Times, they are a'changing
This week has been a major transition in my somewhat solitary Tanzanian lifestyle. Cornell University sent me a present: two more college students in my compound. They are both working through an established program, helping in the Food Security and Development Office. They have a much more structured internship that focuses in a certain area and therefore they are not blessed with the same explorative freedom as me. They went to work on Saturday... like what? Paralleling their arrival is the arrival of two Sewanee students that I do not know very well. Unfortunately, they have not been in contact since they've gotten to Dodoma but hopefully we will establish some communication soon because as much as I love it here, Sewanee will forever be my number one place and people.
Perhaps the biggest difference in my life since the arrival of Katie and Xavier, the Cornell students, is the food that I'm eating. I was starting to get a bit more creative on my own, but a meal for one never seemed like the place for luxuries such as garlic, ginger and masala. But boy, when you crank the number up to three, spices seem necessary suddenly. Neither of the two have a working stove, so we've been cooking all our meals at my house. I pulled the table away from the wall and found an extra chair lying around so we can have family dinners. I had been counteracting my lack of cardio by eating smaller portions, but now that these two have arrived with their superb renditions of the staple "wale na maharangwe" (rice and beans), I know that I'm going to get fat here.
My fancy eating habits have not developed without reflection, however. I am painfully aware, from my interviews of village farmers last Thursday, how the rest of the region is coping to keep their families alive. Nobody we talked to harvested enough food for the year. Although the practices we are implimenting through Conservative Agriculture and food storage are gradually helping, the immediate problems are still effecting these families. Many have scaled back to only one or two meals a day and have been working on the side in order to trade vegetables or traditional salt for millet and corn from other farms. The side business are meant to create revenue for school and health care costs, but it's being spent on food instead. The meals that they are eating are the exact same without variation, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Ugali with mlenda. Ugali is a potato-like mash made with corn or millet. While mlenda is a vegetable that they dry out and later rehydrate with peanuts to create a salty green paste. They are the traditional food of Tanzania, and compared to the meals of "smileys," or fried goat heads, that Trevor Noah discussed eating daily in his book Born A Crime, they seem absolutely divine. There are definitely regions that are doing worse that the one I am living in, but there are many people doing better.
I have been blessed by this universe to not only have had enough food my entire life, but an excess. That is often made clear by the amount of Nutella I am somehow able to consume in one short time frame. When I sit down with a salad I've made from McClurg dining hall, I can take a few bites and realize that I'm actually not in the mood for a salad, now I want a sandwich. So I can carelessly set the salad on a revolving rack and it will mysteriously disappear around the bend, no longer my problem to deal with physically or cognitively. Because I fiend on Netflix food documentaries and have taken two classes that revolve around food (Economics of the Food Industry and Food, Agriculture & Social Justice) I have a more acute awareness than the general population. But that doesn't mean much.
Food distribution is a painful subject to think about because there are so many elements. There's not only quantity but quality. In the United States, obesity and malnourishment are often embodied by the same person. Cheap calories have provided an excess of food without any proper nutrition. Although I have not seen the problem of fast and processed food occurring yet in Dodoma (because the community is composed of mostly subsistence farmers), there is still a fight for quantity: selling fresh vegetables for something more filling like corn to make ugali.
On Friday, I was able to go with Bill, another new character in my life, to his academic farm in the village of Ibihwa. Bill is an Australian man in his 70s with a torso that bends at a 160 degree angle rather than the normal 180. He is a lively and talkative man despite his hunch and his inability to speak Swahili. He lived here for 20 years and although he moved away in 2005, he makes annual sojourns back to check up and improve his projects. The academic garden has flourished despite his absence. It was such a pleasure to look at the rows of green Chinese Spinach and tall Papaya trees. A Garden of Eden to counteract the dead and dry corn stalks that are ingrained into my vision of the Tanzanian landscape.
Remember, before feasting today, to thank the the universe for providing the sun, soil, bacteria, rain, farmers and assorted workers necessary for producing the bounty. So much energy goes into every morsel of food.