"What is that smell?!"
I walked around the corner expecting to see a trash dump but was greeted with quite a different sight. A group of Malaysians were sitting around a small table laughing and stuffing their faces with a very juicy type of fruit called durian. I still vividly remember the juices running down the corners of their mouths to the bottom of their chins as they laughed, ate, and enjoyed the company of their friends. The smell of this apparently delicious fruit was enough to knock me off my feet but I resisted such a drama-filled reaction. I joined them at the table and was immediately faced with a dilemna.
Do I eat this incredibly smelly fruit to the delight of the gathered audience or do I resist and flee?
Of course the latter option was never really an option but it probably wasn’t far from being such. I took the yellow mango-looking slice of durian and held my breath as I sunk my teeth into it. Momentarily, I forgot about the vile smell that sent my mind in a frenzy conjuring up images of the landfill I used to visit with my dad as a child. The taste was surprising to me. It was sweet and palatable with just a slight aftertaste. I looked up at my new best friends gathered around the table and their eyes lit up. I could almost see a sense of pride welling up inside of them and they began to express their delight to me verbally. I remember them spouting phrases such as, “Great la..” “So good la..” “you did it la..”
Just a side note, Malaysians love to add “la” to the end of their words and phrases. They believe it softens the expression. I grew to love this cultural suffix and to this day I may or may not add an occasional “la” to the end of my words.
I had done it. I ate durian and survived! It wasn’t completely appetizing nor was it completely repulsive. Did a love of durian develop and flourish in my heart over the next several years? Absolutely not, but I conquered a cultural giant that day. Most importantly though, I learned a great lesson that I believe served me well the next few years as a cross-cultural worker.
Much of cross-cultural ministry is about connecting with the local people.
I guarantee that sitting down with a group of Malaysians and enjoying a fruit that is unique to their part of the world will form a bond with them that will not be easily broken. It has been said that the way to a person’s heart is through their stomach. Granted, most pathways are much less formidable.
So go ahead, take a bite. Let the juices run down the side of your face. It will go down smoothly and quickly and who knows, you may just grow to love the fruit that has unmistakeably captured the heart of a nation.
Lee S. serves as our College Minister where he is a part of mobilizing students to spend time studying in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia as part of our Global Cities Initiative in addition to other parts of the world. For more info visit our Global Cities page.