There is a proverb that says it takes a village to raise a child. In Lancaster Pennsylvania exists my village. And yet if I told this to most people from the United States their first response would not be to object to the fact that I called Lancaster, a county of almost 1,000 square miles and a population of 600,000 people, a village. Instead, they would object to my claim to it–to my belongingness. Their objection is not mean-spirited. Lancaster, Pennsylvania evokes a certain image in the American psyche. This is reflected in the questions that they would ask: “Do you live near the Amish?” “Do you see the Amish all the time?” “It must be pretty rural?” and so on. These questions and the subsequent images that they evoke come from a kernel of truth but it remains, to me anyway, reductive. What makes a place home? Who gets to decide what is home? These reductive ideas also don’t account for my experience nor the experience of many others in Lancaster’s diverse population. Yes, Lancaster is home to the Amish which can not be disputed. However, Lancaster is also home to so many other kinds of people. It’s made up of a diverse population. It’s a metropolis, maybe not to the extent of New York City, but a metropolitan area nonetheless.
The Ethiopian Orthodox community in Lancaster was my village. Of the many groups of refugees within Lancaster exist Ethiopian refugees and migrants who left their homeland from 30 years ago to as recent as a couple of months ago. For me, they were like time capsules that stored within themselves stories of my homeland. My family and I had left Ethiopia when I was only six so any memories that I had were actively being weathered away. But because of my community, I was able to preserve my preexisting connection to the place of my origin from the language and culture and also forge my own understanding through interacting with media and cultural rituals. I feel a deep sense of pride for my community for shaping me into what I am today.
Which is why when asked to share about a cultural object with my exchange partners living in the United Arab Emirates I shared an incense holder carved with the image of the Virgin Mary and her son Jesus Christ. This object, given to me by my parents, represents the cultural tradition of the coffee ceremony, the many memories I attribute to frankincense, the passing down of knowledge from my community, and the feeling of home.
I found that my exchange partners living in the United Arab Emirates had objects that were also given to them by their families or communities. They revealed that they felt a deep sense of pride in their people and culture. They also shared the cultural practice of making coffee at home, which was very similar to the Ethiopian coffee ceremonies I took part in when I was in Lancaster. But what spoke to me the most was their appreciation for the people in their community. I could tell there was a deep sense of pride in their people. I am excited to learn more about them and their surrounding through this experiment that is digital diplomacy.