Friday, September 25, 2009

Faraway Food

“Chocolate” she would whisper into the night.“Just one small tiny square of Hersery’s Chocolate, that’s all, nothing more.”

It puzzled me… there wasn’t a bar of chocolate to be had within a hundred miles… why would she be wanting chocolate when she couldn’t have it? It didn’t occured to me to want chocolate. I just didn’t think about it. Obviously my taste buds had not yet blossomed. She was from New York, I was a Midwestern farm girl. What did I know?

Our daily fare consisted of a white sort of corn meal called, ‘mealy meal.’ I didn’t know what it was and never bothered to find out. We had it for most of our meals. I can’t remember eating greens or vegetables. But there were bananas, lots of bananas and plantains, and sour mangos. Once I was given a stick of sugar cane with tea boiled in a tin can under a tree in the back of beyond. Lovely and sweet it cleaned my teeth as I chewed and sucked the pithy fiber better than any toothbrush.

Once in a while there would be a goat haunch brought to our village but I would have been happier eating grass. Another time someone brought us two live chickens, walking many miles through the bush to see the strange Americans working with their hands; offering the chickens as a gift. We kept the chickens as pets until we had to go. Then we invited the whole compound in for a feast of Two-Chicken-Stew and mealy meal. I won’t go into the details of how Ruben and I rung their necks, pulled the feathers and singed them, or what we put into the stew.

No, this part of the world was not a culinary hot spot. It wasn’t a place where there were gardens, or markets, or shops to buy chocolate bars. It was the bush country in the dry season. Dry and sparse.

But night after night under the East African moon Maria would croon her chocolate mantra while I drifted off to sleep dreaming of the smell of chocolate and the sweet softness melting on my tongue...Funny enough, that was the year I learned to love chocolate.


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