Tuesday, November 6, 2012

New Friends - New Perspectives

We recently had the wonderful opportunity to host a home visit for three journalists visiting from Africa. They were among 16 that were invited to the United States through the Department of State's International Visitor Leadership Program. The professional objectives of the program were to provide the visitors with a better understanding of a free and independent press, First Amendment protections, responsible and ethical investigative journalism, and the evolving role and impact of technology and social media in journalism.

In addition to these objectives, our guests toured several major American cities including New York, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Phoenix, Dallas and some others before wrapping up their tour in St. Louis. During their stay in St. Louis, one of the scheduled activities was to spend an evening enjoying a typical American family dinner. That's where we came in to the picture. We invited another family to join us as well and we all had a wonderful time making new friends and seeing the world from a different perspective.

Our friends picked up our three guests and an interpreter from their hotel in downtown St. Louis, while we put the finishing touches on the meal. We decided nothing was more American than a good old backyard BBQ. We served up a batch of burgers and chicken, grilled fresh zucchini and eggplant, and whipped up some creamy potato salad. We served our famous "colossal fruit salad" along with ice cream cones for dessert. The food was delicious and the company was delightful. What a wonderful evening!

Our guests were:

   • Mr. Terver Akase - Nigeria
         Reporter/Correspondent for Radio Nigeria, Rivers State
   • Mr. Aboubacar Dembz Cissokho - Senegal
         Reporter, Senegalese Press Agency
   • Mr. Mohamed Abdelaziz Mustafa Mohamed - Sudan
         Head, Political Division, Alsudani Newspaper
   • Ms. Monia Chehata - Virginia Falls, VA
        Consecutive Interpreter (originally from Tunisia)

Admittedly we were a bit nervous before their arrival. We weren't certain what to expect. What would they be like? What would they think of our home, our family, our country, our beliefs, our culture, and... the food (c'mon, every 'chef'' is paranoid, right)? How well did they speak English? Would it be awkward to have an interpreter? The moment they arrived and we welcomed them into our home, all those concerns melted away. They could not have been more gracious nor more charming. The evening, a Wednesday night and a school night, absolutely flew by in the blink of an eye.

We spent the early part of the evening in the living room discussing mainly geography, pulling out the old globe from the 1960s, allowing each of our guests to point out where they live and the routes they each traveled to arrive in the U.S. You'd be amazed at how little has changed in Africa, given how much turmoil there has been in the past 50+ years. More so it was place names rather than boundaries that changed, especially in the lower half of the continent as many of these countries claimed their independence from their European colonizers in the 60s and 70s. We also quickly became aware of how much more they know about our country than we do theirs. But, to be fair, Africa is the second largest continent after Asia and is home to 54 different countries. It's not a topic we spend much time on in our schools, but with the U.S. being a world leader, it's not surprising that other countries include our history and our politics in their curriculum. Still makes one feel ignorant - even if I can name all 54 countries and their capitals.

 Aboubacar Cissokho - Senegal;
Monia Chehata - Intpreter; 
During dinner, conversation turned away from geography and toward personal experiences as well as their impressions of America and Americans and our impressions of Africa and Africans. The thoughts, ideas and feelings exchanged were of the kind that remind us how small the world truly is. I learned so much more than I expected in the short time we had together. Our new friends are not very different from us at all. They love their families, their friends, their homes, their communities and their countries. They too hope for peace and understanding from and for everyone. As journalists, they believe in honest and truthful reporting, both the good and the bad. They were keen to point out that the majority of the news about Africa reported in the U.S. media is of the negative variety related to the troubles there and rarely, if ever, about the positives, of which they believe there are plenty. It's hard, if not impossible, to argue a fair point, but I'll save a rant about our media for another time.

Monia, the interpreter, had as much to share as our African visitors. Originally from Tunisia, and now an American citizen, she added tremendously to the experience. Later in the evening she shared with us that she could have had the night off as Aboubacar spoke fluent English, however, after reviewing the host family bios and noting that our children were about the same age as hers, she very much wanted to be part of the night. We were all equally glad she had. We look forward to the chance to participate in this program again in the future, and we would encourage others to do the same if the opportunity were ever to present itself. 

سلام   ← Arabic for PEACE

Aboubacar Cissokho - Senegal; Terver Akase - Nigeria; Mohamed Mohamed - Sudan; We were so busy visiting that we didn't even think about a group picture until the last hurried moment - I wish we had Mohamed up front so you could have seen him in his traditional dress, very cool indeed! Also, no time to use the self-timer, so Monia took the picture, instead of being in it.

1 comment:

  1. I loved reading your account of this night. It seems like we all need to do these kinds of things to break down barriers of culture and geography. I think meetings like this and sharing a meal can teach us infinitely more than any textbook can. Thank you for sharing!