Eating Lunch At The U.N.

Amish schoolchildren

Image via Wikipedia

My elementary school lunch table consisted of kids, my friends, with last names like Polignone, Kavalish, Slobodnik, Modi, and Jurf. Italians and Poles, Hungarians and Indians,  those of us with European ancestry and Kuwaitis. We all sat together. We were friends.

I got to thinking about this the other day. I’ve had the privilege over the years to get to know a lot of people from diverse backgrounds, races, and religions. It’s been pretty interesting.

When I was in elementary school, my best friend had the last name, Modi. She was Indian. (Eastern Indian as opposed to Native American) I remember as a young child going to visit at her house. We played ping pong down in the basement. Her mother wore the most beautiful saris. I remember thinking how I liked the bright colors. I also found the “red dot” on her forehead to be interesting. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized it was a bindi that she had on her skin, and it was red because she was married.

Throughout my school years I continued to have friendships with kids who didn’t all look like me…..

When I got to college I met up with Sofia. A hall mate from Memphis, Tennessee. Now, I have to paint you a picture of this girl. She had skin the color of dark chocolate and a smile that she flashed at everyone she met. She had a crazy personality that invited everyone in for a visit. One morning I met up with Sofia in the bathroom. (oh, the joys of community bathrooms in college dorms) She was griping about her “nappy hair”. Now, me being the inquisitive person that I am said to her, ” What exactly does that mean when someone says their hair is nappy? Just curious.” In a flash she grabbed my hand and shoved it in her hair. She said, “You feel that? My hair is all kinked up next to my scalp, and it’s straighter on the ends. THAT IS SOME NAPPY HAIR, GIRL!”  She gave me my hand back, and my lesson on black hair was done for the day. She smiled at me. I laughed.

I taught with a black woman who was happily married to a white, Jewish man. She told me they married in the 1970’s, in the south. It wasn’t accepted by a lot of people, but they didn’t look to others for approval. She converted to Judaism.  Her in-laws survived the concentration camps of WW II. I saw pictures of them in a traveling Holocaust museum that my kids and I visited.  I had a new understanding.

When my husband, kids and I moved to Ohio we befriended some of the Amish that helped to build our house. My husband and I have formed as especially close friendship with one young couple. I enjoy visiting their home, where no matter what the young woman is doing (besides maintaining the home, they have 4 children, 4 years and under) she always makes time to talk to me. She told me early on that she had questions about the “Englishers” and if I answered her questions she would gladly answer mine about the Amish. As much as the English are different from the Amish, there are so many things we have in common. I know that her life is not filled with the same conveniences as mine, but I certainly can appreciate the simplicity and strong ties that are found in the Amish community.

People…. interesting and diverse. I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to get to know all types of people. I’m glad I was brought up to believe that all people are special because God created them and that I shouldn’t let differences scare me. My life is better because of it.