I had to choose. This time, my choice might be a consequential one.
The invitation arrived the Thursday before the Sunday event, in a Facebook message ending in a smiley face. “We are having a party for my husband’s rank advancement. Can you please join us?”
Mother’s Day Celebration or Pakistani Party?
“But…it’s Mother’s Day,” I thought. “Don’t I want to go and pamper myself? Why do I want to attend a party…for a man?”
“It’s your day,” my husband assured me. “You can choose whatever you want.”
In the end, I made the choice to make the stop at the party at least a little part of my day. And I, of course, wanted my husband to go with me.
But we had no idea what to expect.
You see, my friend is Pakistani. As relatively new friends, it was through food and smiles and hugs that we had bonded well in our brief time of knowing one another.
They had set the party for 1 pm.
We returned home from church around 12:30 pm. While whipping up some food for our teenaged kids, my husband inquired, “Should we make some lunch for us, too?”
“Of course not! We are going to a party. A Pakistani party. It is a big deal. I’m sure they’ll have lots of yummy homemade food.”
Women One Way, Men the Other
As we arrived, my friend and her husband quickly greeted us. Although headed in the same direction, her husband took hold of my husband’s arm and spoke softly, “I think you will prefer coming this way.” So off he went.
Colors engulfed me. Women from worlds away convened in this little hall, chattering in Urdu, Arabic and a host of other languages I couldn’t decipher. Their vivid shalwar kameez, thwab and salwar outer garments spoke of celebration. Some ladies wore the hijab, the Muslim head covering. But just as many did not. Gold accessories jingled. The mingled scents of jasmine and cardamon filled the air.
“Here is some Pakistani tea. Please try some.”
This was actually my first time. I found it thick and somewhat buttery. Not how I do my tea. But clearly, it was the drink of the moment. I decided to choose to give it a try, and I was happy I did!
I glanced at my husband sitting at the other end of the oblong room where the men had gathered. Our eyes made contact. But before they did, I could see that he was engaging in conversation with three men he had just met, and loving it as well. At that moment I realized, “This is why this man and I are such a good fit!”
A Good Decision
At that moment, I realized how much honor my Pakistani friend had granted us by inviting us into this world – their world – one that few Americans ever enter. So my mind furiously began taking mental snapshots to store the moment in long-term memory.
Of course, the critical me could think, “We are simply the ‘token’ Americans here.” But truly, that’s not how it felt.
We felt wanted. As if having us there made all the difference in the world. In an instant, I realized how disrespectful it would have been to choose to decline the invitation in favor of a Mother’s Day pedicure. I had made the right choice.
A Culinary Surprise
My friend assured me that the food would be there shortly. I was wrestling with my hunger and lightheadedness, trying not to let them show. And then, just as I expected a host of women to walk through the doors with plates of rice, curry and exotic fare, who arrived but the Domino’s delivery man!
“Really?” I wondered. I hope my jaw drop was not too pronounced.
And then Pepsi and donuts followed! I could scarcely believe my eyes.
“Please, take as much as you want. We hope there will be enough,” my friend spoke haltingly.
But this would be a challenge for me. Guess I’m an oddball American, but Domino’s pizza, Pepsi, and donuts simply don’t thrill me. Still, the women surrounding me seemed to feel the choice was a good one. So, I had to choose again. I could insult, or enjoy. I chose the latter.
A Cultural Lesson
I found out later my husband had a discussion with some of the Pakistani men about politeness in Pakistani culture. They told him, “If you don’t like it, you eat whatever is put in front of you and you pretend to enjoy it!”
Although this goes against my thinking, I realized that sometimes we need to accept the approaches and even the expectation of others, as long as it doesn't deeply compromise our values. And of course, this did not.
For sure, I could not decline the food before me. So I ate slowly, smiled readily, and struck up multiple conversations. I learned later that the women had planned to prepare Pakistani food, but they ran out of time and the pizza seemed like the most expedient solution. So they decided to choose pizza because it was fast but filling. And, they concluded, it would be a good choice for their American guests!
Some questions this experience raised for me were:
- What would we have communicated if we had declined the invitation to join the party?
- How could we have prepared better?
- How could we have been more respectful learners from the situation we found ourselves in?
- Most of all, what are some key takeaways – besides the pizza, Pepsi, and donuts – we could apply to future situations?
What are your thoughts? Share your ideas with us!