New Year’s Eve in a Congolese Church

 

I spent New Year’s eve in a Congolese church, singing about God’s faithfulness and dancing to the beat of the African drum, alongside a people with whom I share a history.

My father is Rwandan, born in the neighboring country Burundi, but he grew up in Congo, a country once known as Zaire. While he lived in Africa, Congo Kinshasa was home to my father and though he was not Congolese, he spoke Lingala, Swahili, and French.

Image result for map of congo and rwanda

 

Lingala is what I heard the night of New Year’s eve from a host of African Christians praising God in their own tongue and in their own form of worship, through dance and song. I danced too, awkwardly I suppose, but freely and without hesitation. I listened to the French songs and sang to the best of my limited French ability. They also sang songs in Swahili jumping and waving their hands, so I mimicked the phrases and thought about this language my Grandparents spoke, two African individuals of my own bloodline whom I never really got to know.

The service was wonderfully long and continued through the night until the  New Year came. “You are from Ethiopia?” the Pastor asked, putting me on the spot in front of the whole congregation. “No” I replied naturally. “Well, they say the most beautiful women come from Ethiopia. You must have some African heritage in you.” I didn’t know whether I should be offended or flattered, nor did I know quite how to respond.

People ask me if I am Ethiopian all the time, especially if they are from India, East Africa, or sometimes the Middle East. “I am from America, but my father is from Africa,” I explained later when the women approached me and asked again. They said no more, but accepted me as a sister, a cousin, a daughter. And I felt as if I was part of some special club using the origin of my Father as a token of membership.

For some reason, though I’m not sure why, I am drawn to African people, mostly from Sub-Saharan  Africa. Maybe because I seek an identity, or maybe because I am biracial and constantly searching for a people group to call my own. But most of the time I think it’s because they always accept my big curly hair. 🙂

Happy New Year.  Bonne Année.

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Befriending Americans

pexels-photo-largeDear College Students of 2K16

                                           Befriend your international classmates

It was a rainy day last week when I rushed into the shelter of our crowded Student Union. With a thirty minute gap for lunch and an exam following thereafter I had just come for a quick bite and a chance to dry off. Or so I thought.

Always self-conscious of my hair’s response to a cool drizzle, I quickly scanned the room for an empty spot. #selfconscious

I found a sophomore from Japan sitting alone sipping a warm beverage–probably a creamy late because our school coffee is not the greatest. She smiled as I approached her so I took the liberty of setting down my bag and engaging in small talk. When I learned she was not meeting anyone or leaving anytime soon, I left to order my food and returned to share some fries and carrots with her.

Food has a way of breaking the awkwardness of intentional conversation. #foodie

I asked how she was doing, inquired about her sister, who is studying abroad, and sliced my grilled chicken into bite-sized pieces. As she responded I took notice of the excitement in her face that we were talking. After sometime when there was a lull in the conversation and I found more interest in finishing my lemonade than engaging in conversation she turned from her computer and said,

“Julia, how do you think international students can make friends with Americans?”

I hesitated before answering because I needed to asses her inquiry. She was a bright student from Japan with a solid group of friends, a Major she enjoyed, and a comfortable English speaking ability. She had even previously said, “Do you notice that my English is improving a lot?” Then why was she asking me something she could most definitely figure out on her own?

The answer, I already knew for I have many international friends and most of them experience the same thing when it comes to befriending American students.

I told her it was important to first understand American culture and how it differs from her own. And after we’d talked some more she asked yet another difficult question.

“Julia, how did you make friends with international students in your dormitory?”

This question was difficult because as a senior I don’t really spend enough time with the girls I live with. #guilty

But then again I do spend every waking moment applying for jobs and submitting articles.

I stared blankly for a while reaching back into the pockets of my memory to recall my sophomore year, the leadership positions I held on campus,  the influence I had simply by being readily available to anyone no matter their age, race, national orientation, or gender.

So I told her about being a minority and how minorities notice one another and are sometimes drawn to each other. As I talked I began to realize that my skin color determines who I befriend and who will seek me out, before I do.

What I observed in talking with this girl from Japan is something I feel a lot of international students struggled with on University campuses in the United States. While in some cultures, newfound friends are friends for life, in American culture life-long friendships develop over a lifetime, and acquaintances are more commonly found in the moment.

So, my challenge is to get to know your international classmates not only because they are a long ways away from home but also because their country allowed them to come and our country allowed them to be received in hopes to better understand each other and bring peace.

To overcome cultural tensions and misunderstandings, is it not crucial to perceive the significance of differences? For is it not the differences that cause two cultures, societies or nations to collide?

#foodforthought