by Holly Duncan
A bridge constructed with oranges as the supports might be a bit wobbly. Before you know it, it might even become a rolling bridge! But isn’t that how it feels sometimes reaching across cultural differences? We want to be bridge-builders, but sometimes it seems too risky, or confusing, or we’ve never seen it done before and we don’t know where to begin.
Recently, I found myself in a situation where fruit was crossing cultures, and a bridge was needed. Thankfully, the circumstance was more metaphorical, but the delicacy remained a priority as I sought to navigate different people, practices, and religions in our community.
A longtime resident had posted a picture on our Facebook group from a small pond near our subdivision. The photo displayed a potted plant, small bowls of fruit, and several fronds in and near the edge of the water. The neighbor asked if anyone knew why a flower pot, large fern leaves, and styrofoam bowls of fruit bits would be sitting in the water. A group of volunteers was set to have a park clean up day the following weekend, and the neighbor was curious if these items were litter or if there was significance behind them.
When this question came up, I remembered attending the closing-ceremonies of a recent Hindu festival, Swasthani Brata Katha, at my neighbors’ house. Some of the guests explained that the holiday includes a month-long fast practiced by the women of the family and ends with an offering, often fruit or flowers, being placed near a body of water.
I then texted a Hindu friend to ask if she’d be willing to help me with some cross-cultural communication. She happily agreed, and I explained the neighbors’ concerns about the offering items (along with other non-religious litter) at the pond.
She was able to talk with worshipers the next week at the Hindu temple about the neighbors’ environmental concerns and encourage them to be mindful of environmentally friendly offerings. Alternatively, I was able to explain the Swasthani Brata Katha observance to neighbors and reinforce their patience and understanding for diverse traditions. Another neighbor who serves on the board for John’s Homestead where the pond is located, was able to relay the information to volunteers tidying the park.
Although this was a relatively simple example, I am proud that our neighborhood was able to work through this cultural misunderstanding. Sometimes it feels as precarious as building a bridge on a bowl of fruit. If any party had reacted with less grace and more distrust, the situation may not have been resolved as easily or as quickly. But I continue to be convinced that when we get to know each other as fellow humans and neighbors, we can work together to address mutual concerns in ways that affirm and nurture community along the way!