Tuesday, June 28, 2016

ways to get a multi-colored heart

Imagine being a teenager in a community of close to 200 people, from about 35 different countries, sailing around the world. Like growing up in a little separate world within the World. I'm sure those years have impacted my life! Some would say I grew up in a protected environment, because I did not face high school peer pressure for many years. True, I was spared some of the 'average' teenage struggles, although there were other challenges.

I must have been about thirteen when an Indonesian man called Joy asked me: "What do you want to be when you grow up?"
I answered that I wanted to help people in the Third World.
"Don't call them that," Joy said and most of his explanation after that must have been over my head, but it did land in my heart.

Did he go on to explain to me the Cold War origins of the expression? Did he lay out his feelings on the subject? I don't recall his exact arguments, but I've avoided the use of the phrase ever since. As a teen I understood that no one wants to come in third place like that.

Were we all equal in this multi-national community? I like to think that we were. In many ways, nationality didn't matter in this place I called home. Neither did it matter what you had studied or what your job had been before joining the ship, or what the denomination of your church on shore was. People became friends, because they simply liked each other, while not necessarily having a whole lot in common in their home countries.

There were differences too. While I used my pocket money to buy ice cream or souvenirs, my Sudanese friend used his to support his family back home. There was that kind of inequality even in our tight community: The belief among the Westerners that we NEED ice cream from time to time, especially if it's hot weather, while we had friends who worried if their family got their daily bread.
(Sidenote, on complications with sharing good stuff: One guy put his ice cream in the microwave, because he really couldn't stand the cold!)

In certain countries, some of my friends would not be allowed to leave the port area. Visa issues would cause them to be 'grounded' because of their passport nationality. Whenever this happened it hurt a little, not just for them, but also for me. Why was my friend, who really had a great personality, refused by the country we were visiting while I was welcomed? It gave me a lot to think about.

We went on a school outing to a slavery museum in the Caribbean. I paid special attention to the number of slaves the Dutch had brought over in ships, where people were packed like sardines and treated worse than that. I came to realize that my ancestors with their 'VOC mentality' had an embarrassingly large part in this.

I grew aware of the color of my skin, while having many encounters that colored my sentiments. With every experience my heart got colored stripes on it.

Perhaps my childhood was too protected, but at least growing up like this made me love the exchange of cultures. It saddens me that many Brits have voted out of the EU, because immigration terrifies them. It worries me that many Dutch citizens, once known for their tolerance, are not so open-minded in light of the current refugee crisis.

How cheering that many people who do get to know someone from a different culture, actually enjoy making new friends. Will you look someone in the eyes long enough, to let them paint your heart a little?

For more inspiration, watch the Amnesty experiment "Looking Refugees in the Eyes":

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