Six of us sat on the maize-colored rooftop, attempting to circle together in the sliver of shade as we ate our lunches. The men bantered in Kiswahili, and my eyes wandered to the green banana tree across the way. I rolled the bugali in my fingers, scooped some greens and dipped it in pilipili while trying to understand their conversation.
Mama Julienne had given me a larger plateful than the day before and included fritis because she knew I liked them. Eventually one of the men asked if I understood the topic, and upon my regretful no, called the rest to switch to English so we could all converse. We discussed relationships, talked about food and helped correct each other’s Swahili or English pronunciation and vocabulary. Smiles adorned our faces as we chatted and laughed together over a particular friend’s antics. A long, peaceful hour passed before we returned to work.
Around 2 p.m. we trickled out, following each other down the stairs, across the dusty ground and to the rocky sidewalk that led back to the kitchen. The mamas stood over the fire, and other staff sat around in white plastic chairs to eat their lunch. We stacked plates and utensils in a tub to the left and poured water over each other’s hands to remove the remaining, sticky bugali.
This summer in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I learned how to eat well. I ate three meals a day, a diet of starch, protein, fresh fruit and vegetables from the market. I ate increasingly larger amounts of food because many friends said I did not eat enough, and the mamas wanted to make me bigger. I ate healthily and was satisfied. Furthermore, I took my time to eat it, and I ate with others in community. Life was peaceful and abundant.
I am back in the United States now, and already I am eating less food at mealtimes. People here are generally more rushed and leave meals more quickly, although they do eat together often at my college. The task-oriented culture reaches even the third culture kids and international students who live here now. However, I have learned how to rest and feed my body, and I can still apply these lessons in my current cultural context. I am blessed.