It was 2002. I was in Namibia, attending a morning prayer meeting for the ministerial alliance in Swakopmund. I had attended a few of these before, but this one was the first one held in home of the pastor of one of the Afrikaans churches.
I knew I was in for a treat when he singled me out in the group, switched to English (everyone else understood him far better in Afrikaans than I did, obviously), and began asking me questions about America. As the morning continued on, his wife brought out fruit for breakfast.
“Jennifer has probably never had this particular fruit,” he told me, putting some on my plate. “I don’t know that you get it in America.”
What he had served me was sliced in large chunks, bright orange in color, and smelled like a melon. Everyone there watched me as I took a bite, and after a moment, I said, “Oh, we have this back in America. It’s cantaloupe.”
All around me, the Afrikaans speakers began laughing. “What? What did you call it?”
“It’s cantaloupe,” I repeated. (Though, with my accent, it’s more like can-uh-lope. But whatever.)
“What a strange name!,” one of them said. “Cant-a-loupe!” More laughing.
“Well, what is it called in Afrikaans?”
I refrained from telling them all that this was clearly STRANGER than calling it a cantaloupe, which it was and still IS, even all these years later. Pointing out how goofy THEIR word for it was pointless, because I was outnumbered, y’all.
I’ve thought about this a lot lately as I’m traveling this parenting road. Because things have not been easy with Emma and school, I’ve been struggling through trying to understand why she feels like she does and why she can’t understand what I understand — that school is part of life. Just because it isn’t always fun doesn’t mean we just stop going! Emma and I seemed to have reached a stalemate when it comes to communicating these things to one another accurately, and I’m left to conclude that I’m saying cantaloupe and she’s saying spanspek.
And while we’re both saying something that makes great and natural sense to each of us, we’re coming from such different places that it’s like we’re not even talking about the same melon.
I have to take myself out of my frame of reference and really try, cross-culturally, to figure out what the world looks like, what a day of school without Mommy looks like, for a five year old. I have to constantly, through the days and years ahead, remember that I’m seeing things a whole lot differently than my wee ones and that to understand them, I have to remember that they’re not looking at life from my vantage point. Their cantaloupe is spanspek, and I just gotta refrain from telling them that it’s a CANTALOUPE already. Sheesh!
I’m going to hold onto this truth as we navigate the years ahead…