Friday, October 1, 2010

I am because we are. - The importance of sharing in community building.

Suppertime in any given West African village.
Dusk is heralded by the chirping of crickets and the lighting of kerosene lanterns. After a day of blissful cavorting in the dust and bushes, the children are finally homeward-bound, their round empty bellies lured by the smells of the humble meal awaiting.

Of all my memories of my african childhood, this little example on the meaning of togetherness and continuity of clan-spirit; is one of my most carefully preserved memories. It is tightly and lovingly interwoven as a guiding principle in the tapestry of the woman I have become today.

Meals and mealtimes have always played a special role in community(building). A meal in Africa is never eaten alone. Often food is not plentiful, a piece of meat, a rare luxury. The family dinner is eaten collectively from one bowl. Every member of the extended family, from elder to toddler, feeds from this one source.

Sharing meals is like a social thermometer, a traditional way of coming together and catching up on the day, of showing your strenght in the face of anothers' vulnerability. A way for kids to adopt various social skills like taking others into consideration.

During these meals, friendships and alliances are reinforced, dissonances are laid to rest, strangers are shown courtesy and accorded a warm welcome; winning through sharing becomes apparent when everyone realises that by just eating enough and not more, all bellies will get filled.

The adults tactfully refrain after awhile so that the little ones who need the nutrients the most, can lick out the bowl and enjoy the last tidbits.

Going back in time to the child I was, sitting on the packed earth of my grandmother's kitchen hearth, what touches me the most is not the ubiquitious malaria mosquitoes that relentlessly peppered my bare limbs or the simplicity of plain boiled yams dipped only in palm oil.

My moments of complete happiness came from watching grandmother's ancient weathered face in the firelight, softened and relaxed as she told her countless stories.

What did it matter that there was no electricity or television?
What did it matter that we ate with our hands instead of cutlery?

Her stories fed my deepest hunger and the smoky warmth from all the bodies gave off an unparalleled sense of belonging.

This concept of I am because we are can be transferred to any cosmopolitan network or community: Welcome the stranger, share what you have and give the Up-and-Coming a chance to grow.

This, for me is the true meaning of connection. This is what a real network is all about: A tapestry of individuals united in diversity yet lovingly committed to carrying each other.

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