Have you heard of the book called All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten?
If not, it is about those basic lessons children learn at a young age that turn out to be pretty helpful even as adults. Some of my favorite things from this book include: “Play fair,” “Clean up your own mess,” and “Share everything.”
I don’t know about all of you, but I passed Kindergarten and thought I had all of these things down. I mean, I’m pretty sure I play pretty fairly. I usually clean up my own mess; at least I know I should clean up my own mess. I can even share pretty well. Or so I thought.
Turns out, I am not good at sharing. Do you want to know who is good at sharing? Well, even if you don’t want to know, I’m going to tell you anyway:
My South African neighbors and community members.
I am constantly blown away by the sharing done in this community. Here are a few real examples from my time here so far. (Yes, all of these examples involve food – I see sharing in other ways as well, but the sharing of food is definitely the most common.)
-While traveling with a couple of co-workers, we stopped at a gas station to fill up. One person was going to get a cold drink (can of pop) and asked if I wanted one. I naturally responded with something like, “No, I’m fine” because I didn’t have any money on me. Well, that was not an acceptable answer apparently because I was soon being handed my own can.
-Whenever I enter a person’s house (whether while doing home visits with Home-Based Care or just to visit a friend), I am always offered juice or coffee and usually some biscuits.
-One morning at the crèche, one child arrived with a sweet (this one was like a small Jolly Rancher). Instead of getting angry when the other kids would ask for it, she literally took it out of her mouth and let everyone have a lick. Despite the definite germ-sharing, this was astounding to me.
-Just a few days ago, a friend of mine insisted that he buy me a cold drink and some chocolate because I figured out how to set the alarm on his watch.
When I first arrived (and even now!), I would always try to turn down these offers. I mean, I just set the alarm – is a gift really necessary?
However, multiple people have explained that is actually considered rude to turn down these offers of sharing. For me, being a Minnesotan through and through, this was so hard to comprehend! I kept feeling guilty taking food from people without immediately giving something in return.
What I have learned in the last nine months, though, is that it is ok to accept gifts from others. No, I don’t usually have some sort of payment ready to be given. What I do have, however, is the promise that if that person ever needs anything from me, I will be there to give it. It is this notion of mutual assistance that seems to hold together my South African community.
So while I don’t always pay for the food that is so whole-heartedly bestowed upon me, I have learned to keep a full stock of tea and other goodies around for any guests. I have learned to accept the kindness that is given with grace and humility, just as I have learned to give and share without expecting anything in return.