Rwandan colored spectacles

Have you ever thought about how strange your life looks behind a different cultural shade of our world’s glasses?

Today, my Rwandan mama friend came over for a spontaneous playdate, and by surprise, her husband joined her and the baby! They came dressed up, including heels and top hat and I greeted them at the door in slippers, old jeans and booger encrusted sweater. Awesome. I skype-messaged upstairs to Tall Mountain to see if he was able to take a brief break from work and join us. I remember working for a small non-profit in Germany where the boss always told me: “Beziehungen sind immer wichtiger als Projekte!” – “relationships are always more important than projects!” As I grow older, I really think there is a lot of truth in this statement. And of course, relationships are of utmost importance to many non Western cultures. It would have felt terribly rude for TM to continue working from his office upstairs as Ayo and I entertained our guests. I knew that TM, who is more eager than ever to get an office outside the home, felt the pressure as we waited for him.

Downstairs, I sat Ayo on ‘uncle’s’ lap and served tea. They usually like tea. I have learned from mamie how important it is to always have a tasty treat on hand for spontaneous guests. Thankfully – and no, this does not happen everyday in our home – we had just whipped up Gordon Ramsay’s almond coffee crunch cake. Phew, saved by our own cake gluttony! After serving up a slice of cake, I kicked back and put on some Rwandan colored glasses.

I listened to ‘uncle’ chat with Ayo in African French, which I adore. Then, I asked them about life in America these days with a small baby, about African potty training methods and the age they started with their own kids. I got the answer: “no, no, definitely don’t wait any longer now!” They later told me that Americans constantly doted on their own baby but didn’t seem to want many of their own. Why was that? Perhaps they preferred dogs? And why hadn’t anyone else visited them and their new baby? Were Americans afraid of their home? Is that why they only received cards? Wow, I am so glad they feel comfortable enough to say these things out loud. Think about how many foreigners live with such questions about their host culture.

I am not sure how it came up but they couldn’t believe how much coffee Americans consume. Rwandans don’t drink coffee, simply export their beans, but they now drink coffee too. “Life is so busy here that you need to stay awake!” they said. Mama’s views had changed and she now thought coffee must be really healthy because her nursing home patients who drink coffee are alert and the others slob out. Now that they had become coffee-converts, I thought it was appropriate at this point to bring out our Rwanda Karongi Gitesi coffee beans my brother freshly roasted for us, so they could smell some banana-molasses-brown bread undernotes from their homeland. I love this form of armchair travel, don’t you?

As expected, they smelled deep into the small tattered ziploc as if they were reliving scenes from their childhoods. At least the happier days of their childhoods. It was beautiful to watch. At some point, TM had slipped into the room and we just had to enjoy a cup of brewed memories together.

For a brief moment, busy TM was able to embrace the unexpected visit and put on those colored spectacles as well. Life is so much richer when you take the time to do this. Projects can wait.

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