One of the huge benefits of being a third culture or cross culture kid is that you become open to other cultures and learn to accept, even adapt, different ways of living, preferences and tastes. My E blog musings is about eating.
I still remember when I went on a school trip to Tallinn with my social sciences class at the high school in Norway. We were so lucky to stay a few days in the private homes of a school class, an unique opportunity to see how they lived in Estland, not just the tourist things. This was just after the Soviet had left the country after many years of occupation and ordinary people didn’t have a high standard of living, something that was a shock to a few of my class mates who had not seen much of the world outside Norway before. These families, even if they didn’t have much wealth, did their best to make us feel welcome. I’m still full of gratitude for these families who opened up their homes for strangers. However, I’m sad to say that not all of us were polite guests. One of the girls even brought with her food from Norway, which she ate in her bedroom. I also remember that the whole class visited a local restaurant, where we were served a special starter: some sort of clear soup with hardboiled egg at the bottom. Over half of the class refused to eat it. They didn’t even want to try to taste it. I was extremely angry and ashamed, still am when I think of it.
Something one often forget when living protected in a wealthy country, is that in most part of the world, there is a shortage of food. To be served food is an extraordinary gift. I have been offered food from a plate with cockroaches climbing the edge of the plate and my stomach turned at the sight. I have been offered food from a plate where flies swarmed the unidentifiable contents. I ate in both situations, even though I have a sensitive stomach and I have a few food allergies. Because both times it was clear that these were poor people and that they offered me a great gift: they had made food for us, because they loved having us as guests. To not to taste and at least eat a few pieces would have been extremely rude and disrespectful.
I’m not writing this because I want to be moral or even talk nicely about myself, far from it. I have a few episodes I’m not proud of. But these are reflections one make when traveling and living in other countries, also in poor parts of world. Third culture kids are exposed to different flavors and cuisines at an early age, missionary kids are often exposed to much poverty. You might think the food looks awful, but do the grimaces in private.
It can be poverty, it can be spicy food that threatens to twist your internal organs (at least it feels like it), it can be food you would never consider to be food. In West-Africa I put on quite a lot of weight during my stay, probably because of all the deep fried food. But, you know what, I feel lucky to have experienced it. I grew up in a time when world was larger than it is now. Now you can buy spices and food from all corners of world in Oslo. But when I was a child and moved from East Africa to Norway, and my mother made East African food, it was only when we had spices sent all the way from Africa. Very rare. My favourite dish is still from this area.
You might think I’m obsessed with food. I read somewhere that third culture kids collect food memories and that we usually can identify and name specific flavors. Even if I really can’t cook (yes, it’s weird), I like to hang around the kitchen when people cook, and yes, I can identify lots of flavours.
Food and drink cover basic needs. A primal thing. One thing is the food itself. But then it is the eating. Like most third culture kids, I appreciate food in its most authentic, cultural context. A meal gives a sense of belonging when in a foreign culture. In most of the world eating is a social event: when family meet after working out all day, when something is celebrated, when one has guests. In both West- and East Africa, eating is a higly social group thing. I remember fondly how dinner would be prepared all day (days if it required buying a hen or goat on the market place), and then it was served on huge round plates or even huge plastic bowls on the ground, that we gathered around. I miss this: Group eating from the same plate while chatting with low voice. And after the meal, hours with tea seremonies or roasting coffee beans. Yes, I miss that.
Thanks for reading!