Recently I was waiting for my appointment at a doctor's office. A woman noticed that I was writing checks and said, "Paying bills?"
I admitted I was, but for my son who is in Iraq. (Her face showed the usual reaction to that statement--empathy shaded with guilt. While it's not easy being the mother of a soldier serving, it's probably also difficult being someone who has to face the families of the deployed soldiers.)
As we talked I mentioned a couple of folktales from the region that to me illustrate the cultural differences Americans face when interacting with the people of mid-east region. She asked what the stories were. I explained that the Nasruddin stories are humorous but with lessons that speak to the values of the culture (and to many cultures, actually).
There was another story that was shared on a storytelling discussion online several years ago that stuck with me because it showed another, perhaps darker side of the culture. I told the lady a Nasruddin story (Feeding His Clothes) very briefly, and then started the other story. As I was near the end, her family came out of the office and were ready to leave so I stopped and smiled at their celebration of the removal of the granddaughter's cast.
As they prepared to leave, the woman came over to me and asked, "So what is the end of that story? What happened?" Her eyes showed me that she really wanted to know. I told it to her. She thanked me and left.
I don't often do this--tell a story in a place that is not home or a venue. But I was struck afterward at how the stories deepened our conversation as we both struggled to understand the issues confronting our soldiers and diplomats in a culture that is so rich and in many way so different from ours.