PC: KSB

The sixth love language: food

An open door created a pathway between young adults laughing at the center table and napping on the back couch to Eva, the woman who made the office a home for them. A loveseat and cushioned chair encircled her table of snacks: today a full loaf of bread with a large peanut butter jar sidling up to grape jelly and some Mexican candies, the standard cheeseballs and animal crackers seated on her desk next to the Keurig and hot tea. If God is a provider, and if he has any love, he made himself clear through her food.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the five love languages: physical touch, words of affirmation, giving gifts, acts of service, and quality time. The Office of Multicultural Development, described above, held conversations about this very thing. How do you give love? How do you receive it?

The OMD, as we called the earth-toned space, also taught me that our conversations were incomplete. It was Eva that taught me the sixth love language: food.

African food and friends: beans made Angolan style, foufou, pilipili PC: KSB

African food and friends: beans made Angolan style, foufou, pilipili — all in the Illinois kitchen where I hosted so many friends. PC: KSB

God gave us food for many reasons: It gives us the energy and nutrients to physically sustain our bodies. It grants us joy through its countless flavors and even touches our souls when done with excellence. It creates community when people cook or dine together. It communicates culture as well.

Sharing food with others could be seen as a gift – say you deliver cookies to your friends during finals or mail your best friend a box of protein bars to make sure she is eating. It could be seen as an act of service, bringing rice porridge to someone who is ill or keeping mandazi and chai on hand for your wife when she’s recently brought a new life into the world. Even quality time and the sharing of food go together like PB&J. Thus, I don’t believe it fits in any one love language; I believe it is one to itself.

Personally, I feel loved by food. I feel both taken care of and cared for. Aside from Eva’s “care days,” or grand parties to bring students into the office and show them love, she offered her regular snacks daily—one of her rules was that you had to take something from her office once you stepped foot in it, even if it was just a teabag—and kept a secret stash of almonds just for me when I had dietary limitations.

Eva was so thoughtful, and in all practicality, she and the OMD provided my lunches for much of my college career. That’s how I was sustained, and that’s part of why I felt so loved there. Eva knew her students and what they liked and could or couldn’t have. She gave food out of the love in her heart.

She’s not the only one to love through food; it’s a large part of hospitality in Congolese, Burundian, and Rwandan cultures, for example. You’re sure to be served ugali, water, chai, Fanta if it’s on hand.

Once, my Rwandan friend picked me up from an airport and took me to his family’s apartment, where, although it was at least 10 pm and perhaps closer to midnight, I was made to eat a platter of vegetables and rice before I could sleep. More food, I’m always told I need more food. Food is vital to life, central to hospitality, and part of how people love others.

I currently work at a restaurant, and I have dubbed one of my coworkers “Official Sandwich Maker of the KSB (my initials)” since he thoughtfully puts together delectable, healthy sandwiches out of foods we can no longer serve to customers. I feel loved when I see him staring at the line thinking about what I would most like after I request something to fill my breakfast-deprived stomach, or when he gives me a fresh egg that was “definitely expired,” or when he pops around the corner to hand me a brown box with his creation simply as a surprise. Whether he is aware of this or not, he loves me through food.

I’ll forever be thankful to the OMD for loving me and for teaching me how to love others a little better. As part of being hospitable, I too enjoy giving food. One of my favorite activities is cooking together with friends, dancing around the kitchen to Kenyan pop while catching up on life and testing flavors to create something excellent. Biting into something so delicious draws me closer to God, enhancing our relationship in that moment of gratitude. Finally, I am honored to serve others food when they are sad, sick, or struggling. Thus, food connects with so many love languages and yet is its own.

 

Hanging out with my young friend, eating ugali and sombe. PC: KSB

Hanging out with my young friend, sharing ugali and sombe. PC: KSB

 

What are your love languages? How can you relate to the love language of giving or receiving food?

 

Birthday ice cream with one of my best friends. PC: KSB

Birthday ice cream with one of my best friends, Ili. PC: KSB

 

 

For more posts on this subject, read “Lunchtime in the DRC (Learning How to Eat),” which mentions Mama Julienne and how she loved me through food, and “MuKappa: A Taste of Heaven,” which hits on the communal aspect of food.

 

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As MuKappa, our Sunday events were centered around dinner. This particular photo captures the surprise birthday party that Cabinet threw me, complete with homemade soft pretzels. PC: KSB

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Cassava, PC: KSB

Good evening, Mr. Neighbor

He walked into our apartment wearing red suspenders and black gym shorts pulled up over his torso. Meet my neighbor, always good for a laugh.

Living in an African home has taught me a lot about loving the neighbors who live with me. I don’t yet know most of the people in my apartment complex, only a few by face and a couple by name, but the people I know well make my life a lot brighter.

Our primary neighbors, who are relatives of the people I live with, live in our same building. But because living down the hall was too far away, they moved directly across the hall from us. (Actually, they just needed more space.) We eat together daily, listen to Yemi Alade and Moise Mbiye together, even fall asleep in each other’s apartments. We’re tight.

Some might call that type of closeness intrusive – overstaying your welcome perhaps – but I think it’s fun. I love having lots of people around. Plus, they’re family to the people in my apartment, and the interaction goes both ways.

My one neighbor, who is my age, is hilarious. He’s constantly laughing and cracking others up with his conversation and antics once he comes home from work. He’s the one in the suspenders.

His mother is a gem, too. I can count on her to affirm me when I’m looking good and to comment on the good of something else she sees. We speak different languages, but we’re getting to the point where we can understand each other a bit even though we primarily speak our own languages aloud.

Without neighbor love, my apartment would contain less laughter, less food, less music, less of all of the stuff that makes life good. Without all the church members and other Congolese friends who pop over at random, there’d be less of these blessings, too.

So love your neighbors. Eat a meal together; heck, eat together daily. Share your home like the early Church did. You don’t have to live in one another’s apartments like I’ve described here, but if you don’t already, try inviting each other over more often. You might get to know some fantastic people.

UJN lunch squad, 2016. PC: KSB

Lunchtime in DR Congo

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.

Usually you would eat wali na maharage (rice and beans) or bugali with some type of greens, but Mama Julienne gave me both on this day because she knew my love for bugali. I have a small amount of pilipili (habanero pepper paste) in the center of my plate as well. PC: KSB

Usually you would eat wali na maharage (rice and beans) or bugali with some type of greens, but Mama Julienne gave me both on this day because she knew my love for bugali. I have a small amount of pilipili (habanero pepper paste) in the center of my plate as well. PC: KSB

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.

Bugali, aka fufu, is made of boiled maize in east Africa. You roll it in your hand and use it to scoop the greens or other food. It is my favorite. PC: KSB

Bugali, aka fufu, is made of boiled maize in east Africa. You roll it in your hand and use it to scoop the greens or other food. It is my favorite. PC: KSB

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.

 

PC: KSB

Finding joy in cabbage

I was deprived before college, though I did not realize it. Of what was I deprived, you ask? Kimchi.

Yes, a life without kimchi is a deprived life.

You can pair it with rice; you can cook it into a soup; you can have it as a side to any meal. Kimchi is flavorful and is a type of spicy I cannot explain. My taste buds would cry tears of longing without it (read: it’s mouthwatering).

Am I being dramatic? Perhaps, perhaps. Is there a point to this blog? Not much, except to proclaim the wonders of a food my family and old friends may not know. But please, allow me to explain:

Kimchi is a special food to me, for I did not grow up eating it. In fact, I was not introduced to this Korean staple until a friend introduced it to me two years ago. Since then, I have been dabbling in basic Korean dinners, inactively desiring to learn more.

I keep kim (seaweed) in my cabinet, and in my fridge I store kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage). Although I eat Korean food on weekly or biweekly basis—not often compared to Koreans or first or second generation Korean Americans, I imagine, but 100% more than my friends from back home—it still delights me.

Once I attended a local Korean church to celebrate a friend’s baptism. After the worship service, baptisms and testimonies, we ate lunch, and I carried home the plastic cup of kimchi I didn’t have time to finish. My peers looked at me strangely, I assume because kimchi is so normal to them, but to me it remains special.

I am already wondering if I can find any kimchi in Goma, DRC, this coming summer. Will other missionaries have some, or will I have to do without it for a few months? As far as I know, Koreans do not populate eastern Congo.

Of course, I know I will be introduced to a host of other fabulous foods which I’ll struggle to find when I return to the States next school year, and maybe then I will write another blog about the wonders of Congolese food. Nonetheless, tonight I am appreciating the Korean wonder (or staple, but a wonder to me), kimchi.

If you have never tried it, I am not sure how to prepare you. I cannot compare its smell or taste to any other type of food I have tried in the States. Some say kimchi is an acquired taste, a “real” Korean food that not every non-Korean American might consume. Its fermented nature contributes to its distinct flavor. I suggest you try it for yourself.

It may change your life . . . or rather, your tastes.

Begin simply: start with a serving of brown rice, grab a pack of kim in which to wrap the morsels and eat it with the kimchi. Prepare to be amazed.

You’re welcome.