Sunday Morning ~ The Full Spoon
Cipande ca therere cikoma n’kuyenderana. ~ The spoon full of relish gets tasty if it goes around from one to another.
April 3, 2022
I was looking for proverbs about generosity, which, has been on my mind this week. I’m so inspired by the generosity of many who reach out to alleviate suffering. I found this proverb and envisioned a spoon being passed with everyone taking a bite of relish (which is not a condiment as we use the word, but a vegetable or meat dish). My pandemic lens colored it with repulsion. We shouldn’t be eating off the same spoon! But as I typed the words, I realized it was “spoon full” not “spoonful”. There’s a difference. The word “spoon” may actually be a small bowl with a handle that each person takes from. Perhaps they used the word spoon instead of bowl for translation as there is no English word to describe their vessel. As the scarce relish gets passed around and shared there is more joy and value in the dish. Of course! When reading it that way, I went from thinking, “Eww, gross” to “Yes, absolutely.” What a difference a syllable can make, and how important translation and interpretation is. We all do better when we all do better is how I read that.
When I was training for my job in Congo, we had an amazing week in the northern part of The Netherlands where we did various group exercises. One exercise (life changing for me) began with being assigned to a group of five people from different countries. We were given a list of random things to acquire and instructed to gather at six pm. On the list were: two chairs, three cans of tomatoes, ten books, two gerry cans of water, and a bunch of things I can’t remember. I vividly remember the ones I listed, because they were heavy. None of us knew what the assignment would be but there was speculation during the day as we searched for and assembled the listed items. It was both fun and exciting as we had no idea what we’d do with these unrelated items. When we gathered in a big room with all our stuff, each group was given a folded piece of paper with instructions on it. We were to walk, carrying the things we’d brought, to a specific location about a mile away. We couldn’t go back to our rooms before heading out.
Being a group of strong personalities it was interesting to see how we made decisions about how to carry all we’d brought to walk the mile. The water was cumbersome and we traded off carrying it for short distances. The German doctor put the two chairs together and placed them on his head. I’d brought a bag with the books so slung that over my shoulder, the woman from Belgium had a small backpack and some of the smaller stuff went in there. We carried other items in our arms passing them around as we took our turn with the water. Walking in the grey light and drizzle, we were laughing as we cooperated our way to the designated spot. Victorious in accomplishing this, we were handed another paper that sent us to another destination, the distance of which we did not know. Oh. Okay. Not so funny anymore. We were tired. It was getting dark. But we reorganized and went on our way. The water was getting to be a problem. We’d chosen big gerry cans as we thought it would be good to have a lot of water on this mysterious exercise. Well, when the rain started in earnest and we were soaked, the heavy, slippery cans were impossible to carry. The nurse from Thailand went into the woods and got a strong stick which we placed through the handles of the water cans. Then two of us put the stick over our shoulders. I thought this was amazing multi-cultural teamwork. That thought only lasted a short time, when, recognizing we weren’t Thai field workers who do this every day, we got very sore and exhausted well before getting to the next destination. Our group’s mood was shifting rapidly from cooperation to conflict about the best way to get there. We made it, only to be handed another slip of paper with another destination. It was about eleven pm at that point and I almost started crying. The woman from Belgium did start crying as did the nurse from Thailand who had blisters on her heels. We hadn’t been advised on proper footwear for the occasion and our feet were soaked. It was hours past my bedtime and I wanted to go to sleep. We pushed on to the next destination where I was sure there would be a van with hot cocoa and maybe whiskey. But no, this went on until 2 am when there actually was a van to take us back to the hostel. We were still expected to be at the morning meeting at 8, where I was hoping they would pass out bandaids.
The morning meeting was a debriefing of all that went on the evening before. We were asked to describe each person’s role in the exercise. There was a lot of interesting discussion, but I was shocked when the woman from Belgium described me as the joker in our group. Totally taken aback, I said, “What? I wasn’t making jokes!” She explained that in Belgium there is a card game where the joker can be used as any other card. She said she thought I was very adaptable and could function in many different roles within the group. (And believe me, there were lots of them by the time we were done). I was flattered by her words, but struck by how that could be misinterpreted by those who come from a different culture, even when speaking the same language. This recognition was a major point of the whole grueling exercise. Other points included some small understanding of what it’s like to carry belongings when you have no idea where you are going or how long you will be moving, how cooperation dissolves when there is fear and discomfort, who emerge as leaders, and how others react to them. It was incredibly powerful.
So, along with gratitude for all those who give so generously and how that spirit will multiply exponentially, I’m thinking about the value of diplomacy and understanding. I’m thinking of how committed all sides must be to respect and understand cultural differences, how difficult it is, how I admire all those who practice it.
Love to all,