Thursday, September 24, 2009

sharing a meal

This is the way meals are shared in Goma. Shared being the operative word.

It kind of makes you rethink the way we "break bread together" here in the US.

How often do we have our own separate plates and silverware and glasses? We even have separate little table cloths that we call placemats. I mean do we each really need our own placemat? Oh, wait, that is one of our best selling items in our SHONA store. Please ignore my earlier comments. I am sure placemats are of the utmost importance in eating a meal.

But just in case you are curious about other approaches, this is what it looks like in Africa most of the time. People gathered around a pot or a dish. There are always lively debates about whether hot pepper should be added to the dish. For example, Argentine doesn't like hot pepper. Mapendo does. So Mapendo is always instructed to put A FEW careful drops in her corner of the pot and NOT to stir it around. As you might imagine, that never actually works.

But sometimes it amazes me what does work. After years of setting the table with endless supplies of dishes and cursing the stacks of dishes that result at the end of every meal, it seems strangely simple to realize that actually we could all just eat from one dish. I mean think about it, you might get a little hot pepper where you don't want it, but you only have to wash ONE DISH. In fact you only have to buy one. There are some serious advantages to sharing.

And today I am thoroughly amazed. While I was talking to the women this morning, they informed me that Neema and Zawadi are at school. Zawadi is the younger sister of Riziki (one of our craftswomen). I wrote about her recently, about how she has chosen to return to Goma and live with the SHONA women, to be near her older sister. And this is Neema, a 12 year old cousin of Mapendo who is also living with the SHONA ladies. Both Zawadi and Neema help to cook and clean and run to the market. Neither of them has ever been to school. So it was a bit of a suprise to me to hear that they were suddenly off to school. These are girls whose own parents have never sent them to school. And here are the SHONA women, themselves having never gone to school, pooling their money to pay Neema and Zawadi's school fees. This blows me away.

I often think of the miracle of the loaves and fishes. The ones that Jesus multiplied. Except sometimes I wonder if we have missed the miracle all together. What if the food didn't really multiply? What if the miracle is that they shared it and were satisfied? Wouldn't that be the greater miracle? Africa is full of kids begging in the streets. Have you ever stopped to give one a cookie? I don't recommend it. The kid will immediately be mobbed and chaos will ensue. I feel like I have seen too much of mankind at our basest. When push comes to shove, I am not convinced that our natural instinct is to share.

So today I marvel at the miracle of sharing. I don't know what inspired Argentine, Mapendo, Riziki and Solange to put their money together and send some girls to school. But I count it a miracle.

Then again perhaps I should start counting miracles more often. There are many difficult things about life in Africa, but in the hungriest place on the planet, look at the way they share meals...I, for one, consider that a miracle.


kristine said...

yeah i agree, i think that actually was the miracle.

nice post. we do have a funny sense of what it means to eat together in the west...

shona congo said...

Exactly. Eating together can certainly take on different meanings.

Which is not to say I don't enjoy eating in both places!

Thanks for commenting Kristine, I always enjoy seeing what you have written.