Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Chickens, Cookies and Culture

[what's brewing: the usual]

One of the delights of the past few months for me has been the developing cohesion and cooperation among the women in the church. After a slow start, the events I was planning on a monthly basis started to take off and the women have started to take ownership in our future plans and activities. I’ve found myself in an interesting position of trying to provide some of the leadership they need, while at the same time sitting back and letting them guide me culturally.

Many times, they love ideas I share that they’ve never heard of before and are eager to embrace them. Two months ago, I planned an activity of preparing glass jars layered with the ingredients for brownies. They then took a jar home to give as a gift to someone in the community on behalf of the women’s ministry at our church, along with an invitation to our next women’s event. They thought this was pure genius, and I have to admit I felt quite content as I surveyed the excitement on their faces as we tied a bit of ribbon around each completed jar.

This week, however, my “new idea” wasn’t so well received.

We are planning a fundraising event to fund a Mother’s Day outreach in the community. The most common fundraiser around here is to sell tickets in advance that can be redeemed on the day of the fundraiser for a plate of food - a quarter piece of chicken, several boiled potatoes, beans and salad. We’ve done this twice before, and had difficulty selling enough to recuperate our costs and earn enough profit to make it worthwhile. Granted, it would be hard to make the hours of preparation the night before, followed by the 4 a.m. start time for cooking over the open fire, which pushes over into the 8 a.m. start time for selling and serving, and finishes at noon, to be considered “worthwhile” in my book.

And besides, who really wants to eat a meal like that between 8 and 10 o’clock in the morning?

Thinking that I truly had an idea worth considering (and knowing I wanted to avoid that early morning handling of raw chicken if at all possible), I presented a new idea to the group: a bake sale. We could get together and bake for a day, package the items up the night before, then set up our table o’ goodies where we would normally set up our chicken stand and enjoy our time talking together with clean hands (and far less chance of a stomach bug). The profit per item would be less, but I was sure we would earn at least the same amount of profit overall with much less hassle.

I presented my alternate idea in the same manner my father once presented the options for our summer vacation: “Who wants to go to Disney World, where we will be hot and stand in long lines and only get to enjoy the vacation for a little while before we come back home…and who wants to use the money to get a HOT TUB instead that we can enjoy every day?!! Disney World for one week, or a HOT TUB to use every day?”

Of course, we three kids cried out, “DISNEY WORLD!!!”

I modeled that same salesmanship that I’d seen at an early age when I pitched my idea to the ladies. A chicken cookout with lots of work, a 4 a.m. wake-up call, a big mess to clean up, and earning barely enough to cover our costs OR a few hours of baking, meeting in the afternoon, and earning the same amount?

I should have known what was coming:


The nature of my bake sale idea was a foreign concept to these women. They didn’t understand why anyone would rather purchase a pack of 2 cookies when they could buy a whole plate of chicken goodness for lunch. Their discussion ensued…

The desserts would look quite skimpy out on the table, when you think of how full those plates of chicken would be.

And who’s ever heard of a bake sale? No one around here will know what to think.

The chicken cookout would be much easier to plan – we know everything to do already.

Mary has a grill we can use, and Pamela and Elizabeth will do all the market shopping when they go for the children’s home groceries anyhow.

I tried to clarify my idea for a moment, baffled that they didn’t see how much work we could save ourselves. But eventually I took the back seat and jumped on this culturally-driven bandwagon.

And next Saturday I’ll be up at 4 a.m. to start the chicken grilling.


Ellie said...

Don't feel bad. I've found out that many cultures are not so in to deserts as we are. I'd be quite happy to skip lunch altogether and just eat cookies! - A fact my husband and his relatives thoroughly do not understand.

ha! - and my security word to type in is "unique".... ok...

Libby said...

Yeah, they don't get the dessert bake sale idea sometimes. :) The church we attend here likes to do "potlucks". Something they picked up from their American friends. They will do them maybe once a month and they tell everyone to bring food and we share,etc. The first time they didn't know what to do! They are used to having someone serve their plate up for them and handing it to them. Serving yourself "buffet style" was strange for them. Plus the ladies putting it on didn't know how to make it work. And there was barely enough food! Potluck and just enough food to barely feed people doesn't quite match in my idea of "potluck". I think over time they eventually started to get the hang of their own style of Potluck but I still laugh inside every time we join them. :)

Reminds me of today. My son ran to the store to buy some bread for our breakfast and he told me when he got home "they only had bread from yesterday". That is what they lady told him and of course he bought the bread, something a Peruvian would rarely do. It's even hard for them to buy bread that was "from the morning" (horrors! :) ).
Culture....ya gotta laugh.

Shilo said...

I love that story! So cute and I'm sure so many of us have lived through something similar! :) I think you take a nice balance between presenting your ideas and fitting into the local culture and it certainly must endear you to the people there.

Rodger and Lynne Schmidt Mozambique said...

I can so relate! In Mozambique, they cut whole chickens in half to grill them. We were having a church anniversary celebration and needing to feed 500 people. I suggested we cut each chicken into 10 pieces and each person would get 2 pieces because we couldn't afford for 500 people to have a half a chicken each. They looked at me as if I was from another planet. We did it my way, but they made sure to make many comments about it as we sat cutting the 50 chickens into ten pieces each!

Becky Aguirre said...

Sounds like their concept of "work" is probably different than ours...they probably look forward to spending the time together preparing the chicken, not really even considering the early hour or the "work" involved. :) My MIL (who is Venezuelan) is very much like that...

I've learned that in the Latin culture (and others), the process of doing something can be just as important as the result. For example, the fixing of the meal is just as much a social time as the meal itself. That's why when you arrive for a meal invite, it's not a big deal if the food isn't prepared-everyone just visits or pitches in to help, whereas in the American culture, the food should be fixed by the time the guests arrive so that full attention can be focused on the guests, not food preparation. In many areas, it is still hard for me to "think outside the box" of my culture...

Tim and Richelle said...

So glad someone else gets baffled by this cultural stuff!

Recently, I've been providing snacks for teacher in-services and was told to stick to just the typical stuff that they like to eat - which is much more work. So, I've done that, but last time also brought 4 loaves of zucchini bread - which 12 people rapidly consumed and then asked for the recipe.

I think I'm going to try something else new for the next in-service!

Enjoy your blog!

Alan & Beth McManus said...

We had a Christmas banquet for the youth this year. I was asked to bring the dessert. I brought sherbet and cookies -- nice light end to the meal, right? NOBODY (except the MK's) ate the sherbet. You see, you don't eat ice cream when it's cold out (even if you have 30 people crammed into a small house and are sweating profusely) because it will make you sick! (not MAY make you sick, WILL make you sick -- Why we gringos aren't always sick is a mystery). =)

Ellie said...

Ok. I won't eat ice cream if it is cold, not unless I have a source of heat! Not because I will get sick - ha! Simply because I am ALWAYS cold! I try telling God that He perfectly designed me for warm climates, but He stuck me up HERE!!! Where it snowed today!!! In APRIL!!!

Marti said...

Regarding what Beth said about not eating ice cream on a cold day, I've found similar ideas in at least a dozen countries - you probably have, too. Don't sit on the steps, don't eat things that are cold, don't turn on the AC. Sometimes the explanations seem quite reasonable and recognizable (button your coat or you'll catch your death of cold), other times they seem misguided, superstitious (keep the windows closed because the wind carries in the jinn). I think when I have struggled the most is when =I= am sick and local friends try to tell me why or cure me with explanations and methods that fly in the face of what my mother always taught me.

Maybe you moms have run into this one - strangers coming up to you on the street to give your baby big, sloppy kisses. Tough stuff, culture shock!

Ellie said...

Sometimes you just smile and bit your tongue.

My problem is that is is culturally normal for everyone to drop by and visit if they hear someone is sick. While that is fine for a broken leg, it is the worst thing they can do during flu season. They all catch it and spread it.

And - when I'm sick, I want to rest! I know that is unusual, but I do. I actually want to go to bed and sleep, and not sit up and serve tea to ten people who come to sit with me. That is what is harder for me. I can bite my tongue about the strange ideas about sickness they have, but when my husband says, "why are you upset, everyone loves you, that is why they are visiting.", all I want to say is, "If they really loved me, they'd know I was sick and wanted to sleep!!"

I've just learned not to say that I am sick. I am very quiet about it. I am sick on the sly.

E. T. Tenna said...

I love it!!

Your post reminds me of two things I've learned while serving Him here in Asia.

1. Don't ask for a yes or a no, offer a choice. (Hey, sounds like a good topic for a post on my blog...!) I read this in a book, and then tried it out in real life. I found it works!

My Asian friends don't want to say no to me. So if I ask them a question, and the only answer I've allowed by how I phrased the question was 'yes' or 'no', they'll feel so much pressure to say yes, because they really don't like saying no. And if they don't want to say yes, they'll move away from me in the relationship.

2. Let others keep their culture. I love it that you know this and practice it, even though I agree brownies sound so much more lip-smackingly good! (Obviously in this situation, neither brownies nor chicken are anti-Kingdom!)

3. (Ok, yeah, I thought of another one as I typed). As you teach, reduce your reach. Lessen your control as they grow in ministry.

Your post illustrated this ministry concept excellently.

Have a blessed day in Him!!

Ellie said...

E.T. - love the idea of offering a choice. It sounds like a great solution. Maybe you could blog about it and give a few examples of how you do this in real life.

Phil and Pattie said...

Our co-worker told us about the first Christmas, she decided to do a cookie exchange for a women's activity. She was mortified when the ladies all showed up with boughten packages of cookies. Many did not have an oven at the time let alone know how to make home made ones.
I still remember the first time I made no-bakes (my husband's favorite) for a snack for the youth and NO ONE ate any except him. Now, so as not to offend me, the girls all took one, wrapped it in a napkin and told me they were taking them home to share with their mom's. Too funny! Live and learn...apparently, they do not see items containing oatmeal as a treat!
Beth...we get the same thing here on the Baja about eating or drinking cold things in the "winter" too.
I also have some crazy stories about differences in caring for babies.

A.D said...

Dear fellow mom,

My name is Ana and I recently created a blog for missionary and everyday moms called EVERYDAY M.MOMS, I would appreciate if you could come and visit us sometime.

Here's our link http://everydaymmoms.blogspot.com/

Happy weekend,



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