I chose two meals to write about for this post on memorable meals.
On April 3rd, 2014, I wrote the passage below about meals in our friend’s Sewanee lake house. (While I’m slightly appalled by my writing, I have changed nothing.)
“We had the most amazing meals out there in the middle of nowhere. We were in the middle of the woods. Climbing a tree, building a fort, waging war on our siblings. We heard Mr. Peters calling, “Dinner, guys.” We didn’t answer. “Hey, kids, supper. Food.” We might’ve heard him that time. “Okay, fine. Don’t come in. We’re eating without you.” We came that time. We skidded into the cabin breathing hard, carving knives in hand. “Off with the shoes, put down the knife, Jake, wash up,” said one of the moms. Still breathing hard, still muddy legs and feet, we sat down to a home cooked meal after a long day. Anything would’ve been good. The taste wasn’t the only thing wonderful. We were with our best friends, in the middle of the woods, with a successful day of being wood warriors behind us, looking forward to a night slept in a tent. Those were some good meals.”
The meals there, at the cabin with friends and dogs, remain some of my most treasured.
Meals with families and partners in Kenya are always… something. Whether the food be tasty (often), unsettling (usually), or plain (rarely), the food is shared, not merely given. A meal is an invitation to fellowship, to acknowledge common cause, to gather. One such meal I remember was in my first few weeks of life in Kenya. We drove 2 hours north of Nairobi to a school and orphanage situated on a swath of land being farmed or otherwise used. The students run the place – put in their bit by tending the land, feeding the cows, cleaning the classrooms.
Once we had toured the school, the surrounding dormitories, patted the noses of calves, and played soccer in the yard, we were led, by the director, into a room of the main building. The room was decorated in a style I have since seen all across Kenya – hard backed couches with hard cushions sinking to the ground pushed to the walls; large low tables centered in the room, nowhere near the couches; calendars hanging on the walls in no particular order, turned to the wrong month, 2012, 2013, 2014; a framed picture (or two) of a very creamy-skinned, blonde-haired Jesus; another framed image: Jomo Kenyata, the current president.
We waited on the couches for a few minutes, slightly shivering in the unexpected 65 degree weather, quietly taking in our surroundings.
The director of the institution, a Kenyan woman, came back to the room, 4 other woman following in her wake. Carrying large insulated containers, they greeted us, slight smiles and waves. Another woman came in with plates and forks and napkins. In this way, they set the table. Crowding the food on the large, faux-polished wood table, we were thrown earthy, warm scents: beans, hovering in some unknown broth; piles of mutton, bone and fat together in a rough sauce; chard – sikumawiki – greens chopped fine by old knives, the scent of the dirt still on them; rice, big chunks, cooked in who-knows-what oil; ugali, a corn mush, rounded into its container, brown.
A feast of fellowship set before us. We filled our plates with too much to fit into our stomachs, the polite response. The response showing them that we realized what work had been put into our meal – woman and girls working all day for our 20 minutes of eating.
Thank you, God, for food: the community it brings and the meaning it can provide.