Thursday, February 2, 2012

What I Learned about Friendships with Nationals from Backgammon


Little did I know what I was getting into when I offered to play backgammon with Yeşim. Her eyes gleamed as she leaned forward and rolled the dice.  By sheer instinct she expertly moved the pieces along without even having to count or think. She won 6 games and let me win one.

Backgammon is the national board game of Turkey. You see people sitting on the street playing, and you hear the click of the dice as you walk past cafes. I learned backgammon as a child and am familiar with the rules, but believe me, that doesn’t cut it when it comes to Turkish backgammon!

Yeşim came over at 3:30 for a bit of advice and prayer.  We spent the afternoon drinking tea, eating cake and talking.  After we prayed together, I asked if she wanted to stay and help me make pizza and eat dinner with us.

In the afternoon, I was the abla (older sister) offering advice and prayer. When I got out the backgammon board after dinner, the tables turned and Yeşim became the expert.
She played so quickly that I could hardly follow her moves.  Immediately after I rolled the dice each time, she swooped them up, waiting to see what my play would be.  I was so slow that I couldn’t even remember what I’d rolled after she picked up the dice.

At one point I said, “I love games, but this might not be fun for you. Do you want to stop?”

“Oh, I’m having fun,” she answered graciously. “You’re not bad.  You play better than lots of other beginners.”  I honestly think she might have played 10 more games if I’d been up for it.

I learned a lot about backgammon, but it was slightly humbling.  I felt slow and awkward, having to think over each move and count out each space while she played effortlessly and won each time.

My Backgammon experience reminded me a few things about relationships with nationals:

Learn from them all you can

My first instinct was to stop playing to avoid losing.  But if I’d stopped, I wouldn’t have learned as much about the game.  As a cross cultural servant, I don’t always have to be the teacher.  I can learn from nationals about culture, cooking and even spirituality. Turkish Christians have a lot to teach me.

Don’t be afraid to share your Weaknesses

Sometimes we feel like we need to look like we have it all together, especially before national believers.  In the Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren makes the point that sharing your weaknesses can be a powerful influence on others.  They’re encouraged when they see God using you even though you’re not perfect. And they just might be able to identify with your weaknesses and learn from how you’re handling them.  Hopefully I can go beyond letting my friend see what a bad backgammon player I am to sharing more real struggles.

Give the gift of time.

After spending my whole afternoon with Yeşim, I sensed God prompting me to invite her to hang out and be family with us for a little while longer. If I hadn’t followed the prompt I never would have had the backgammon experience! I often follow my American tendencies to schedule people into time slots, and we have to be careful to protect our family life, but time is a precious gift that grows relationships when I am able to give it.

So this is what backgammon taught me about relationships with nationals. What has your experience taught you about cross-cultural friendships?


Belinda Chaplin said...

What a good lesson - both in Backgammon and in cross-cultural living ;-) Hope your backgammon improves...
I went bowling on Saturday and even though it was a not new sport to me, my friends have been going regularly since the bowling alley opened here in BL, so I let them "teach" me, and guess what I did actually learn a lot from them (and did the best I have ever done!). And I had a good time to boot...

Stephanie said...

Love your thoughts on sharing your weaknesses and giving the "gift of time". Such a gift to give!! I have found that when we put ourselves in the learner position--- truly put ourselves there---it deeply connects our hearts to those we are leading/teaching. They have something to give us now! Yasmin gave you the gift of her backgammon wisdom--- just love this!! I had a simlar experience with knitting. I didn't know how and had my Turkish friend teach me--- in turkish--- Aaahh, wasn't easy for me!! --- but, what a great bonding experience that was! ...still a good memory. ...and a great skill.

OliveTree said...

Bowling and knitting! Great things to learn. Stephanie, I've had 4 or 5 different Turks teach me knitting over the years, and I forget each time. Maybe it has to do with being left handed???

Alida said...

I love is good for us as cross cultural servants to not always be the teachers.

I enjoy cooking with nationals. I have learned more about culture and heard about childhood memories and family histories regarding local dishes...and I love things like that!

us5 said...

oh yes, Olive Tree. when my little 12 year old friend in tattered clothes converses in 3 languages and i struggle with my one, it's a little humbling. so while i give her a small job to earn a few pesos for her family, she gives back to me by teaching me another word of her language... :)

Anonymous said...

Just discovered your blog today and I was delighted with your topic of the Backgammon game and the similarity of it and frienship and relationships...I like what you said about "stopping early in the game to keep from losing"...oh dear how many times have I been guilty of that one charge! Enjoyed tremendously your blog ...I do believe you have a new follower! Hugs from Arkansas USA

OliveTree said...

It is humbling when national children speak better than us adults, Barbara. But three languages! That's REALLY humbling.

Glad to have you following along Rhonda. Great to meet you. :-)

Women of the Harvest Blogs said...

So, OT. It's TYD. Turns out, I don't read blogs. But I really love yours. And this one, especially. Thanks for sharing it. It made me miss my desert and be so, so thankful for the Arabs He's given me on the coast.

Love, Sarah at TYD.