One of the highlights of living in Nashville is our local Aldi. For one thing, I have long heard the legend of Aldi from my fellow couponers and couponing websites. I knew from them that Aldi was a super-cheap grocery store that kept prices low in a variety of creative ways: their aisles are formed by the food products themselves, not shelves; the use of a cart cost $.25 (but you get it back when you return it); they don’t take credit cards; and they don’t have bags. It’s definitely a unique grocery store, and the prices are very low.
That’s not the only reason I love it, however. I love our local Aldi because it is an absolute melting pot of so many cultures of the world. Nashville has a large refugee population, and apparently the one thing that all these unique and diverse cultures have in common is that they all love them some Aldi. Thus, on any given trip to Aldi, I find myself absolutely surrounded by the rainbow of God’s creation. I love walking through and observing all the different people. And as someone who loves words, I especially love hearing all of the various languages. I only know English, but I know enough of other languages to know that most of the languages spoken in Aldi are not European. Yet, for all the obvious differences in the clientele, it’s funny how we often have more in common than we think. On my first trip to Aldi, a young Indian woman started a conversation with me about motherhood while our two children eyed each other from our carts. Her little boy was named Arjun, he was sixteen months old, and she was struggling with being a stay-at-home mom. She had her college degree in business administration and thought of herself as a career woman. We talked about the struggles of motherhood for awhile, and I tried to encourage her. What struck me most about the conversation, though, was how similar it was to so many conversations I’ve had with my friends. In fact, were I still apart of my old Mommy and Me group in South Carolina, I would have totally invited her to join us. The commute is a little far, though.
The other night, Greg had a similar “small world” experience at Aldi. He found himself in line behind a large African man who had just let a Middle Eastern guy go in front of him. While Greg waited for his turn, he set his two gallons of milk on a shelf beside the conveyor. Once room was made on the conveyor belt, the African man turned and transferred the milk onto the belt for Greg. Greg thanked him, and a few minutes later, the man gave an unsolicited explanation for his actions. In a very thick accent, he told Greg, “We have to take care of each other. That’s what God wants. He wants us to love each other. If we did, we wouldn’t have so much war and violence and hatred.” Greg agreed, of course, and thanked him again. Then Greg paid for his groceries and went out. As he got into his car, he noticed that the people in the car next to him were having some trouble getting it started. He looked over, and saw a Hispanic man and a white woman trying to get the engine to turn over. With the African man’s words still ringing in his ears, Greg made eye contact with the people and asked if they needed any help. They said they thought they were out of gas and asked Greg if they had a gas can they could borrow. He said he didn’t, but that he would run and get them some gas since he needed some himself. They gratefully accepted the offer, and he drove off to the nearby Citgo.
This particular Citgo is quite dear to me because this summer, I had my own “small world” experience there. I had just gotten into town after spending a few days at my parents’ house. I was in Nashville to meet the mission team from my church, who were currently en route from Oklahoma. They were still a few hours away, and while I waited for them to arrive, I was going to meet an old friend for dinner. But first, I had to gas up. I pulled into the Citgo and up to a pump. Immediately, the gas station attendant came out to help me, as I had apparently chosen a full service pump. I explained to him that I had made a mistake and moved to a self-service pump instead. I got the gas pumping and then went to the back of the van to get out some makeup to freshen up before dinner. It was locked. Oops. I went around to the front of the van to hit the unlock button…but it was locked, too. Everything was inside my car: my wallet, my cell phone, and most dismayingly, my keys.
So there I was, alone in a city with no one’s contact numbers, no money, and no transportation. Even my AAA card was in the car! Sheepishly, I walked into the gas station and explained my plight to the middle Eastern man behind the counter, the same man who had come out earlier to pump my gas. I asked if I could use a phone book and his telephone to call AAA. He was very sympathetic and let me make the call. I had another problem, though: I was supposed to meet my friend for dinner in ten minutes, and I had no way to contact her to let her know I would be late. I knew I was near the restaurant, but I couldn’t remember how far down the road it was. I asked the gas station worker and briefly explained my plight. I was absolutely shocked when he volunteered to let me take his car.
A few minutes later, I was driving down Nolensville Road listening to the strange, Eastern melodies floating from this stranger’s radio. I had learned in my brief interaction with the man that he was from the nation of Jordan, and I had to marvel at the cultural situation I was in: I was driving a Jordanian man’s car to meet a Mexican woman at a Chinese restaurant. It occurred to me that nothing in my behavior so far should have indicated to this man that I was even qualified to operate a vehicle, and I also knew that some middle Easterners don’t even think that women should drive cars (there is a law against it in Saudi Arabia, right?). And yet here I was, having just interacted with one of the first Muslims I had ever met, and I was driving his car. Weird.
I left a message at the restaurant for my friend, and then headed back to the gas station to wait for AAA. During my wait, I had very little else to do besides chat with the Jordanian, and he had little else to do in the empty store besides chat with me. So we talked. Turns out, the man was in this country temporarily. He came over here to go to college, but he had trouble affording it and didn’t really seem to know what he wanted to do. Thus, instead of getting his degree, he had moved down from New York to Nashville, married a Native American woman, and was now working in this gas station. We talked about his impressions of America, his life in the middle East, and our religions. I asked him about Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden (yes, yes I did), and I listened as he passionately explained the differences in the interpretation of Islam and how he was glad bin Laden was dead. He told me about how there are 27 (or something like that) countries in the middle East and how they are all different, and how Jordan is not crazy like some of the others. He told me about his views of Islam, and his wife’s thoughts on the matter. He told me that we both pray to God, and it is God who will judge between us. And I told him about my beliefs, as well. In short, we both tried to be good witnesses to each other. We talked back and forth in that empty gas station, surrounded by Twinkies and beef jerky and the smell of oil, until the very nice AAA guy came to help me back into my car. Then I thanked him, and I left, and I never saw him again.
But that conversation stayed with me for awhile. It reminded me that it really is small world these days. And where my family lives, we can meet Arabs and Indians and Africans on a normal trip to the grocery store or gas station. I love that. I love getting to talk to people who are different from me, people who look different, who think differently, who live differently. And I love that my children are going to grow up in this environment. This week on the blog, I’m going to explore that idea, that concept of our small world. I’m going to share some cool missionary blogs, as well as some ways Greg and I have learned to teach our kids about our small world. I’m also going to weigh in on the Kony 2012 phenomenon. Paul’s words in Acts 17:27 tell me that God has put us all here, in 2012, for a reason. And here, in 2012, we live in a small world that is more globally connected than ever before. How are we to live in such a world? Who is our neighbor in this world?
Those are two questions worth asking, in my opinion. Perhaps this week, you can help me answer them.