With one sock (optimist – socks half full), I enjoyed a dinner of pizza with American friends, talking about common acquaintances, experiences, beliefs and ideas. Often when I travel, I find more in common with friends I meet than I have with most at home. I think this is due to the fact that I can’t discuss football and hunting but I enjoy faith and socio-political issues. So I fit in better at christian lawyer conferences and among believers in “third world” (don’t care for this term, actually) countries, than I do among people in lush homes with 50″ TVs playing sports or netflix. To each his own – I just have to travel for mine. Not that I mind.
Anyway, after pizza, I went to bed and slept soundly all the way till 2 a.m., at which point I was wide awake and thinking. About people. About words. About purpose.
It occurred to me that because of some preconceived notions, I have been surprised by the number of muslims that greet me – obviously American – with “salaam.” This is an arabic word for “peace.” So many of the strangers I met began with suspicious eyes and then when I said “salaam!” they cracked open a warm smile and said it back. I can’t remember how many times people warned me not to go to East Africa or Israel because of the possibility of muslim terrorist problems. But I received warm “Salaam’s” and “Shalom’s” in Africa, Israel, and Palestine alike. Come to think of it, I’ve heard as much radical violent-speak from American Christians as I’ve heard from Eastern Muslims. Talk of bullets spraying and bombs exploding comes from both sides, but there are also people on both sides who seek “Salaam” and love their children more than the sound of their weapons. How do I know? I’ve met them. I’ve confirmed it. I’ve specifically pointed out to my Islamic cab driver that he had an instant opportunity to off an infidel, and he laughed and we talked about how that is for the extremists and governments – not for real people who are making a living for their families. Oh I’ve run across some of the crazies as well – we met a group of jihadists in Bethlehem once – but those have been the exception rather than the rule.
For the most part, as far as I can tell, people want peace. But more and more, people are placing their own selfish desires as a priority above peace, and that’s what’s dangerous.
So what can I do about it? I’m trained and licensed as a mediator, and I would love nothing more than to use those skills to guide people toward the peace they don’t know how to find independently. Call me crazy, but I’m holding out faith that there are at least some Fulani’s who would have peace with Nigerian farmers; that there are some Republicans who would make amicable deals with Democrats if they had help finding common ground; that there are some environmentalists and energy barons who could recognize that we need the same resources. I believe that Palestinians and Israelis can coexist on the same soil, but they need help resolving disputes just like church members and family members. I wish I could guide Oromos and Somalis, and Tibetans and Chinese, to negotiated peace and even reconciliation.
For now, though, I am reviewing contracts and such for Faulkner County instead of gallantly brokering world peace. I’ll do whatever good I am given the opportunity to do.
On this particular mission to Africa, my job was to give encouragement, so given repeated reminders of that in the wee hours, I went back to work at it. Next target for encouragement: the ancient walled city of Harar.