A Delayed Dinner and the Lessons I Learned
We had not been in Africa very long. We wanted to get to know the members of our team. To this end, we began inviting an employee and his or her family over for dinner, one by one.
It was our first dinner. It was set for 6 p.m. Six came and went. Seven came and went. Eight came and went. We assumed that either transportation to our home had proven prohibitive or we had miscommunicated. We fed our daughter and put her to bed. We ate a bit ourselves and at about 8:30 p.m. we began to put away the dinner when the doorbell rang. There they were! They were dressed in their finest, obviously ready for an evening of socializing and enjoyment. I quickly pulled the meal out again and went about resetting a table.
For the record, our new friends were not late. They were right on time. We learned quickly that in Senegal there really was very little attention paid to exact start or end times. This was their culture. This is how they operated. If I am honest I will admit that we never became fully adjusted to this part of the culture. To other parts, we did. We learned to celebrate in their style, wore their dress a good part of the time, learned to shop in the markets, even went fishing in pirogues. We did not “integrate or assimilate” into their culture, but we did acclimate.
Why is the difference significant?
According to the Merriam Webster online dictionary, to integrate means to form and blend into a united whole. To assimilate means to absorb into the cultural tradition of a population or a group. A careful examination of those words reveals a certain loss of identity and culture on behalf of the newcomer. To integrate or assimilate means blending in or being absorbed into. There is a loss of culture, language, tradition, and history.
I did not do that in any of the cultures where I lived with my family for the two decades we lived outside the United States. Yes, I loved their food and learned to eat with my hands. Yes, I fell in love with their style, beauty, and fashion, and enjoyed wearing garments of the host culture. Yes, I learned hospitality, Yes, I learned a different way to view time. Yes, I celebrated a lot of different holidays from our own. However, I never became un-American. I still fried chicken. I still loved Diet Coke. I kept Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions. I still donned a skirt and blouse most days. I enjoyed a table and chairs versus a communal bowl with people circled around it. I did not integrate or assimilate. I became accustomed to and acclimated to my new homes and their cultures. I learned to experience them, appreciate them, and even to truly enjoy them.
This is what we are doing through Threads by Nomad and The Off Ramp. In addressing the need of refugees to have careers not just jobs, to thrive not just survive, in celebrating diversity through design, we are offering refugees an opportunity to acclimate. We do not expect them to or even wish them to become blended or absorbed. We offer refugees and other displaced people the opportunity to get to know their host country and its customs and to grow in appreciation of it. We offer them the opportunity to contribute to the community within which they reside. In creating opportunities for displaced peoples to thrive wherever they are, we acknowledge their gifts, visions, skills, education, desires, and needs. We help them use those advantages and resources to succeed and build secure fulfilling lives for themselves.
We are grateful for each one of you who support Threads by Nomad and contribute to The Off Ramp. You are a part of helping the refugee, the displaced person acclimate.