Thursday, February 9, 2012

Living Close to the Earth

In my country we don't see men or boys walking around with machetes casually dangling from their hands.  In fact, I made mention of this little fact one afternoon when ten-year-old Caleb, with machete in hand, passed through the house as nonchalantly as if he were carrying a baseball glove.  I hate it for him that such simple, innocent connections to the earth are going to be lost to him when he moves back to America later this year.  In our society a machete would be considered by most to be a weapon, whereas in West Africa it is a tool for survival.  I am hoping God will bless this guileless little boy with opportunities to stay close to the earth in his new home in the land of the free and the home of the brave, where freedom and opportunities for bravery are becoming scarcer and scarcer with each passing year.  Our American existence seems to be taking us farther and farther from a bond with the earth that God created for us to enjoy.

Early in the week, as we hiked a path into one of the more hidden Monsanka villages (see A Walk Into Another World), we passed enormous trees with huge football-shaped fruits dangling far above our heads.  Kate found a fresh baobab fruit on the ground with a crack in it, and managed to break it open for us to sample the edible insides.  Though it was rather sweet, the feel of it in my mouth was like styrofoam, only more dense.  Dry as dust.
The next day at the market we noticed children selling little plastic bags of a cloudy liquid, and Kate informed us this was juice made from the fruit of the baobab tree.  She assured us it was very tasty, but since we had no way of knowing the source of the water used to make the juice the kids were selling, it seemed wise to pass on that opportunity.  But the day we visited Liz at her home in Lendeng, she had a baobab fruit on hand to make the beverage for our lunch, and she asked Tonya and me to do the honors.  Ummm . . . what, exactly, were we supposed to do with this huge, fuzzy, nut-looking thing full of styrofoam?  Following Liz's instructions, Tonya slammed the fruit repeatedly on the concrete porch with enough force to finally make it crack open, and together we dug out the contents, complete with the tough web-like fibers and large seeds that God put in there with the white stuff that is purportedly chock full of nutrients.  Once all the strings and seeds and broken pieces of dry fruit were collected in the bucket Liz had provided, she poured a pitcher of water in with the whole mess and told us to squish it with our hands until all the fruit had dissolved in the water.  Squish, squish, squish.  Very sensory.  Very preschool.  Very fun. 

Once the fruit was totally dissolved, Liz added more water until the consistency was like orange juice, then strained it all to get out the chunks, and voila!  Oh, yes, she did add some sugar for the palates of the Americans, just to make sure we would enjoy it, and enjoy it we did! 

Another unfamiliar food item that turned up over and over through the week was tamarind.  These seed pods, roughly the size of a tough old overgrown green bean, are frequently used to season the fish and rice dishes that are the staple of the West African diet.  Sold in clumps in the market, these slightly spicy pods are cooked in a sauce until they are tender and delectable, but eating them involves spitting out a mouthful of seeds.  This is not a problem, however, when the family is eating on the floor around a large bowl, with chickens and goats at the ready to snarf down whatever is discarded by the humans. 

Salt, one of the most prized seasonings anywhere you go, is a natural byproduct of the soil in this part of the world.  The salty dirt is scooped up and carried home by women in large buckets on their heads, where they labor through the lengthy and tedious process of extracting the salt so that it is suitable for selling and cooking.  Though I didn't pay close attention when the process was being explained to me, I do remember Kate pointing out an odd contraption in one of the Monsanka villages as one of the stages of making salt.  Without her enlightenment I never would have figured out on my own what this crudely constructed apparatus was all about.
Far right, apparatus where salt is being made
Today I will pour juice out of a waxed cardboard container without any idea how it was processed or where the fruit was grown, and I will season my meat with spices that I shake out of a little jar without any knowledge of where they were harvested, and I will sprinkle salt on my dinner without any idea where that salt came from or how it got into that round cardboard container on the supermarket shelf.  The Monsanka women may not know anything about the world beyond their firsthand experience, but they know where their food comes from, which is more than I can say for myself. 

1 comment:

  1. i never thought about how salt was made. or most of the rest of my food, for that matter.