Friday, March 2, 2007

Communal spirit

A few days after I returned home from a six-month trip to India in 1992, I was eating dinner with my family. Rather than dig in with my knife and fork - as is the custom in Canada - I dug in with my right hand - as is the custom in India. I recall my father being appalled. (Though not as much so as when he came home from work two weeks later and I had gotten an earring in each ear – as is the custom in Rajasthan, a state in India.)

Since then, on my various trips overseas, I’ve found myself in situations where I thought, “My father wouldn’t do this.” I’ve had many of these moments since I arrived in Ghana, but one that comes most readily to mind.

Ghanaians love a dish called “fufu.” It’s a mixture of cassava, maize and yam (or some combination of these) pounded into a dough-like ball. It’s then served inside a meat-based soup. You eat it by tearing off a piece of the dough and dipping it in the soup.

One day, I walked into a “chop shop” – Ghanaian term for a local restaurant – and a group of strangers asked me to sit down and have some “fufu” with them. They were eating out of the same bowl, and I politely declined by patting my tummy and saying, “I’d just ate, thanks, and I am full.”

An hour later I sat down for lunch with Renee, Janet and a couple of Ghanaians, who ordered a big bowl of “fufu” for us to share.

Once again, I declined. I had a good excuse again, though. I’m a vegetarian, I said, and the soup is meat-based! I tore a couple of pieces off the dough ball and that was it.

The truth is, though, I was a bit squeamish at the sight of all those hands dipping into the same bowl of soup, even though it’s customary to wash your hands thoroughly before the meal.

Like father, like son, I guess.

- Mark

1 comment:

Jack said...

It's interesting how we develop likes and dislikes according to our cultural experience. I have Jewish friends who couldn't bring themselves to eat pork, not just because of their religious views, but also because they have developed an aversion to it.
I don't think I could eat grubs or monkey's brains.
Funny, I'm sure I'd not find sharing a bowl too difficult since we share snacks from the same bowl and from the same bag with our friends.
I like the point you made at the end of this piece.
We become more and more our parents as we grow older. Fortunately, we love or loved our parents so it's a bit of a reward. For others it might not be such a nice experience.
Thanks for this reminder of my dad.