An exhortation on not allowing circumstances and people who know no better rob you of the wealth of intercultural relationships in our diverse, complex and globalized world.
MYSTERY OF THE MISSING BAG–WHY ME?
I was the last one to walk out of the airport arrival hall at Gold Coast in Australia. I had all the customs and immigration officers to myself, nearly a dozen, yet I gave them absolutely nothing to do. I not only had nothing to declare, I had no bag! Apparently, my only checked-in bag on the three-and-a-half hour NZ 179 flight from Auckland, New Zealand to Gold Coast, Australia had never been loaded onto the plane in the first place. I had waited and waited in vain for it until when nearly everyone on this very full flight had left the baggage hall and Carousel 6 was literally bare, I approached the Baggage Counter to complain about my missing travel companion.
The chap at the Air New Zealand counter was very nice but his assumption that I was going to be in Gold Coast ‘forever’ fascinated me (I’m surprised I wasn’t annoyed).
“Oh sorry sir but your bag will be delivered to you at home tomorrow,” said he.
“Tomorrow? Who told you I’ll still be here tomorrow,” I quizzically retorted.
It was obvious he felt he was doing me a great favour by offering me special at-your-door delivery but I was not amused. Not only did I need the items in my bag today; I was not going to be in Gold Coast in the morrow. This was a 24-hour meet and greet and off to Adelaide, another two-and-a-half hour flight to the western half of the Australian subcontinent.
By now my mind had begun to formulate various plausible permutations why I alone (for I saw no one else approaching the Baggage Counter to lodge a complaint) had my bag delayed. Why me? What was so unique about me that my bag would be singled out for NOT delivery? The only other thing I knew made me different was that I was the only Black African on the flight. Did this have to do with anything?
Interestingly, as I passed through the Auckland airport earlier I had taken a photo in front of the All Blacks memorabilia shop and tweeted “I wonder why I feel so #welcome. #AllBlacks vs #WhitesOnly. How the times have changed–this one, for the better. #NewZealand rocking it!” Did someone spot that and nab me? Was I too quick to praise New Zealand for progressive race relations? Did this bag saga really have anything to do with my Black skin at all? It is easy to read racism into nearly everything once you’ve been a victim of that dehumanizing attitude and act, I must admit. I resist that. I resent that, even.
MYSTERY OF INTERCULTURAL RELATIONSHIPS–SO WORTH IT
All those thoughts and feelings totally dissipated once I set eyes on the last two people left in the welcome area: Julia and Billy-Jo, two of my special friends from the 1997 cohort of the World Vision Youth Ambassadors! Sooo worth the hustle! I had had the privilege of being a World Vision Youth Ambassador for Ghana in 1996 and had the additional honour of returning in Julia and Billy-Jo’s year as a staff intern, together with Claudia from Colombia.
Julia had represented Canada back then and for her, this was our third in-person meeting since 1997 (Prague 2015, Ottawa 2021 and now Gold Coast 2023). But Billy, I had not seen in-person at all since our teenage years! Billy-Jo (yes, she was the first lady I met called Billy–she was way ahead of the gender conversations today!) was the Youth Ambassador from New Zealand. Again, the first Pacific Aboriginal I had ever met, a beautiful Maori, inside and out. Billy’s since become a senior nurse, married to Matt (great guy!) with whom she has three children and migrated to Australia. Interestingly, both Julia and Billy-Jo’s husbands are called Matt. Julia’s Matt is American while Billy’s Western Samoan.
What an incredible day of food, fellowship and fun we had all day, at home and at the Burleigh Beach. The unadulterated love, the open-hearted learning, the deep laughter… What a precious gift we received from Dr. Jerry and Mama Ruth Chang of World Vision Taiwan a quarter-of-a-century ago, a gift that keeps giving, even today.
Now I’m glad our children are getting to know each other as well. The gift ripples on. Just before my family permanently headed to Ghana after a dozen years of being resident in Canada, Julia’s two girls and my brood had a whole day together at their home, right outside of Ottawa, Ontario. In fact, even in the midst of the jamboree we made a WhatsApp video call to Ghana for my older girls to say “hi” to their Canadian sisters. And now that I’ve met Bella and Asher, Billy’s last two (the oldest is away playing rugby and doing school in New Zealand), we have already started conversations about getting them to visit Ghana!
MYSTERY OF INTERDEPENDENCE
Friends, that’s how it ought to be. People are people, made in the image and likeness of their divine Creator, and made to link up with that source, live, love, learn, and lead, leaving a good legacy. Becoming a World Youth Vision Youth Ambassador was a life changing experience–50 young people from 50 different countries. That opened my mind a lot and opened the world to me. As I’ve said before, “My heart expanded and has never been able to shrink again.”
Back to the mystery of the missing bag. For sure I felt very special, having been singled out for some (or no) reason. For good or ill, that’s a conversation for another day. Suffice it to say, this has been a fascinating week, beginning on Monday March 6 in North America (Toronto, Canada and Houston, Texas, USA) with a celebration of the land of my birth’s Independence Day and her renaming from ‘Gold Coast’ to Ghana. I was now ending the week in another Gold Coast, of Australia. The same chaps christened and colonized both; on either side of the equator. What we really need in this world, from individuals to nations, is interdependence; not dependence or independence per se. We were made for this! And we all ought to live the way we were purposed to in order to flourish personally, as families and communities, in the corporate world and among the commity of nations.
In the mean time, you can have my bag but you won’t rob me of the richness of interdependent, intercultural relationships. Never!