MAF pilots are required to regularly inspect the airstrips where we fly to ensure that our standards for runway maintenance are kept appropriately. Last week I went to Ilu to check over the runway. It’s a nice long runway, but it’s perpendicular to the valley, which means there is a tight little turn at about a quarter mile from touch down. MAF began serving this airstrip around fifty years ago.
After the inspection, the agent at the runway and I walked up a small hill near the runway so I could take some pictures. The path up the hill was very steep and covered with loose rock.
On the way back down the hill, I commented in a joking fashion that we should all be careful not to fall. The agent agreed and reached over and took my hand, explaining that it was fine if they fell, but it was not ok if their Pak Pilot or Mr. Pilot fell.
In his culture, men can hold hands; it’s a sign of friendship. As the agent and I walked down the hill, and most of the way back to the airplane holding hands, he became more and more animated. He talked and talked saying someday he wanted to come to Nabire, and we could walk down the street holding hands as well. He said we could go get ikan bakar or grilled fish together. He obviously was very happy at this new sign of closeness in our relationship.
Little did I realize that the simple act of getting outside my own cultural norms and holding hands with this grown man moved me from Pak Pilot to kawan or friend.
What are some ways you’ve intentionally or unintentionally stepped outside your cultural comfort zone and found a connection with someone of a different ethnicity?