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A Ugandan Feast on Jesus’ Birthday
On Christmas Eve my husband woke up from his Hennessy stupor and the football games on TV and brought me to our friend David’s house for Christmas. I was very comfortable there because I was sitting next to David’s father at the table and had a full view of the kitchen and living room where many of their family members lived.
Since getting married, I have learned that skin color itself is not culture. As an American, I had a rather skewed and limited view of race. Meeting so many Africans from different nations exposed me to a deeper way of looking at people. I can no longer say “Black people…” in general because I have experienced so many different cultures and individuals from all over Africa. Color is such a small part of it because everyone has color.
David and his father made their fortune in California by making the most of the real estate market. In contrast, David’s father told me that there are no mortgages in Uganda. He told me that with $20,000 I, or anyone, could go to Uganda, build a house in the countryside and live off the land. This immediately created a germ of fantasy in my mind.
This image of abundance was fueled by the ease this family had with each other and the guests they welcomed into their home for Christmas. David’s sister welcomed new children born this year who are experiencing their first Christmas. We clapped for them and gave them special attention to make it memorable. A beautiful woman was asked to pray and she led us all in a powerful prayer dedicating the occasion to Jesus Christ because it was His birthday and asking for His blessing on the meal.
The meal was not ostentatious, as I would imagine a typical rich American family would be. Instead, it was a sumptuous feast of simplicity. Everyone had as much as they wanted. There was so much food, not even the sixty people attending could finish it. There were greens, yellow squash, chicken stew, cassava (which I tried for the first time), lentils, beans, peas, plain yogurt, plantains, biscuits, pork, Brussels sprouts, long grain rice with vegetables, and frosted fruit cake.
My husband, watching the football game, grumbled to me to bring him a plate. But as I sat next to David’s father and enjoyed the conversation of the people who loved this man so much as their patriarch, I did not want to give up my seat.
I eat some things with my hands, like chicken on the bone and hamburgers. I admit that when I’m alone I eat any food with my hands. In college, while working as a dancer named Sheba, I met the youngest senior resident at the University Medical Center, a tall, gifted Etopian named Ted. He cooked for me and took me to eat at Zemam’s in Tucson, Arizona on Broadway. Ethiopian food has a special flatbread that you take other food with. So I’m used to the idea of eating with my hands. Nigerian meals often include doughy, uncooked “bread” that is eaten by hand. But before last night I had never seen another woman eat all her food with her hands. It was very liberating. For a moment I realized how much trouble I have about the simple human experience of eating. She gracefully and joyfully put handfuls of food to her mouth. She took bits of food from her father’s plate. When the rest of the plates were cleared, she pulled them back to the table if they had food she liked. She was quite round though.
I could have stayed up all night soaking up the faces of the beautiful children who took turns dragging their mothers, then their fathers. I was staring at a newborn baby, a son, just six days old, with his first wavy, fluffy hair. The young women were so beautifully dressed, enviably slim with flawless skin and impeccable braids and braids. Some people looked like Ted Gedebow, tall, lean, with dark eyes and defined profiles. Other people had flat Asian eyelids even though they were clearly African. Young men gathered around the cooler of beer, and older single men engaged in seemingly serious conversations at the bar while sipping spirits.
Men and women with small children did not drink and left early. I was disappointed when my husband announced that it was time for us to go too. My husband and David came out in front of me trying to talk business without me. They were talking about buying one of David’s houses. My husband lied to David, acting as if the deal was already in motion. His eyes were rolling and he was laughing his hyena laugh. On the porch was a group of men my age dressed in velvet jackets and designer shirts. They stole those few moments of my husband pretending at work to beg me to stay, which made me blush. I stammered, “The car is parked in red,” and raced away from their voices saying, “Let him go. Stay.”
My husband yelled at me on the drive home when I asked about potentially buying a house. “Let me think, bitch. I’ll never make a decision that’s bad for us.” He is trying to assert his masculinity because he may have felt intimidated by David. I do not know. I didn’t care. I had seeds of abundance planted in my imagination. A million dreams of Africa, love and family filled my consciousness. I opened the window and looked at the moon like a Cheshire cat’s hair, then I started laughing at my husband. I laughed loud and long with forced giggles.
I feel exhausted when I think of myself laughing at someone else like that. I’m not a hysterical hyena. I am a lioness. Hyenas clean. Lionesses reign in abundance and strength. I swore to myself that I would never use that stupid tactic to protect myself in the future. I will remain calm in the face of his harsh curses, his harsh insults, his cruel debasement because this short time with him will make it more bearable for me now and save me from any guilt when I leave him.
After all, I can control the words I say despite the adrenaline rush of fear when he curses me. He really curses his ex-wives, his ex-girlfriends who betrayed him and crushed his ego. It has nothing to do with me. But I can’t control the jerk that makes me jump two meters back whenever he tries to touch me.
You are currently reading: The Soul of New Cuisine: Discovering the Food and Flavors of Africa
By Markus Samuelsson
December 26, 2006 – Tuesday
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#Ugandan #Feast #Jesus #Birthday