Friday, May 11, 2012

The Sandwich Swap

by Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah

For a book to have blurps by a US President, a First Lady and a billionaire philanthropist, it is unusual.  For a children’s book to bear such pre-eminence, it must be authored by a royalty no less!  And so it is: ‘The Sandwich Swap’ is penned by none other than Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah. It is a simple and meaningful story about a cross-cultural friendship between Lily, who is Caucasian, and Salma, of Middle eastern descent.  They are best friends and inseparable . 

But where humanity and personality bring them together, tragically, the food that epitomize their distinct cultural backgrounds would divide them.  Lily swears by peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch, while Salma holds unflinching loyalty to hummus and pita sandwich.  Each girl esteems her sandwich because of the parent who has lovingly prepared it.  And each one thinks the world of her parent and therefore, about her sandwich.  Any criticism of the sandwich is an inexcusable insult and fiercely defended.  

In reality though, a brown paste of ground roasted peanuts is really not that different from a paste of mashed chickpeas. Both are mushy: their palatability determined only by exposure and experience.  

But the showdown comes when one exerts superiority of preference over another.  (Reminiscent of the story circulating here around a Chinese family's complaint of the smell of curry coming from their Indian neighbors' house everyday.)  Bigotry in any form is impolite and distasteful.  There are no winners in this tug-of-war: whether it’s between Europeans, Americans, Chinese, Indians, Vietnamese, Latinos or Middle-easterners.

The two girls become estranged and lonely. Stories of their dispute spread and trigger an all-out food fight at the canteen! Through it they begin to see the absurdity of it all, and bravely, they start to make conciliatory moves to appreciate each others' cultural heritage...beginning with a simple exchange of sandwiches. And they are once again friends.

However, when they discover how enriched they are to have tasted each others’ sandwich and pita [called falafel in Israel], they just know that they must take the message to the masses and organize an international lunch buffet for the other students to spread the good news and the peace agenda!

BIGOTRY really is like sticking to one type of lunch and exerting its superiority over other choices. In the end, it’s isolating and lonely, and short-changes one of tremendous enjoyment that comes from being open to other cultural experiences just because you can.