Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Mixed Message and Mix-Ups

This weekend the University of Maine Hutchinson Center will host the Festival of Art, where local artists, over 50 years old, will display one piece of art.  My entry, pictured below, is 'Mixed Message".  The beads and the style are a blend of several continents and cultures.

Mixed Message for Festival of Art
I was reminded the other day of  situations I would call "Mix-Up".  I guess with the demise of Bin Laden, and the fact that one of my book clubs is researching Islam, I am remembering some anecdotes about my experiences in Jordan.  More ironies.  In Jordan I met very well educated and accomplished women, who were Muslims.  They were not held back intellectually; and they embraced their religion, and felt it provided respect and dignity for women.  I remember that I learned  that for some in the Middle East,  "Christian" was a synonym, for "decadent".   For Muslims  who hadn't traveled,  Christians were the ones who got drunk,  gambled, committed adultery, and  crimes.  Christian women were loose women, evidenced by the way they dressed and behaved. Mix-Up.

In Jordan I learned about Arab hospitality, and had to learn to censor my American style of efficiency and abruptness.  I had to make calls to alert players about their playing time for a tennis tournament, and caught myself saying, "Hello? Abdullah? Hi.  Your match is at 9 AM on Saturday."  That was tremendously rude.  I should have said, " Hello?  Abdullah?  How are you?  How is your health?  How's the family? How are your children? (and he would answer and inquire after my health, family, children etc).  Abdullah, we are having the tournament next week and I have your time.  Your match will be at 9 AM on Saturday."  I had to learn the proper etiquette.

A friend named Issam told me a true story that illustrates this contrast  well:

Issam had to take a trip to visit the U.S.  He had friends in America and was going to see them first.  So he traveled a long time, and connections were good.  He had no time to catch his breath or even quench his thirst.  From the airport he got his bags, and took a bus.  From the bus station his friends picked him up.  He was dying of thirst by the time they reached the home.  His hosts said, "Issam, you must be  thirsty, can we get you a drink of water?"  Isaam (of course) said, "No thank you".  [In the Middle East, when someone offers you  something, you say  "no", they ask again; you say "no", they ask again; you say" thank you" the third time.  Even if you say "no" the third time, they bring it to you]  But then, for Isaam, they didn't ask again, and they didn't bring him water.  Mix-Up.

And I have a totally unrelated Mix-Up to relate:  I taught English for the British Council in Oman.  Naturally, I taught British English.  For the most part, it was fun to see the slight differences in the American and British versions, especially in the pronunciations.  But in one lesson we were learning the gradations of "good".  There I saw that in British English, there is , starting from the top, "great", "very good", "good", "quite good", "bad".  I was surprised.  According to my understanding, "quite good" was better than "good".  I have done several informal surveys and most--not all--Americans agree that "quite good" is  better than "good".  This could be serious because I can imagine the American President talking the the British Prime Minister about some third party agreement; and the President saying  it is "quite good", thereby approving wholeheartedly. But the Prime Minister would get the idea that the Americans don't think it's very good at all.  Mix-Up

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mother's Day

For most of my adult life I lived overseas, and for some reason, Mother's Day was a different day overseas than it was in the U.S.  For instance, in Jordan and Oman this year Mother's Day was on March 21.  So between the long and unreliable mail service, lack of internet in those days, and expense of phone calls, I was sorely lacking in attentiveness to my mother.  Certainly mothers of elementary aged children are the best celebrated moms of all because teachers take time out to have the kids make cards.

But regardless of the ambivalence of older American children and expatriate grown up children, make no mistake:  The South American mothers are not overlooked!  This is no Hallmark day for them.  The first year we lived in Peru, we learned very quickly that the biggest holiday of all  is not Christmas, not Easter; it is Mother's Day.

Mothers are revered, and not just on Mother's Day.  There is a custom in Peru where kids kiss their moms hello and goodbye. Yes.  Really.  Adolescent males kiss their moms hello and goodbye. What is also notable is that kids' friends kiss their friend's moms, as a matter of manners.  I had teenage boys, and I saw with my own eyes my boys kiss, in greeting (the equivalent of "Hello Mrs. Baldino") their friends' mothers.  Their Peruvian friends kissed me. (but alas, no, my boys did not kiss me hello and goodbye; some cultural boundaries don't break down).  The point of which is just to say that Mothers are revered all year long.  I'm sure it is related to veneration of the Virgin Mary.

So in Peru, on Mother's Day, there is no restaurant available for brunch.  There are no flowers left in the shops.  There is no mother cooking or cleaning on that day.

So mothers, at dinner sometime, tell your families about the biggest holiday in Peru. Then tell them that while they missed Mother's Day in Jordan and Oman and UAE (March 21), and Portugal and Spain (May 1), there is still time to celebrate the day again with Sweden and France (May 29), Kenya (June 26), and again with Panama (Dec 8)!

Your mother, or mother of your children, would love some Peruvian Opals for Mother's Day

Sunday, May 1, 2011

I also collect ironies

In my travels, (figurative and literal), I have enjoyed the hobby of collecting little ironies.  One finds them all the time if one is looking…

A few years ago I revisited a country where I had lived with my family for five years—Sri Lanka.  As I say many times, Sri Lanka is a cross between Hawaii and India.  It’s a marvelous place, full of history, culture, colors, and beautiful tropical beaches.  Its tourism industry though, has been badly affected by the bloody and violent Civil War that finally recently ended after twenty-five years.  

While we lived there, from 1989-1994, the prime Minister was blown up and there were bomb attacks in the capital of Colombo.  People’s ruthless and violent treatment of each other was  unfathomable.  We look back at our own Civil War in horror.  One wonders why Civil war-- war with oneself--is so very horrific.

These are all Sri lankan silver beads
On this trip, this “recherche” as Proust would say, the war was at a climatic pitch, as both sides were ramping up for an end.   My husband and I had driven south from Colombo for a beach weekend near Galle in the south.  We ventured out for a walk and witnessed something remarkable.  A bus, which had been barreling down the road at breakneck speed, leaning due to its overcrowding, suddenly stopped.  As we edged closer to get a look we saw the reason.  The bus had stopped because a small snake was crossing the road.  This is after all, a Buddhist country; and all life is sacred.