Feast

Tuesday, December 6

We’re on Africa time. Like other hot places I’ve visited where clocks don’t govern the day, I went to find Manyok at the site at 10 am, expecting to meet with him before our feast with the girls scheduled for one o’clock. Manyok was overseeing the workers and Dau was catching up on his end-of-term duties as head teacher. I worked on photos and the blog at IRD, the adjacent NGO site, taking advantage of their electric power and Internet access.

At 12:30, Daniel and I went to the site, but still no Dau or Manyok. The girls started arriving, and I gave them a tour. Much has changed since they visited last July. We interacted as best we could with our limited shared language. By 2, I saw that Tabitha and Rhoda hadn’t started cooking the goat and knew this would be a full day affair. I figured I would miss lunch altogether, which isn’t an actual hardship in a place where entire families consider themselves lucky to share one small meal in a day, and often have nothing to eat but leaves they’ve gathered. But it wasn’t to be. The cooks had prepared a lunch of goat liver in a stew with carrots and onions for Moses and me. Not used to the heat, Moses had returned to the clinic for a nap, so I was expected to eat alone inside the tukul. Though some of you may not be fond of liver, this meat was quite tasty, and it was a treat to eat meat that wasn’t tough, stringy, and accompanied by bone slivers and gristle. I could eat only a small portion, and I asked Daniel to finish it up.

Dau and Manyok arrived with the fruit I brought from Nairobi. We retrieved a knife from Tabitha—a piece of metal with a long pointed triangular blade, fairly blunt edges and a makeshift shaft. Slicing the mangos attracted hundreds of small blue flies. The mangos had been bruised in transit and storage and weren’t in perfect shape, but the girls devoured them with gusto. Tabitha is saving the seeds to dry and plant on our site. Likewise, we saved the pineapple tops. The abundance of ripening fruit allowed for an orgy of eating, juice dripping from our fingers and faces. Thank goodness we now have easy access to running water at our site.

We filled the time until dinner playing games and singing songs. Dau asked me to tell them a story. Goldilocks and the Three Bears came to mind, and I drew on storytelling skills acquired in high-school speech tournaments, and honed telling stories to my children. I remembered that I have this book on my IPad and treated them to that version when I finished. The IPad entertained them for a good hour as they explored the interactive children’s books and other kid stuff I’ve downloaded on that wonderful machine.

Finally dinner was ready, and what a feast it was. Tabitha, Rhoda, and another cook carried the dishes to our table. The girls dished up mounds of rice, goat stew, stewed chicken (also donated by Moses’ uncle), and a delicious dish of pasta with goat meat and carrots. I’ve never seen an American child devour such a large quantity of food at a sitting, but these girls are accustomed to a single meal in a day, which often consists only of sorghum.

Since most of our supplies are in storage, awaiting completion of our compound, we had 11 girls but only six spoons. The adults, including me, used our fingers. Five groups of two girls sat knee to knee and shared spoons—a bite for one, pass the spoon, a bite for the other and so on.

Our meal finished, we brought out the sweaters I brought from Nairobi for chilly evenings, and they went home: their bellies full, their bodies warm. It was dark when we returned to the clinic, but Moses and I took a nighttime walk to the central village to meet with his sister’s guardian. I have never ventured off the clinic compound after dark. Though I brought a small torch (flashlight), the bright moonlight was sufficient to light our way.

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