Now that we have landed in a more settled space, I feel I can breath enough to finally write my own post. Mike has been doing a great job of taking up my slack, but this morning I awoke ready to hammer out some of my thoughts. I’ve got two or three posts knocking around my brain, but I think I am going to focus on hospitality for this one.
After having stayed in three different living situations in the last two and half weeks, I have gained some insight on hospitality. First of all, I am humbled by the hospitality that our friends and family have extended to us. My borderline OCD tendencies sometimes leave my spirit of hospitality lacking, and it was a good reminder to be around gracious hosts.
There certainly were challenges to having so many people in houses designed for one family. In the book, I am Malala, Malala’s family becomes displaced by the conflict in their hometown and spend several months staying in different family and friends’ homes. In addition, they frequently had extended family staying in their family’s home during times of peace. Having a house in the city meant that they were expected to host family from the country. I kept wondering what wise principles exist in cultures where hospitality to family and friends is an expectation. For example, how do two women work out sharing the same kitchen over an extended period of time?
One of my friends joked as we danced about each other preparing our family’s food that we were like sister-wives. This was enjoyable for the couple of days that we spent there, especially when we took turns whipping up dinner and watching each other’s kids while the other cooked, but if our stay had extended over months, it would become taxing and require some sort of system or schedule to keep everyone sane. Of course, I have been a roommate before and had to work out sharing living spaces, but having a family of five to feed, clothe and entertain definitely upped the ante. On many occasions, my kids had to be reminded to pick up after themselves, speak with an inside voice, and say thank you to food that did not excite them.
Despite these challenges, certain details really made a difference in us feeling welcomed, at home, and appreciative of our time in each home. Here are some of those details:
*Empty space to store stuff. Whether it is an empty cupboard in the bathroom or a cleared off table for electronics to land, having space to fill definitely makes a difference in our sanity as we all five live out of one room. This gave me one more reason to appreciate minimalism. Having just what we need leaves space for those who enter our homes to fill.
*A few necessities on hand for guests who may have forgotten something or were unable to travel with a very useful item. My mom has always been good about having toys and books on hand for my kids to use at her house. This meant that we had less stuff to cart to her house. In our new guest house, there were extra toiletries in the bathroom cupboard. Everyone appreciated this because the all natural toothpaste I recently bought was not a hit, and they were grateful to have some Colgate. This was a good reminder to me that minimalism is not the goal but the means. Stuff is not evil! If our family values hospitality, then we need certain items or even duplicates of certain items to keep our guests comfortable. As in all areas of life, balance seems to be the key.
*Making time to have a meal altogether. We really felt valued at all the homes, especially since we made a point of having at least one family-style meal together. This created a sense of being a part of the family and set the tone for further interactions.
*Clearly communicating house rules to guests. Does your family only use cloth napkins to save trees? Do you “let yellow mellow and flush down brown” to conserve water? Are there places that are off limits? Just like children, guests like to know the boundaries so they know they are not secretly aggravating their hosts. This applies a little more when you have kids, but is helpful for everyone. I asked my mom to tell the kids directly if there were any particular behaviors she did not want them to do. That also helped me to know which behaviors to focus on and which to let slide.
*Lastly, of course, there is no replacement for a host’s sincerity in welcoming their guests into their home. We have felt a genuine attitude of belonging with all our host families and are so appreciative of it. This true sense of “home away from home” has really helped to soften the stress of living out of suitcases and to combat the sneaky lie that we are intruding. Being in other people’s spaces has definitely brought up some insecurities for me. Am I too loud? Am I too needy? Am I or my family or my stuff taking up too much space? These, of course, are useful questions to ask when in other people’s homes, but the core question really is: Does anyone really want me around? The graciousness of our hosts has reassured me that although there are challenges to sharing space, they are truly happy to have us with them.
I am sure that we have all struggled with this feeling at one time or another. I am learning that one way to help people overcome this insecurity is to extend a little hospitality. So, perhaps my minimalist dream of a two bedroom apartment in Thailand that is easy to clean can give way to Mike’s more realistic dream of a three bedroom house with a separate guesthouse. We’ll let you know when it’s available for guests.