real dangers that make it impossible to dismiss the latter point entirely, but I struggle with our intolerance towards people who are different from us.
We develop our own truths, depending on our environments, friends, and whether we read the New York Times or the conservative National Review. We seem to live in different universes, while actually, there are still so many things that we share.
Several thinkers draw parallels with the period leading up to WWII. It puts my stomach in a knot.
Some blogs and news articles convey a feeling of helplessness; the conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere appear unsolvable, and the refugee crisis simply too big to address. The divide between ‘western’ and ‘foreign’ culture too large to overcome.
It’s understandable, I feel it too. It’s also incorrect: we can do something, and it’s not only donating to organizations such as the White Helmets and WarChild.
My birthday wish: share a cup of tea
I’m missing the humane perspective in much of our public discourse: our ability to see our similarities and not opt for the simplest, black-and-white world view where groups of people are vilified. I’m missing our ability to reach out despite our differences.
We can do small things to put that right. They do add up over time. We have seen it with our ‘young academies’ workshop on the refugee crisis a year ago. One result is that the Young Academy of Scotland now reserves seats in their membership for refugee scientists, changing the academy’s conversations and perspectives. Foreigners become valued colleagues and friends.
It’s my birthday today and here’s my wish: invite someone for tea*. Someone from an entirely different background. They could be a parent at your kids’ school. Or a neighbour who is from another culture, ‘class’, or political party. It’s only for a cup of tea, at home or in a café, wherever is most comfortable. There is no need to talk about contentious topics; it’s just to get to know each other.
And what I would like to give: books 🙂
Several books have greatly impressed me this year, in particular The New Odyssey and Headscarves and Hymens. The New Odyssey gives a much needed overview and critique of the European ‘refugee crisis’, with stories from refugees, humanitarians, and people smugglers. Headscarves and Hymens is a gripping read about women’s rights and experiences in the Middle East.
When you share a cup of tea in the next month and briefly describe your experience in the comments below, I will send you a copy of one of them. Just send me an email (eva. alisic at monash .edu) with a) which book you’d like, b) whether you prefer kindle or paperback and c) your address, and I’ll send you the book early February.
All the best for 2017: may it be peaceful, compassionate, and playful.
* I know, I’m biased towards tea 🙂 Coffee would work too!
Happy birthday Eva, what a wonderful blog and treatise. My husband, a teacher, will share this plan with his students. We will undertake to invite a someone to tea. Take care Michelle
Sent from my iPhone
That’s fantastic Michelle, I hope you’ll have great conversations!
These are my thoughts exactly, Eva, but you said them so beautifully. Thank you for suggesting we all take action in this lovely way. May I share parts of your message? I won’t share the book-give-away part, or you’ll be in the poor house! Happy Birthday!
Thanks Amy! Please feel free to share, even the book part if you like.
All the best for your New Year Eva and thank you for putting into words what I have been thinking! I have often thought:”what difference could I possibly make,I am only one human being and the world is so huge!”
I remember reading a quote from the Dalai Lama, that goes something like:”If you think that you are too small to make a difference, try sharing a bedroom with a mosquito! ”
Maybe a gesture like the one you are suggesting is the little pebble dropped into a pond and spreading its ripples of acceptance far and wide!
Warm regards, Carla
Haha, that’s a great (and comforting) quote, thanks so much for sharing it!
Couldn’t agree more Eva. Frank came over yesterday for a cup of tea. From China, we spent time talking about the one child family, his soon to start new job in country Victoria as a maths teacher and much more. He put his home town in rural China forever on my world map. Happy New Year.
That’s wonderful Fiona, thanks for reaching out!
A couple of recent random ‘cups of tea’ interactions in my household: My husband and kids chatted to a nice Libyan family at our local amusement park last week. Although I think her husband found it confronting to find a man alone (with his kids) talking to his wife…when he came back from going on the waterslide! I also took my daughter to a park near St Kilda that only had Orthodox Jewish children (boys with locks) playing in it. They were quite aloof at first, but shared the flying fox as required. The mothers were all shyly returning my smiles but not much chat to be had.
I am also friends with a Pakistani woman, brought to Australia to be the ‘second wife’ who was then discarded as she made the faux pas of having a daughter. She lives alone with her daughter who is friends with my daughter. My husband always has to be reminded not to give her a friendly peck on the cheek, as it makes her uncomfortable. And the her daughter can only come to play when the ‘woman of the house’ is home…which is tough, as I’m the breadwinner and not around much.
But such compromises are important to demonstrate cultural sensitivity when you are residents of the ‘host’ country and I’m happy to comply (and make sure the kids have non pork products for lunch).
That’s were the value lies.. Thanks for taking the time to write it down Mel, and great to read your kids grow up with friends from around the world!
This is a fab idea, will do it myself and will make it a group activity with my students, will let you know how it goes. Best, diana
Great! Am curious how your students will find it.
This is a lovely idea and a very positive new year’s resolution – I’ll let you know how I get on Eva.
Thanks John, I hope you’ll have an interesting conversation!
Such a thoughtful birthday wish, Eva. I am visiting rural (ish) India for data collection and being city bred, I noticed the cultural, social and societal differences right away. The gender norms that my interviewees faced were strikingly different from mine. A woman, travelling by myself and appreciating my husband’s support to do my PhD (which includes his excellent culinary skills) were unheard of for the women I was speaking with. Moral of the story: We have such different cultures right in our backyard. Thank you for urging me to explore!
Wonderful Revathi, many thanks for sharing. And kudos for your husband 🙂