Sunday, August 03, 2008

How to Be a Good Guest: a letter from our host

One thing that is challenging about this leg of my trip is that it
involves spending five nights in the local home which the 7 members of
Team 2 are sharing with a local family of four. So yes, I am resident
#12 in a house the size of the one I'm used to sharing with just one
other person. Past teams have often rented homes (with landlords who
drop in now and again or live in a separate part of the house) or been
divided up in multiple homes, but this is different. There's no
neutral place, no place to get away and do things their own way. Even
when they go out, they often end up asking their host to give them a
ride; the house is not on a good route for public transportation.

Their host, Mr. A., is fairly strong in his opinions about the way to
think and the way to do things. On one occasion he wrote the whole
team a letter. I thought you'd enjoy some excerpts…

"When I attended the circumcision ceremony at Mr. Y.'s house, many
people who attended the circumcision ceremony asked me about your
presence in the community. One of them is Mr. Haji M. He is the
secretary in this community. He told me that he would invite all of
you to visit his house on Friday evening. I answered that I would tell
them as soon as I went home.

"In our culture if the guests are invited by the leader or the
secretary of our community or by the people or public figures in this
community to their house, we should [accept] their invitation. For
example, last Monday evening I was invited by Mr. Y. to attend the
circumcision ceremony. As a good citizen of this community, I must
respect his invitation. I may not be indifferent to the people here.
If I am indifferent to them, they will think nothing of me. The people
in this village still have strong co-operations.

"Mr. Haji M. will invite all of you to visit his house on Friday
evening at 7:30 PM. We should not make him disappointed. Mr. Haji M.
is the secretary of the neighbors' harmony in our community and he is
also the Muslim leader here. All the people in this community respect
him because he has gone to Mecca for pilgrimage and he is also very
religious. He is reserved and not talkative.

"In our culture, when the owner of the house offers you some food and
drink, never refuse his offer. He will be thin-skinned [hurt?] if you
refuse it. And he will be pleased if you accept his offers.

"I am going to tell you how to be the guests at his house. Before we
enter his house, we should say to him "Asalamualaikum." And say to him
again [good evening]. Mr. M. will ask you to [come in] and [sit down]
and you say to him [thank you]. First, I will say some words to Mr. M.
Then I will tell you to introduce yourselves to him one by one in [the
national language]."

Mr. A. also added, in the middle, a few instructions that may refer to
some past offenses:

"In this community, when you live in one's family, you should also
have breakfast, lunch, and dine at their house. If you don't do that
they will be thin-skinned [hurt], even though they are not angry with

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