“Eating is so intimate…When you invite someone to sit at your table and you want to cook for them, you’re inviting a person into your life.” Maya Angelou
We have been in La Paz for four weeks. During this time, we have seen a good deal of the city, toured the hospital that serves the extremely impoverished, visited orphanages and halfway houses, went to places that could hardly be called houses, spent time with street children, spent a day at the park with extremely poor families and have heard countless stories of hardship and brokenness.
So, what is on my mind? Food. Yes. You read that right. I just keep thinking about food. But before you click off of this blog in sheer horror at my shallowness, please let me explain!
Food is a big deal in my family. I was raised in a house where food was bought on food stamps and if those ran out, then you knew to expect potatoes for a few days. I was also raised largely by a Grandmother who was raised in the Great Depression. Food was very important to her. My kids love to hear stories about how she shared her “cow brains” with me (because ALL of the cow MUST be used). Honestly, I was only 5 years old and I can still, with great vividness, remember how utterly (udderly??) disgusting was that experience.
They often bring that up when I ask them to eat their vegetables. They have NO idea what a reach that is!!
My Grandmother loved to feed people. She worked in a home for young expectant mothers who had been kicked out of their homes. She was the cook. I still have pages and pages of her handwritten recipes and notes that she wrote during that time. Cooking was a science to her, and form of love to be perfected and offered. I would bring friends to her house, knowing that she would feed them. My friends still speak of her love.
So back to the now. I feel the same about food as my Grandmother. A friend is sick? I make them soup. They are anxious? I make them bread, with the assurance that God never lets his people beg for bread. I want to connect with a family? I have them over for dinner. I pour over recipes, websites, blogs…looking for the food that will be enjoyed, accepted, received as a gift and understood as love. I know…it’s a bit extreme. But it is.
Now, I am in a culture where I cannot read labels. I don’t know what a lunch, dinner…breakfast looks like. I want to offer food as a gift, but the altitude seems to change everything I make. However, I am confident that these things will resolve themselves in time. There is a larger issue in my mind…
I was at a family’s home this past Saturday who had so very little. We went there to wish their children well before school began. The visit also gave us an opportunity to make sure that the children were receiving what they need, that no abuse was evident and to give some extra love and support that might otherwise be absent. While there, one of the older women brought me a drink. It was an orange drink of some kind in a glass. It was just a drink, but she smiled and I felt like I knew. I knew what this gift meant. It was a thank you. But I should not have drank it. All logic told me that to drink meant to take a huge chance on germs, disease, and a major stomach reckoning in the future. I was supposed to say no to her thank you. I could not say no. I drank. Just a little. With a silent prayer of desperation that somehow it would be filtered and my gringo-self would not pay later.
” When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.. …Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Luke 21:9-13
I keep thinking about this. This offering of food and drink. This connection across culture…this universal object that so often presents itself as a gift. I know I will have to learn to say no graciously. The only way I can think to do that is to bring my own gift. A gift of my Grandma’s banana bread, or snickerdoodles, to offer first. Maybe then, they can receive my gift and, in doing so, give a gift of their own: the mutual enjoyment of food.
(Thanks Grandma…for your love)