Over three weeks this summer, I had the privilege of participating in the Contextual Theology Programme at the College of the Transfiguration in Grahamstown, South Africa. Whenever I travel to a new place, my senses are heightened as I notice things that strike me as different, cool, amazing, odd, or noteworthy. Although (unfortunately) not quite as depicted in the most recent Spiderman movie, I experienced a new way of seeing, smelling, hearing (after my ears popped), touching, and tasting. This trip was certainly a gift of moving beyond my comfort zone, my everyday pattern of life.
Coming into the country, my eyes were opened to noticing the greeting patterns from person to person. I knew that over the three weeks I would introduce myself and be introduced to many people. Does a man greet a woman a certain way? another man? a child? How does one receive a greeting? Is it different the first time we’re meeting or the same for every time we get together?
Part of me hoped for a wide grace as I was the “new” person, the “guest”. There is a sense in which meeting someone is an important part of how you will get to know one another (or whether you will get to know one another). I can recall countless moments of anxiety as I entered hospital rooms during CPE realizing that how I made the entrance would determine what the next 10 minutes (or 20 seconds) would hold. Even though I wouldn’t be in a chaplain relationship, I realized that three weeks was a relatively short amount of time to find my way into a community and learn about its life and its members. < br> The following is a brief reflection after I arrived featured in a post of my blog southnickafrica.blogspot.com:
July 22, 2012 You may know that different cultures have certain expressions of greeting one another. During my first week, I’ve been party to a western firm hand shake, a hand shake that pivots around the thumb and comes back again, the hand shake into a hug (the man hug in the U.S., although no distinction here), the frontal embrace (the standard in my family), and the hug to the left and then to the right #careful. I find that these greetings are often like ballroom dancing, you are either following or leading. For the most part, I’ve done the following. I got a lot less tense about it once I noticed other people sharing greetings with neither person really sure what was going on. And 1, 2, 3...1, 2, 3...