Occasionally my students invite me out to different events, but seeing as the invitations usually involve either going to a nightclub that has been described as "the Sodom" of the city, or sound suspiciously like dates, I've generally turned these invitations down. This time, however, my coworker, Nikki, who is of Spanish descent herself and a Christian family woman, received the invitation first and assured me that all would be fine. Figuring that nothing could go wrong if I had a knowledgeable female companion alongside, I happily agreed to go to a BBQ put on by some of our students.
I don't think there was actually a BBQ involved, but that's beside the point. Initially I couldn't find the house, so Miguel was sent out to stand on the yard and flag me down. Once I got there, I was welcomed, handed a can of pop, and sent to the living room. Nikki and I, the two women, sat on couches (drink in hand) watching a soccer game. It was Australia vs. Japan in a Canadian stadium, being announced in Spanish. This struck me as a remarkable example of intercultural cooperation. Meanwhile, the men were all busy in the kitchen, making tacos and sauce from scratch.
Eventually, it was time to eat, so the men called us to the table. Manuel thought that I might not want to stand on the kitchen linoleum with unprotected feet (it was a man house, with man-ish levels of cleanliness), so he delivered me my flip-flops from the front door and deposited them where I was about to step. Then they sat us down and brought the food to the table.
Nikki looked a bit nervous, like she had something to hide. "Do you know what kind of meat we're having?" she asked me.
"Wasn't it going to be fish tacos?" I replied.
"It was," she said, "but it isn't. I don't know if I should tell you."
"Well-" I said.
"Ok," she jumped in, "I'll tell you. It's beef tongue, but don't worry. They washed it first."
Manuel plunked a dish full of cow tongues onto the table. They were cut up into smaller pieces, but still recognizable as tongues. Bon appetit!
Manuel hovered over us like a helicopter, flitting about making sure we had the things we needed. We told him to sit down and eat. "No, no," he replied, smiling wide. "You are happy!" Meanwhile, Miguel was concerned in Spanish that there were problems with the food (as every humble cook is) and Nikki and I assured him that everything was delightful.
Meanwhile, other people began showing up to eat. Something interesting happened here. Each guest, both male and female, entered and asked our host, Manuel, for beer. "No, no Corona," he replied each time. "No Corona?" the guests responded, surprised. "No today," said Manuel. We know full well that Manuel and his buddies normally drink rather large amounts of alcohol on the weekends, so "No Corona," was entirely to respect Nikki and me as special guests.
And, as a special guest, I ate my fill of three cow tongue tacos.
I had a moment, sitting there, where I thought, "If I woke up one morning and decided, 'Hey, I really want to go eat exotic home cooked cow tongue in a dingy townhouse, surrounded by eager-to-please Spanish-speaking men who won't drink in my presence just so I feel comfortable,' I would really have no idea how to orchestrate the satisfaction of that desire, yet... here I am." I didn't think it quite so many words, but that was the main idea.
I've had that thought a few times since becoming a teacher. Another recent occurrence was when I was in my rinky-dink trailer classroom, the lone, delicate, female sitting around a table with a folksy checkered tablecloth, playing "Go Fish" with a group of street-savvy Latino butchers. They giggled hysterically, were mortified when they accidentally swore, and on the last turn, Miguel unhesitatingly threw the game so that I wouldn't come in dead last.
And you know, that moment when you find yourself in a highly restricted-access country, refereeing a local all-male water-polo match? And the players are likely to be future leaders in the country? And then you stop the game and pretty much play "Fetch" with them, making them swim up to you with rubber ducks in their mouths? Yeah, I love that feeling, too.
But anyway, it made me ponder the thoughtful advice going around right now to spend your money on traveling, on going places, and on doing things. To spend your money on experiences that build memories, rather than on material items. And I decided that the advice is ridiculous.
Of course I endorse making memories. But the advice itself stems from the fact that people are realizing things don't make them happy. So they're moving on to try experiences. Both things and experiences have their merits and demerits, but happiness is a byproduct, not an attainable
end goal. If people try to chase after experiences, they'll find themselves just as unsatisfied as they do when they blow their money on big screen TVs.
I treasure my experiences because they were meaningful. They have been points along my journey where I look out the window and say, "Wow! How did I get to this amazing place?" They didn't happen because I decided to spend money on plane tickets instead of an iPod or because I decided to maneouvre myself into a cherished memory. They happened because I was developing relationships with people that
mattered, doing things that mattered, for reasons that mattered.
Now, to get off my ham-handed soapbox (I know, I'm super philosophical, right?), I'd like to leave you with a quote from our prestigious Mayor of Whoville:
"Did you ever get the feeling that you're being watched? And then you get the feeling that maybe that thing watching you is... ah... a giant elephant? You know, how then you get that weird feeling that your world is actually a tiny speck? And that the elephant that I talked about earlier, he's carrying it around on a flower? And you realize that if you tell anybody they'll think you're crazy, but you still feel the responsibility to keep everyone safe? You know that feeling?" Horton Hears a Who