One of my favorite stories that high lights the misconceptions we all have about different cultures comes from one visit with young people in Tunisia.
In the summer of 2006, in a peacemaking trip funded by the Lyman Fund, we met a charming young man, Mohammed, who was about 14 at the time. Mohammed followed us around all day long with continuous questions about our family and our life. He was so curious about “America.” We told him about our family, Gordy’s teaching young people, some of our customs and we learned about him and his work with the Tunisian Boy Scouts.
Deep into the conversation he was trying to understand where we live. Mohammed knew about New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. How could I describe how very big our country is (compared to Tunisia?) As if the air in front of me was a large paper, I drew an outline of our country in the air. With my right hand I pointed out where New York would be on the map. With my left hand I dotted an area for Los Angeles and Los Vegas. I told Mohammed that about in the middle of our country is a very big city called Chicago. While most Wisconsinites don’t consider themselves very connected to that metropolitan area, it is the largest super city anywhere near us. I told Mohammed that we live about two hours out of Chicago and into the farmland area of the Midwest.
It was as if the lights went on for Mohammed. He became delighted and excited at the same time. He knew just where we live. He said “Superman from farmland.”
We often smile when we think of Mohammed and his understanding of this country. To us it is a bit humorous. At the same time, it points out how little we know about the lands of each other, Tunisians, Americans, Egyptians, Syrians and more. Our Tunisian friends would chuckle at the misconceptions of Americans, at least when it is funny. More often the misinformation that we all have about each other leads to disaster or very bad relations between countries and people. We continue to reach out to others in Arab countries to listen and to respond to lessen the confusion around us all. Please join us as we continue to listen and to reach out in friendship.