“Among your characters you must always include The Starving African, who wanders the refugee camp nearly naked, and waits for the benevolence of the west.” – Binyavanga Wainaina “How to Write About Africa”
I stare at my plate. The usual rice, kidney beans, fries, and peas that I have everyday, well that I have had everyday since coming to Rwanda. During my time here, everything has revolved around food.
I wake up and eat breakfast of potatoes, eggs, beans and toast. I walk into town, passing fields of banana trees and maize. I eat lunch at a restaurant where the locals build mountains of food on their plates, dowsing it in chili oil that numbs your lips. None of the food goes to waste.
Some days I help build kitchen gardens with the locals to help those in the community that struggle with malnutrition. By providing physical labor and a bit of PR (Hey look at the muzungu carrying a brick on her head) more people in the community will have access to fresh vegetables such as cabbage, potatoes, and carrots. Or should I say amashu, ibirayi, and caroti as I have learned by playing with flash cards with the local children.
It has been said that some of the best conversations occur in the pub, but I would argue that they occur at the table. Food provides the environment for meaningful conversations. Even the slightest change from the usual fare such as cabbage, chapatti, or the odd piece of meat results in more excitement than the Nintendo 64 kid on Christmas.
Of course this is all coming from my perspective. One of a muzungu, an outsider who will never fit in. Yes, there is malnutrition here, I am not totally blind, but by no means have the people I have met here waited for my benevolence.