What I have learned is that true friendship transcends race, gender, age, sexual orientation, socio-economic status and a host of other artificial constructs that prohibit people from allowing others into their lives. Stepping outside my comfort-zone has rewarded me with some very special people that I am proud to call my friends.
Sacrificing the known for the adventure of living abroad, I have discovered wonderful allies in four Iraqis. One was my roommate for a while. Two others, I traveled with on a weekend excursions around the Persian Gulf. I've entertained Israelis in my home. My computer doctor is a Palestinian. I've traveled and done business with a Kenyan girlfriend who treats me like a sister. I have broken bread with Sudanese and Rwandans and Ugandans that I never would have met at home. One of my closest friends and trekking buddies is Iranian. Who would'a thunk the gangly chick from East Saint Louis, IL would be Skyping compatriots all over the planet?
Though the Iraqi guys and gals and I frequently exchanged barbs about our nations' current conflict, the overriding factor betwixt us is that we are all humans, passionate about life. Yes, we are from vastly different cultures and religions and a bunch of other stuff, but our similarities outweigh our differences and our respect for each other make the differences negligible.
Through this cornucopia of Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, atheists, homosexuals, homophobes, pro-lifers and pro-choicers, I've learned so much more about my self. More importantly, I learned about myself without losing the essence of who I am. It's important to have a strong sense of self, lest we get swept away into a potentially unhealthy group-think and find ourselves trying so hard to belong, that we relinquish our own identity.
We are all multi-faceted, but sometimes we limit which attributes of ourselves that we explore for fear of offending or raising the eyebrow of peers. I believe we should embrace our unique characteristics. We should not allow ourselves to be discouraged by 'circumstance' from investigating the interesting parts of ourselves and growing. We have many, many peers outside our current sphere. Step outside and check them out. Reach out with respect and sincerity and a desire to learn. You'll be so pleased at how they will enrich your life.