A few years ago, while I was living in Kibera Slum, my friend Pastor Fred pointed out something I had never thought about before. Our relationship had grown to the point where he felt comfortable telling me some pretty intense stuff, but this one hit pretty close to home.

He described a common scenario: Americans playing with children in Kibera, throwing them in the air, playing a game of tag, hugging them, etc. It’s all good. Everyone is happy. But then the visitors immediately walk over to their backpacks and pour hand sanitizer all over their hands.

Think about it… The kids all see this happening.  Their parents all see this happening. What message does it send?

My buddy Beau being swarmed by children in Kibera. Don’t worry, he was discrete with his hand sanitizer.

My buddy Beau being swarmed by children in Kibera. Don’t worry, he was discrete with his hand sanitizer.

Ouch! I had never thought about this before. When we act out our germaphobic paranoia in public, we could unintentionally send the message that we see our hosts as dirty. Obviously that’s not our intention at all, but how many times have I done this exact same thing?

I walked away from that conversation pretty convicted. I decided to try being way more aware of my non-verbal signals while traveling.

So, for those of you who find yourselves traveling the world, here’s a catchy little slogan I use to make this easier to remember: “Be wise. Don’t sanitize… in public because it’s potentially offensive.”

My Suggestion: Be discreet with your hand sanitizer. Or maybe don’t use it quite as often. Because what’s the worst that could happen?  Catching typhoid? Well, yes. That is the worst that could happen. So definitely still sanitize.  Just do it in private!!!

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About the Author: Barry is the founder and Executive Director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.

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  1. Steve Pettit said... 


    January 15th, 2014 at 1:40 pm  

    This blog is a great reminder. I will definitely be very discrete in the future with my hand sanitation obsessive compulsive behaviors. I loved this serious, yet humorous, yet convicting, yet memorable reminder. It would make me sick to be an offense. I will be careful.

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