A View on Being Different

Everyone where I grew up was essentially the same.  We mostly looked the same, talked the same, lived the same.  It was comforting, I guess, in some ways.  When I moved to New York City in 1983 my eyes were opened to so many exciting new cultures.  I saw people from places I had read about in books and studied at school, heard languages from movies I had seen, and ate food from places I was totally unfamiliar with.

That was one of the things I loved most about New York.  Peoples from all over the world were gathered in this "small" space and shared lives that worked even though they came from different places.  There was some segregation - Little Italy, Chinatown, and in Queens there were separate sections where people from various Latin countries lived.  In New York,  people reveled in being different from their neighbors.  But even in New York, with all those people from so many places, I still felt at home because I was American and most of the people around me were American, too. Besides, it was my home.

When we moved to Kenya, I got my first taste of what it meant to really be different.  Suddenly I was surrounded daily by people that didn't understand my accent easily and I surely didn't understand theirs.  I didn't think about life like they did. I was only a guest in their country.  We both spoke English, but mine was American and theirs was influenced by Britain.  As Tom and I traveled into communities surrounding Nairobi, many of the children had never or rarely seen a white person.  I'll never forget children running up to Tom and touching the hair on his arms.  They were fascinated!  We felt a bit on display.

The women I met and became friends with often didn't grow up with many of the advantages that I had had.  Large families often lived in one or two rooms.  Many places with indoor plumbing still didn't have a toilet, but only a hole in the floor.  When we lived in Kenya, it was a time of political unrest.  There were often food shortages.  Electricity was sometimes rationed. It wasn't safe to travel on the buses or matatus (large taxis) at night. 

Hebrews 11:13 says at the end of the verse, "they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth."  I felt that way often living in Africa.  Being a disciple already makes me different than many because of life choices I make.  But living in a country and on a continent that is so vastly different from where I grew up has made me poignantly aware that most of the world cannot relate to me.  To my wealth.  To having readily available health care. To having a quality education.  To having consistent clean water.  To having a peaceful life.

Somehow we connected. We were women. We loved. We hurt. We wanted a husband who loved us.  We wanted children.  We were seeking truth and peace. As I studied the Bible with many of these women, I was touched by the faith and courage it took them to simply live each day. I admired them immensely and we became friends.  We worked hard to understand each other and it was worth it.  My life is richer because, instead of being afraid of being different, I embraced the opportunity to share and learn and grow. 

Lori Ziegler1 Comment