I accompanied a friend home yesterday. It was a great, child free opportunity to spend some more time chatting, get her to point out to me some of the divisions in the area we live (ie. where villages start and stop, who lives where) and also to see where her house is.
When we got within vicinity of her house (she lives just over 3km away), she stopped to greet an older man. I greeted him as well, listened as my friend explained where I live (the white person in the house on the mountain, yes that’s me), then we continued on our way. As we walked away she told me that he was the chief of her village.
Part of me sometimes wishes there was more fanfare and announcement of who is who here so I would know their significance. But then the other, greater part of me, knows that it doesn’t matter who they are I should treat them respectfully and appropriately.
Of course appropriate is a little (or a lot) culturally defined and I know that often we get it so wrong. As in the case of our ‘official’ visit to another chief a couple of months ago. We tried so hard, and we failed so badly.
Based on that first awkward introduction, here is our list of what NOT to do next time we meet a chief
1. Don’t make an early morning appointment with the village secretary and then assume that the Chief himself knows and is actually expecting you that early.
Yes I believe we almost got him out of bed, or at least before he was suitably prepared for the day. Not that we did anything wrong as such – Scott spoke to the secretary about wanting to meet the chief who told us to come at 7am on Friday when the chief would be there, and before the chief’s 8am meeting. We got all the kids up, dressed and walked the 45mins to arrive by 7am, only to clearly not have been expected that early. Oh and he didn’t have an 8am meeting either. Not sure where the communication breakdown happened – our understanding, their communication together – but it was extremely awkward in any case to watch him scramble around to host us.
2. Don’t initiate greetings while standing there awkwardly looking at each other.
Yes not greeting is awkward for us, but given that they always sit to formally greet, greeting while standing there can be more awkward for them.
3. Don’t sit on the wrong chair.
Yes there is a wrong chair. The wrong chair is the one which puts the chief sitting close to your wife instead of you, oops.
4. Don’t have children that refuse to speak to people.
For some reason, only known to himself – perhaps the early wakeup and half hearted breakfast attempt had something to do with it – Josiah, usually our little smiler, decided that our visit was the day that he not only wouldn’t speak to people when they greeted him, but he would throw a full on tantrum when they tried to push the issue. No it probably wasn’t a good idea of the chief’s sister to grab Josiah and lift him up in a attempt to get his attention (ok it was a terrible idea), BUT it also was an awful moment for Josiah to choose to turn into a kicking, screaming, hitting terror. Yes he did. Nervous laugh anyone?!?
5. Don’t have boys that fight.
They are boys. They fight. But, having a knock down, full on punching and wrestling match right where the adults are talking is not conducive to good relationship building. And as for how we stop it in public, we are still working on that….any good ideas??
Despite the comedy of errors that it felt like, at the end of the time sitting with the Chief we still felt incredibly welcomed. He invited us to be in the village, get to know people and become known ourselves. What a gracious man and an open door it turned out to be.
While we will continue to try to learn and grow and not make the same mistakes over and over again, it is so freeing to know that despite our human bumbling God has a plan that He is working out and that he is already working and revealing himself here.