Self-care isn’t just about taking care of ourselves. It also involves learning how to take care of others in kind and courteous ways. When we learn to approach others with curiosity and kindness, we discover endless possibilities for self-improvement. This month’s Self-Care Sunday posts will focus on reaching out and learning more about other cultures so that we can fulfill our greatest potential by helping others. Social justice begins with me.
Check out this culture challenge to help you dig out of the self-care doldrums! Sometimes our self-care routines get too, well, routine. We do the same old day after day, week after week, month after month. The bonus result of this culture challenge involves learning more about other cultures. By broadening our horizons, we not only get unstuck, but we also gain an understanding of other people.
A Culture Challenge at Home
“Come on, trust me. Just try a bite,” Pedro exclaimed as he held out a beige lump on a spoon.
“I’ll try a tiny bite,” I conceded, “but not as much as you’re offering.” After all, I knew the beige lump consisted of a cookie, peanut butter, ice cream, and nutritional yeast. All mixed and mushed together in an unappetizing beige blob.
For years, Pedro has made concoctions and eaten them with relish. Seven times out of ten I turn down his offers to sample his creations. Looks matter to me when it comes to food.
I like it best when he creates variations of foods from his Caribbean culture. Boiled green bananas with sautéed red onions and sharp cheddar cheese. Yucca root with mojo (garlic sautéed in olive oil with lemon juice. Tostones (sliced boiled green plantains that get smashed and deep-fried). Congri (also known as morros and Cristianos).
I confess I could eat the same exact thing over and over again for days on end. It took cancer to broaden my culinary choices. Pedro’s cancer, not mine. When the hospital at home gave up on Pedro’s non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma with central nervous system involvement, they shipped him off to the University of San Francisco Medical Center.
The oncology ward of the Parnassus Campus of UCSF sits close to Irving Street—home to dozens of ethnic restaurants. When his immune system could handle outside foods, Pedro would send me out to find alternatives to hospital fare—Vietnamese, Thai, and Indian topped his list of favorites.
Food for Thought
I came to appreciate cuisine from other countries. Between hospital stays Pedro would venture with me to the restaurants. Often times, the waiters hovered near our table, offering kind suggestions and showing us how to eat the food we’d ordered. We laughed a lot, and the waiters laughed with us.
One day I realized we had eaten a wider variety of food from other countries in the six months Pedro spent receiving treatment in San Francisco than I had eaten in my entire life. Even though I had spent a school year in Spain and traveled around Europe for a summer.
During my time in Europe, I stuck to the pastries, chocolate, fruit, and bread diet as often as possible. I had two excuses for my limited diet. Poor-college-student-status and I’m-a-vegetarian-and-there’s-nothing-I-can-eat. In reality, fear of the unknown played a huge part in my restricted dietary choices.
When Pedro weighed 135 pounds, I lost my fear of food from other cultures. I did anything I could to help him maintain his strength and gain weight. Even if it meant trying food I’d never eaten before and ventured into restaurants where I couldn’t read the menu or understand the waiters.
Culture Challenge, Part One
This week’s challenge? Go to a restaurant that serves food you’ve never tried before. Even better, support your local immigrant economy and find a little hole-in-the-wall mom and pop restaurant where the owners don’t speak much English.
Pretend you’re in a foreign country. Smile, ask questions, and listen. Relax and enjoy living outside your comfort zone. If you love the food, leave a positive review on Yelp.
Report back to me! I’d love to hear about the culture you explored through food. Did you try spicy, savory, or sweet and sour options? What tickled your taste buds the most? Do you think you’ll return to the restaurant?
Living in a small town, we only have one authentic restaurant from another culture—Aliberto’s. The cooks and counter staff speak Spanish more often than English, and the television plays telenovelas and soccer games.
For those nights we crave Indian food but don’t want to make the drive to Flagstaff for the best Indian restaurant west of the Mississippi, I experiment at home. We both love this chana masala recipe.
Joseph Crossman once said,
“Middle age is when your broad mind and narrow waist begin to change places.”
The Oldest Board Games
My grandpa had a beautiful wood carving on his coffee table. It had twelve cups carved into two rows, with a wider, tray-like section carved at each end. I have no idea where he found such a beautiful carving, but as a child, I loved playing with the colorful rocks that sat inside each cup.
As I grew older, I learned the name and rules of the game—Mancala. We have a smaller, version of the game in our own home these days. When students come over on Friday nights for cookies and milk, they’ll sometime ask about the game and we tell them how it works and challenge them to a game.
Most people agree that Mancala, or some variation of it, dates back thousands of years. Cultures in both Asia and Africa played the game.
Another ancient game, Go, hails from China. I first heard about this game in Roseanna M. White’s latest release, The Number of Love.
I’ve given little thought over the years to games from other cultures, stunting my knowledge and appreciation for people who live elsewhere. Fortunately, we can learn new things at any time we choose. Part of balanced self-care involves developing a growth mindset. Maybe learning how to play Go after fifty will help stave off the onset of Alzheimer’s. It doesn’t hurt to try!Check out this culture challenge that will help you dig out of your self-care doldrums. #selfcaresunday #selfcare #culture Click To Tweet
The Value of Appreciating Sports from Other Cultures
Ask any American about the important sports that represent our culture in the United States and they’ll probably list football, baseball, and basketball. After all, those sports must say something about our culture because the talented few who play them make millions of dollars each year.
I remember watching my first Olympics and marveling at the variety of sports. I’d never seen a soccer match, dressage, rowing, nor water polo. My horizons expanded when I realized that ping-pong has a life outside the United States and isn’t just a garage game for fun.
This summer, as I watched Alaska Native youths demonstrate traditional games, I marveled at their coordination, talent, and skill. Spending time at the Alaska Native Heritage Center made me realize that things I thought belonged to white culture actually came from Alaska Native culture: Kayaks, waterproof jackets, spray skirts, sun visors, and snow glasses.
This realization brought home the truth that if I stay in my own cozy comfort zone, I’ll remain ignorant and uninformed. In addition, I’ll miss out on the beauty and knowledge that another culture can offer.
Culture Challenge, Part Two
The second culture challenge for the week involves games. You can do a simple Google search for games from other cultures, or look up a game you know comes from another culture (such as lacrosse). Find out some facts and learn something new.
Think about what the game or sport teaches the players. Does the game or sport resemble something found in your culture? What does that tell us about the universality of play and the similarities between cultures?
If organized sports and games don’t excite you, look for board games from other cultures—check out Go or Mancala. Discover something new and share with us what you found.
By participating in, learning about, or watching new games and sports, we break out of our routines AND broaden our cultural understanding. A win-win in self-care.
These resources will help you get started. Some of them include lesson plans for teaching games to students (great for homeschool families and teachers).
Native American Games
A variety of Native Games from North America.
Games specific to the Lakota people.
Native Games with instructions specifically for teachers.
If you want to earn certification as a Native games instructor, check out this website.
Games from India:
Games from Africa
This website gives detailed descriptions of games and the country of origin
Some of the games are the same on this website, but you’ll find new ones, too.
Games from Asia
Games from Russia
I found a site with games from Russia, too.
Alaska Native Games
I’d love to hear about your experience with games from other countries. Make sure to come back after you try some of them out. Together we can inspire each other to dig out of the doldrums and explore another culture in a unique way.