What does your country look like?
Today we visited a particularly welcoming village. Approaching a home beset with activities as many before it, I am continually amazed by the frenzy of tasks being performed toward the end goal of enjoying a meal. Today, as we are welcomed into one particular compound, I notice a woman using a large wooden spoon to slowly turn a large quantity of seeds over and over, browning them slowly in a clay urn over the fire. Regis explains to me that these are sorghum seeds that are used in the preparation of banana beer. I recognize the browning seeds as the ubiquitous bunch of bright red seeds that sit atop tall green stalks in a countless number of fields across the countryside. I have seen the seeds in mass piles after their collection in many of the compounds we’ve entered, and presumed that they were some sort of grain. We go about our work, and the patriarch of the compound must be dilated. Upon our return to evaluate the fundus, the woman is now in a different room, grinding the roasted seeds between two stones. She grins at my curiosity and invites me to try my hand at her work. It is labor intensive and I am decidedly not good at it. She is laughing at me and I at myself. But, despite the silliness of the exercise, I am in awe of the task. The stone tools she is using to make this fermented drink have likely been used to perform this task in this exact same way for time immemorial; a skill passed down and down. There are moments in my busy day when I become strikingly aware that I am in a moving snap shot of our human tradition. Of course this is an extreme example, but moments like this make me feel jarringly disconnected from “the way life should be”…. My life at home revolving around email, bound to a smart phone that feels so much like an extension of myself that I almost feel affection for it at times. This disconnect is obvious to more than just myself. Later in the day, a woman beckons me over to give me a gift of gratitude. I return to my team carrying a very tall stick. My teammate Gilbert asks what I’ve gotten, and I reply that they’ve given me a stick. He grins widely, as he informs me that I am holding sugar cane. There is a look of bewilderment and incredulousness as he asks me, “What does your country look like, that you do not know sugar cane?” I sit silently for a moment picturing the skyline of Philadelphia as seen from the Ben Franklin Bridge at sunset…full of concrete rather than fields, but still stunningly beautiful in a completely different way than their majestic “hills”. “What are the villages like? Do you have them? Where does you food come from? Do you have cows? ” He continues to ask questions I can only answer abstractly, with descriptions that can’t possibly conjure an image that does my world justice. Despite my attempts, I can tell he slightly pities a community than doesn’t know where their food is grown or where their milk comes from. I know that there is nothing I am going to say that will sufficiently compensate for what he considers an unnatural and disconnected way of life. The culture in which he lives bestows upon him an inherent knowledge of the natural world around him, and an innate sense of his place in it. While I have a deep affection for my own culture and way of life, I cannot say it does the same. Rather than convince him of the rewards I reap from the extravagance of my world, I sit beside him in the shade of the homestead, enjoying the rewards of his.