Sitting on the front porch, cup of Lapsang Souchong, messaging a Brit friend of mine, and watching the remnants of Nate pass thru… Siri had been at my side, but then she saw a chipmunk and took off. I messaged this to my Brit friend, and then i got to thinking. A few Google clicks later, i discover that there are no chipmunks in England. Seriously. Zero. But i’ll bet they still have rodents that dig up the bulbs in their garden. He bet that his cats, familiar with chipmunks or not, would chase and eat one.
They don’t have groundhogs in the U.K. either. But i’m sure they have some other kind of cute-but-destructive whistle pig.
I have friends in Australia… If i went there and saw a Tasmanian Devil, i’d be awed, even tho we have our own version of the “Trash Panda”, the American Raccoon.
I suppose it is natural to assume that all places and people are both the same and different. Parents work, kids learn, and politicians make rules that they don’t follow. But not all parents work an eight hour day and come home for supper. Not all children get to go to school. Not all politicians are criminals. All cultures have music, but each has it’s own melodic sound. We all eat bread, but indigenous grains make it taste different in different cultures. And we all tolerate idiots, regardless of what language we speak. Same in principle, different in detail.
Let me tell you a story:
During the Gulf War, i spent time in the Middle East. Even having a full schedule with my Navy duties, i still occasionally had time to explore. For example, a friend and i had heard about this great hole-in-the-wall Turkish restaurant on the edge of the city where we were temporarily stationed, and ventured out one night to go there. Now, the city wasn’t a large place, but somehow we still got lost. We ended up in an outskirt neighborhood after dark, and one of the local kids came over to us.
“My mom says this isn’t a good place for you to be. Why are you here?”
“We were looking for a place to eat that we heard was very good, but we got lost.”
He runs to his mom and tells her. She motions us over. She is stirring a big pot over a fire in what could essentially be considered a dirt floor garage. There are other women around her, and a whole mess of kids running around playing. Thru her son, who is maybe 8 or 9, she tells us we were nowhere near where we were headed, will never get to the restaurant on time and were welcome to eat with them instead.
We take her up on her hospitality. Some of the kids stick close by to translate. I ask about her recipes, her husband, her family. She asks about our children and what it is like to be a woman in the military. Someone starts playing music… Unfamiliar to me, but upbeat and pop-ish. Periodically, a young weedling will come tug at skirts. I can’t understand the words per se, but i’m sure it is something like, “Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. MOOOOOOMMMMMMYYYY!” Sometimes, after this, i see Mom’s eyes roll, and then she looks at me and laughs. She knows i know what it’s like.
We shared a delicious, if humble, meal of lentils and flatbread. More talking and laughing and friendship afterwards because, tho of different backgrounds, the concepts of “Family” and “Meal” are universal. Tho literally on the other side of the globe, as women, as mothers, we are sisters.
As we got up to leave, we handed the woman money. She vehemently refused. Her son let us know that she would not take money from our children’s mouths. Hospitality was part of their culture, and the exchange of money wasn’t allowed. It wasn’t til we explained that we had been given this stipend by our government specifically for eating, and that it was not taking anything from our family, that she relented. We reasoned that our experience that evening was something every government should encourage. And then we laughed and hugged, and her son gave us directions back to our hotel.
I relay this story because even tho from two different worlds, the woman and i were the same. Different language, culture, lifestyle… Everything that, on first glance, would make you think we had nothing in common. And yet, we were both “Mom”, both curious, both building a bridge with a total stranger. Our children were dressed differently, would be educated in a completely different way, and certainly had different opportunities… But our kids were all loved, raised, and taught to be kind. She had likely never seen a chipmunk, and i have never seen a jerboa, but we both know a rodent when we see one.
Differently the same. Similarly different. All of us. Everywhere. We all have blessings. We all have problems. We all know friends and family and music. We all know bills and illness and assholes. We all seek the pleasure in little things. We all seek the occasional epic event. We all cope with politicians. We all deal with rodents.
But maybe those last two are the same thing.