March 27, 2012

An unusual day at the playground

I hate it when we make assumptions.  Today at the playground, assumptions were made, both ways.  I was on the floor with Emilu under the shade and there was a foreign-looking guy (a parent) close to us.  I had seen him by the swings with his daughter and wife.  During one casual glance at them, I caught him, jealously nodging his wife away, who was pushing the swing and loudly laughing with her daughter. They looked Middle Eastern. I made no big deal out of this.  All family dynamics are different, and yet, special.

But then we started a conversation, about raising girls, and family situations, and about his wife, who was expecting another girl.  He asked me where I was from, I told him, and then I asked him. Can you guess? he said. This is where things get tricky.   So I said, don't know, somewhere in the Middle East?  He almost looked disappointed, and I realized I better say something or else risk the assumption that all foreigners make about us Americans, and which is, that we are obsessed with the Middle East. Before I could say, Turkey, which was my next guess, he said, more to the east, Southeast Asia, I'm from Afghanistan. Oh really!  Wow I would have never guessed, I said. I could see the next thought forming in his head, that's right, your American veil produces blind spots.  And maybe he's right.  We can be so narrow-minded sometimes. Our daughters were playing together now.  I asked if he was going to go back.  He was here finishing his second Master's, so was his wife, and the baby would be born here, but as soon as they were done with school, they would go back.  We are needed more there, besides it's my country, he said.  I wish I could say the same about my country, I told him. Things are not so black and white in the DR.  Besides I have been here most of my adult life, it's unimaginable for me to go back and adapt to a society that seems more foreign to me than the American way.  He said he understood. But I got the feeling that he might not completely agree with it.  Then I told him about the things I hated about my country, mainly the ignorance, the second-rated human rights, the judicial and political corruption, and the fake and splashy ways of the nouveau rich.  He seemed bored.  Was he making an assumption about me just now like I had done about his nationality?  I should have told him my grandmother was Middle Eastern by blood.

We left it at that.  His wife joined us after.  I asked about her maternity care, did she like her doctor here, and the hospital where she was planning on delivering.  She said the only thing that worried her was the labor pains.  She had already gone through it with her first daughter back in Afghanistan, and she didn't want to endure that again.  It seems, epidurals are not so common there.  I told her, they were here.  That my daughter was born this way, and that it was worth it.  She would be fine too.  She sighted in relief, and asked me if it was dangerous, and I told her it wasn't, especially if she had already gone through natural childbirth.  I said to her, that in this country women are slowly getting back to doing natural childbirth, especially the younger generation, like us.  She looked puzzled.  Why?  I said well, because Americans and their peers (Europeans) think the natural way it's best.  They are opposed to most types of medical interventions.  She smiled and said, we are trying to get more epidurals in our country. Well, that's the thing about America, I said jokingly, we want to have our cake and eat it too. It seems that too much of a good thing can be bad too. They were a lovely family, really, and I bid then farewell and good luck.  I hope I wasn't too American in my ways.  As an American, what I mostly love about this land, is the respect this country affords its people with their freedoms and choices, as long as they don't hurt the rest, and that, around the world, it's difficult to come by.


  1. I worry about that too in my various interactions. It's hard to identify and separate yourself from your blindspots!

  2. I think we are even more free to make our own choices in Sweden actually... maybe...

    It's normal to very quickly make a picture in your head of someone when you meet for the first time. As long as we are aware that we do this, and try to adjust our first impressions by listening, learning and experiencing I think it's fine.

    I don't understand why the man was bored when you spoke about DR though...

    I really should go to sleep now, but I'm not sick anymore and I feel so energized. I want to read a lot of blogposts! Back to work tomorrow, so I guess I have to force myself to go to bed.

    Love Maria