Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Eating without Utensils

[Somehow, this title reminds me of the phrase from my childhood: “Running with Scissors.” Maybe both are fundamental fears!]

Frankly, I’m surprised that this was such a big issue for me. It surely should not have been! But having to eat without utensils in Lui was difficult for me.

Before our trip, people warned me that no eating utensils are available when you’re eating in Lui. It did not concern me at the time. After all, I had grown up (Southern child of the ‘60s) eating ribs and pork chops and fried chicken by hand. I envisioned Lui the same way.

What I did not envision was that we would be eating rice and beans and very drippy foods by hand. I did not envision that we would be eating foods that would create a lot of liquids.

Thank heavens! The people in Lui have purchased spoons for the guest compound. So when we were in the Lui guest compound, we had eating utensils – which were especially helpful when we were eating rice and beans and greens.

But that’s not the case when we went out to the remote villages. There, they have no utensils. We were served most generous meals – chicken, goat, fish, breads, gravies, sauces.

I’ll confess it: I chose my foods based on which ones I felt comfortable eating with my hands.

WHY was this “eating with hands” thing so powerful and so determinative for me? I’ve often asked myself this, since coming home from Lui. It wasn’t about “manners” or sanitation. I think it was something much more primordial. Growing up as a child in the U.S. when I did, there was one powerful message from our parents: “Being a big girl” meant “eating with utensils.” Maybe that’s part of the reason this was so important to us.

And let’s talk napkins! For sure, if there are no eating utensils, you can bet there are no napkins – whether paper or lovely damask. When my hands were drippy sloppy with beans and gravy juice, I missed napkins big-time. But I got lucky: When I was packing, something told me to take bandanas with me. And I took them out to the villages with me every day. I sure was happy to have them, when my hands were dripping.

While I’m feeling very Western and self-indulgent in those confessional comments, I also want to add these: Every time we were welcomed into a village and escorted into a payut to eat, someone would greet us with a basin of water and soap so that we could “wash up.” And – always! – after the meal someone would come around to all of us again to wash our hands. The Moru were very careful about cleanliness and washing-up. I’m not impugning them. It’s just that we – or, at least, I – have developed these really anal, fastidious habits... which our culture and our resources allows us to maintain. But those are not the ways of the Two-Thirds World. In fact, I came to see, our ways are actually the weird ones. I freely and repentantly acknowledge that my fastidiousness were rather “warped” in that setting.

1 comment:

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

"Utensils" aren't really more than 3 or 4 hundred years old, spoons apart. Sets of "utensils" only from the 1820ies.

And "utensils" take years to master!

Whereas chop sticks are learnt in 3 minutes ;=)