Xenophile: Sharing Passions Builds Relationships

I was delighted to find this word describing a common trait that I share with my daughters, one which has been built especially into my relationship with daughter Julia. Both of my girls have traveled and experienced foreign cultures and love doing that, as do I. We love exploring, talking to people and learning how we are all similar, and how our lives are different. That’s basically what a xenophile is – a person who loves foreign people and their cultures.

Me, dressed for riding the tuk tuk through the city.

The foreign part of the world that I have the most experience with is Southeast Asia, Cambodia in particular. I have taken four trips of about two weeks each time and have made many personal friends, most of them in PhnomPenh. I was so moved by the people and their way of life that I had to take Julia there, so she could experience it too.

Julia loves these kids, they love her too.

While there, our mission was to spend time with the staff and children of Asia’s Hope, an organization providing stable homes for orphans and at risk children. In a country where it is common for people in poverty to “sell” a child into slavery of one kind or another, in order to make ends meet, Asia’s Hope is committed to finding these kids and rescuing them. They are a Christian organization and want to teach children that God loves and values them, even when other people don’t. They place 20 to 25 children in a home with indigenous house parents who will raise them to college age and beyond. They will live out biblical principles and equip the children to be leaders in their own country. It is a beautiful model and it works.

So, the love part – what won me over? I can list a few of the many, many experiences that did the trick.

– arriving at the Phnom Penh airport late at night and finding the house parents and dozens of the kids waiting to greet us, grab our bags and put them in vans and get us to our lodgings.

I’m in there, the only white haired person you can pick out…

– being invited to their homes for meals highlighting their cuisine but also giving us something familiar (they learned fried chicken and spaghetti quite easily).

Their preferred “table”. They were kind enough to make sure we had chairs.

– visiting in their asian style kitchens, while the moms, cooks and older girls cooked on charcoal grills while squatting on the floor (so amazing!)

– playing games with the children outside, sitting with them inside while they overwhelmed us with laughter and hugs

– enjoying outings to the city market where each child thoughtfully chose how to spend five dollars on something they needed with no complaining or arguing.

Of course I am not in this picture because I am taking the picture.
With PE4 after a successful shopping trip. I made it into this picture, again the odd one with very white hair.

– watching them enjoy a rare trip to a pizza restaurant where dozens of wings and pizzas disappeared, again with nothing but smiles and happiness.

Pizza night, and I am given a flower for my hair…
Oh, and there was birthday cake for all to share.

– hearing their delight in learning English words and phrases, and more laughter as they listened to us trying to learn Khmer words from them

– experiencing firsthand their simple, strong faith and how content they are with so little

– and over the years, seeing them learn and grow, graduate high school and go on to university (so rare in their country).

My contact list has almost more Asian friends than American ones and my Facebook messages are filled with pictures from those beautiful friends in that exciting, culturally different but much loved country. I am suffering from xenomania. I am a xenophile.

Understanding 101

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not paraticularly inviting…

Depending on how you look at it, being at the end of a long, unpaved, often pothole filled, dead end road can be very comforting (like, what bad guys would even want to drive down this?) or really creepy (if they do come they are highly motivated and wanting to avoid witnesses). And isn’t that how life always is? We often get to choose a viewpoint.

I am coming to the end of a project, that of keeping house for Dr. Julia while she visited Cambodia and the children of Asia’s Hope. I find it interesting to step inside someone’s world and reflect on their experience. I’ve lived with her family of animals, sweated in her less than efficient air conditioning, traveled her frequented roads and busy city highways, walked in her pastures, waded through her mud, mowed her grass, eaten dinner with her friends and driven her vehicles.

I’ve gotten the flavor of north eastern Florida, from the hospitality and southern courtesy of its inhabitants, to the ever present matttresses, broken tv’s and toilet fixtures waiting on the side of the road for garbage pickup. What I will miss is the silence. I don’t know why I call it silence – it’s really the sound of a crew of frogs in the pond in the yard, and the wind in the trees, and the rain on the roof. But I can actually hear these things and it’s not hard to sleep peacefully with that kind of music in the background (if you’ve chosen not to worry about the bad guys…)

For me, coming away with a better understanding of another person’s joys and struggles is the bonus in this experience. Now, when Dr. Julia tries to explain the feelings of isolation in the evenings, coming home to a dark house, with only her cats and dog and her “friends” in the box (tv), I get it.  When she mentions her frustration with the rats getting into her horse feed again,  I get it. I saw those critters.  I hope there is some comfort for her in knowing that her experience is more known by another.

I am thankful for this season in my life. I am benefitting from these extended periods of time spent with family, sometimes in their homes, sometimes in mine. I marvel at how gently God is teaching me empathy, compassion, and how to discern other’s needs. I want to learn how to honestly express interest, and love. Often that class takes place at the end of a long, bumpy road. Just sayin’…

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recently graveled, but working on some new potholes