Sunday, September 4, 2011

Your Big Backyard

When I was little, our family subscribed to the magazine, "Your Big Backyard." The kids' magazine shared stories from around the world. I might argue they were stretching the "backyard" a little far; nevertheless, it was exciting to learn about what cool things existed thousands of miles away.

I guess I never grew out of that phase. I want more than pictures of cute furry animals, yes, but the desire to learn more about the world hasn't faded. If anything, it grew.

I was fortunate enough to go to a university with a diverse student population. Drake University may have been in Iowa, but students came from around the world to study in the business school. Win! I made friends from Malaysia, China, Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, Bolivia, Mexico, Bulgaria, and Vietnam and I have a ways to go before I have what would be considered a solid, basic understanding of their culture.

But I'm getting there.

Last night I spent time with friends from Tanzania. I learned more about Tanzanian, Indian, and Muslim culture. I first saw a Bollywood movie at an Indian theatre. No joking, I was the only non-India n there. It was a little bit uncomfortable to be the minority, but I honestly love putting myself outside my comfort zone. Besides, the movie was great! A good love story plus dancing and singing? I'm there!

Then we headed to the heart of the Indian neighborhood in Chicago. There's an entire street with Halal restaurants! Halal for Muslims is like Kosher for Jews. The biggest difference is just the person who blesses the animals before they are slaughtered.

Before last night, I had never thought about the dietary limitations of some religions. For example, my friends can never just stop by McDonald's and get a burger, or order a steak dinner. All meat has to be Halal.

So that's why they love this street. It's the only place they can get a Philly cheese steak. Dinner is served!

After dinner we headed to Arabia Cafe for tea, hookah, and a belly dancing show. We chatted with the server who was from Syria and found out he and my friends have family living the same city over there. What are the chances?!

I should also mention that during this time I agreed to take on a new, exciting challenge. But here's the background information first. My friend, Nabeel, founded the organization Peak4Poverty. They organized four hikes every year. Three hikes are in the US and the fourth is to Mount Kilimanjaro. They raise money for each hike and all the funds go to orphanages in Tanzania. They support eh education of the children there, so that they can not only graduate high school, but go on to college and begin to break the vicious cycle of poverty. How great is that?

So I agreed to go on a hike. Yes, in three week I will be climbing Long's Peak in Colorado. Yikes!

Now, back to the night. So, throughout the night I learned a lot about their culture. Not only about Halal, but about pan, which is chewed and eaten as a palate cleanser and breathe freshener after meals, about Muslim wedding traditions, some of the different cultures in Tanzania, and how different Indian cultures can be in different parts of the world. It was so much fun!

I am incredibly blessed to have so many friends and experience little snippets of their culture. I absolutely love it. I feel so alive when I learn and grow. I hope God keeps putting amazing people in my life. And maybe I can do some good in the meanwhile. Just like the song says, "Don't stop thinkin' about tomorrow."

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