The Matchbook Diaries

Tuesday Morning January 9, 2024 Shanghai Connections in Faith

Me, at Christmas when I was, what, 3 ish?

It’s barely still morning; unless I finish this in 20 mins!

It’s a strange life we lead, and not for everyone.  I was reflecting on the biggest wall we face daily, and never overcome, the language wall.  I choose to live as a stranger among strangers, which allows me utter privacy as no one can know me, even if they wanted to.  The cultural barriers and language barriers in the places we have lived are immense.  And yet there are always these breaches.

In church for example, I’m surrounded by believers, so we have a very strong bond even if we cannot talk.  One time we came in at the last minute because traffic was so heavy going downtown and we wedged into the front pew on the very little side area in the cathedral, which is where we always sit.  But in the pew was an African man, alone.  Normally he has his wife and son with him.  I don’t know him but I recognize him because he sits where we do.  So they’d run out of programs for the service which meant we could only participate in the parts we memorized, but not the parts that change week to week.  That man kindly, silently, shared his with us for the hour.  Obviously we had a common language since we were both attending the English language service, but, in Shanghai that really just means the second language for most of the people attending.  Most of the congregation has another mother tongue, but, chooses to worship in English rather than Mandarin.

Anyhow, the service that week ended and we got up to leave and I turned to him and said, “Asante sana” which means “thank you” in Kiswahili.  He replied “Safi sana” meaning “you are very welcome”.  It wasn’t until we were in the car that I realized we’d slipped into another tongue for a moment.

There are always connections.  Usually, actually, it’s our dog.  People love her because she’s really, really cute.  Sometimes it’s that we need a bank, or a toilet.

Once, in downtown Amman in Jordan I needed a toilet.  We’d been buying these really, really amazing camel blankets and I had gotten carried away and boy I needed a potty.  But it’s a very old city and hard to navigate.  But this man in the street, he figured out what I needed and walked me several blocks to this toilet, holding me by the elbow to navigate the crowds. He installed me sturdily by the toilet door and before releasing my elbow he looked me in the eyes and said, in English, “I’m Sikh.  I am Sikh.  Do you understand?”  I nodded and said thank you.  Jordan is my favourite country in the world and is a stew of believers, mostly Christian and Muslim.  He wanted me to know, to understand.  And I did, that it was his faith that drove his choices in life, including the one that gave him the compassion to lead a foreign woman to a public toilet.