What follows is a tale of a “rookie mistake” (as referenced by another EWBer), a story that many people who’ve spent time with a family in another culture will find familiar.
Every Sunday, all the salamingas of Tamale head to a sports field to play Ultimate. It’s a great time to get some exercise, hang out with some mother-toungue English speakers, and of course toss a disk.
Before heading out, I let my host-family know I wouldn’t be back until later that evening, maybe around 8, and not to worry. And off I went. After Ultimate, as tradition demands, we headed to a restaurant for some food. After a full meal, I was feeling sated and satisfied.
At about 7:30, I started getting calls. First, from my host-brother – where are you? Then, from my host-mother, who speaks hardly a word of English, which made for a short conversation. I figured I should get home.
Once I got home, I greeted everyone. I sat down in the Foyer, relaxed and feeling content. They asked me if I was hungry? Would I like some food?
The answer in my head? No. Not at all, thank you very much. The answer I gave –thank you very much. I was not about to waste the food they’d saved for me. I’d sit there and eat every last bite, size of my stomach be damned!
Noble words. They lasted about the time it took from the pot being placed in front of me to the lid being removed, revealing a full Ghanaian serving of T.Z. The sinking feeling in my stomach was made that much deeper by the food already weighing it down.
I started in. Perhaps if I got half-way through, that would be enough. I wouldn’t want to offend. Maybe half-way, that seems good, right? A healthy portion! I’d eaten from a pot this size the day before (perhaps 10 or 11 inches with maybe 2 inches of TZ in the bottom), split it with my host-brother… If I made it half-way, if only I could make it half-way!
At first, my progress was good. It started to seem more and more doable. I was breathing steadily and consciously, timing my bites at the end of each exhalation. I had dented it, there was no question. A hole about the size of my fist had been laboriously carved from the TZ closest to me. I felt sweat start to bead on my fore-head. Taking my index, I drew a think line through the middle of the pot, giving myself some sort of finish line to work towards. Taking a breath, I grabbed another handful, and continued.
TZ is porridge of maize, thick enough that you can just grab it and eat it with our hands. It’s served with a soup for dipping, which is usually a little spicy and VERY salty. When you eat, you take a chunk of TZ, slip it into your mouth, slide it to the back of your throat, and swallow – no chewing. The first few times you feel like you’ll gag, but once you get used to it it’s quite good.
However, when you’re already full, it makes for a real challenge in swallowing. You know when you’re eating a feast, and you want to keep going, you can resort to small bites, and chew thoroughly? This was not exactly an option.
About 2/5’s of the way through, and still a ways from the finish line, I was saved by the bath water. It was ready, and I darted off – “I must bathe!” – only too happy for the excuse to pull myself away from that pot.
Later that evening, we sat in a circle, my two host-mothers and 8 or 9 children (no idea who most of them were. There are 8 children between the two wives, and at least the two older children weren’t there, so…). My impression was that it was story time. I was excited by this – my guess is story-time pulls up comforting and magical memories from almost everyone’s past – and I wanted to be there regardless of whether I’d understand. However, I think my presence ruined the moment. One of the children – Owl – tried to translate – something about a chicken waking up, or going to sleep, but only having one leg, so they talked to the guinea fowl about it? I’m not sure – but the process of translating was just too distracting.
It didn’t take long for them to give up on that. But at this point I think they were as frustrated with my Dagbani as I’ve been for the last few days. They started pointing to objects, and asking the name. It was a lot of fun for all involved but when I say they, I mean THEY – all 10 or 11, each pointing at objects, each demanding the Dagbani name, which I may or may not have ever heard in my entire life. It was really intense, overwhelming –but each time I got one right, the cheers of the crowd egged me on. Eventually I threw in the towel, heading off to bed – with the promise we’ll try again soon.
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