Thursday, March 3, 2011


Our kids have close friends in Congo. They are used to playing with them every spare minute in a mixture of basic English and Swahili. Over time customs seep in unnoticed. In a good way.

When we arrived here one of James' first comments was, "I hope I find a friend." And we frequently pray for that provision when we move. Knowing this trip was short, I had not been thinking along those lines and had not focused on the kids finding friends.

His first day of Sunday School was a sort of indoor 'field day' where the Grade 2-5 students played various games. He bonded almost immediately with a sweet boy his age. I was a few minutes early to pick him up, so I waited on the sidelines. Then I saw James trying to grab this boy's hand.


I realized a bit too late that James was going to learn about this cross-cultural difference the hard way.

You see, in Congo, you show someone you care and value their friendship by holding hands. Boy to boy or girl to girl. Holding hands is important. I hadn't realized James caught that. So here he was applying the Congolese rules for friendship to a sweet unsuspecting American kid. At first this kid was trying to make it a spin-the-arms-around game. Sheer politeness. After a while I watched him start to avoid James. The Mama Bear in me wanted to run out there and make it all better, but I had to let them finish the game and bite my tongue. It's hard to watch kids make their own mistakes. Parenting older kids is new for me.

Over a snack at home I gently broke the news to James that holding hands means friendship in Congo, but has much stronger connotations in America.

"Like you want to marry someone?!"

"Pretty much."

He blanched. "I had NO idea!"

I guess crossing the world is much more than getting off a plane.

P.S. They continue to be friends and plan a playdate after basketball season is over, so our foibles didn't ruin anything long-term. We later explained to this boy's mother as well, who was very understanding. Just need a little extra grace getting our cultural bearings.

1 comment:

Mrs. bradlie said...

I would never have thought about such things....