International friendships

My wife and I had a wonderful time last week with our house guest, Lula Tewfik, from Ethiopia. Lula, a communications officer with the United Nations, was one of four African professionals touring Indiana as part of the Rotary International Group Study Exchange Program. My wife, Jeanne, is active in Lafayette Rotary and serves on the board. A Rotary group from the United States has been touring in Africa at the same time.

Bob Scott has a great story about this in the Lafayette Journal and Courier today (4/22/08), ay (4/22/08),

Our four international guests had an amazing itinerary that included stops in Danville, Fishers, Anderson, Kokomo, Lafayette and Muncie. Not many people visiting from as far away as Africa get those places stamped on their passport! I told Lula there are a lot of people who live in Indiana who haven’t been to all of those places. But I believe in these Indiana cities our guests had an opportunity to see what America and Americans are really like.

Lula had the impression that the United States was one huge city. She was surprised as we drove through Tippecanoe County farmland, still rough with fall corn stubble, and heard me explain that most of the country is like this: big, open, expansive.

We took Lula to typical American events: a dinner in Indianapolis hosted by the Soybean Alliance where Purdue student-entrepreneurs showed their talent for creating and marketing new products made from soybeans. Our daughter, Jennifer Nordland, is project manager of the Student Soybean Product Innovation Competition. Lula saw her first soybean and tasted ice cream with a waffle cone made from soy. She also sampled her first shrimp and crabmeat appetizers. She preferred the soy cone. I personally made five trips back to the soy ice cream waffle cone booth.

While here Lula and the others visited Chicago and Indianapolis, toured the Tippecanoe County Courthouse, the Journal and Courier press building and Purdue University. They got to see a real blue grass concert by Cherryholmes — and it was tremendous. We introduced Lula to American haute cuisine — like chile and root beer floats.

During their visit our new friends from Africa had the opportunity to see Americans cheering together, working together, playing together and disagreeing together. At the Cherryholmes concert, Jere, the leader and father of the family musical group, praised our U.S. soldiers and quoted the Bible: Greater love has no man than that to lay down his life for another. The audience cheered loudly.

When the cheering subsided someone in the audience near the front shouted: “What about ‘Thou shalt not kill!'” There was a mixed — but mostly negative — reaction to that.

“I’m no politician,” Jere said. “I just believe we should support our troops.” Huge cheers. And the music went on.

So our African friends got to see America just as it is in this 2008 election year as we go through this process of debating and evaluating what we’re doing and where we want to go next. They even got to shake hands with Barack Obama in Muncie.

In the Journal and Courier Lula is quoted saying: “I did not expect America to be like this. It is the most welcoming nation in the world. (But) It seems Americans don’t always have time to eat.”

Unfortunately, she didn’t that get impression because I look so thin (because I don’t). She told us Americans are very busy. And she’s right. We’re way too busy and don’t take enough time to enjoy life. Even our relaxing is hurried. We eat on the run.

Lula introduced us to Ethiopian coffee. Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee. It was delicious. She also introduced us to a great mixed nut snack. On her last morning with us she made the coffee in an Ethiopian pot and said the tradition in her country is to drink the coffee, then prepare another pot and drink it, and then a third pot an drink it, all the while sharing friendship and conversation.

Unfortunately, after the first pot, we had to tell Lula it was time to leave for her next scheduled appointment — proving her point.

Programs such as this sponsored by Rotary are wonderful opportunities to bring people together. We have a great deal to learn from one another, a great deal to offer one another — if we just take the time for one another and sit down and drink some coffee together.

Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

I believe you can also begin to bring the world together, one small, thoughtful, committed group at a time.

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