When serving in a foreign country, we as Maryknoll Lay Missioners are sensitive to respecting the culture of the local people. We are also open to learning about their customs and way of living.
As I work here in Cambodia, I am surprised to find that the Cambodians are just as curious and open to learn about my culture and customs. I work at the Maryknoll Deaf Development Programme in Phnom Penh where we have classes for deaf students who have never had the opportunity to go to school. We have established football (soccer) teams for both men and women comprised of former students and others from the deaf community.
First we had to explain, in sign language, what a tailgate party was all about. Even our co-director who is from Britain was not familiar with this US custom. Together we planned a barbeque, face painting, a half-time show with a lucky draw (raffle) and cheerleaders, an ice-bucket challenge, and lots of colorful banners and pom poms.
This was an immediate success with over 100 people attending the pre-game events as well as the game itself. We all wore shirts that were made when the league started in our team colors, but on this day many wanted to display the colors on their faces. The face painting table had a column of people waiting to be next. Cambodian barbeque is a local custom here so the men went about starting the charcoal while the women strung chicken onto skewers. The “lucky draw” as they call it here created a sensation at half-time only to be topped by the cheerleaders. I was surprised to see that four of our teachers had made skirts and practiced a routine for this special day. They were not deterred by the fact that they were all 30 years old and could not hear the music. This was a new experience for them and they embraced it whole-heartedly!
As our team and supporters streamed out of the building under a huge banner, I was amazed to see so many joyful faces. That day we saw the merging of cultures and customs produce something magical – a day that we hope will become an annual event here at the Maryknoll Deaf Development Programme.