One of the major challenges in moving to a foreign country is learning what and what not to eat. I face this challenge weekly. Until recently, I wasn’t sure where the best grocery stores are located, which ones have the best prices, and what foods and brands are the equivalent of foods back home. As mentioned last week, I discovered a nice grocery store a bike’s ride down the street from me with some American brands—very nice, but very pricey. Fortunately, some unexpected help came right as I needed it-twice! I also took part in the delicious Muslim holiday, Eid ul Adha. Here’s a look at my adventures last week.
Sometimes figuring out foreign foods is frustrating. Last week as I was sitting in my room studying, my thoughts moved to what I would eat for dinner. With the deep plunge the dollar took a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t keep eating out, and I didn’t feeling like going to the store. A past Rotary scholar had put me in touch with a friend of hers the week before. As I remembered Margaret offering to be a resource, I picked up my phone to text her about visiting the market. As soon as I typed the letters, “Hi M”, someone began rapidly knocking at my door.
“Who is it,” I asked.
“Sierra, it’s Rachel!”
I opened the door and my Nigerian friend burst into the room bringing her light and laughter. As we began discussing her finance class and reading and assignments that are piling up for both of us, not surprisingly, our conversation turned to food.
“I am getting so hungry and I don’t know what I’m going to do for dinner tonight,” I said.
“Why don’t you just cook something?”
“I don’t have anything to cook.”
“Oh?” Rachel jumped up took a look at the can of tuna and bag of pasta and said, “We can make something with this. Let’s walk to the store and buy a tomato.” I was skeptical but grabbed my wallet and together we walked down the hall to the shop. She instructed me to purchase a Maggi cube, tomato, and carrot. When we got back to my room, I was in awe as she took about four other ingredients and water and created a very tasty dinner! I smiled inside and thanked God that he had sent someone immediately to my aid to fulfill a basic need of food. After sharing the meal another thought crossed my mind. I didn’t want to ware out my welcome, but I had to ask, “You know, Rachel, I really want to purchase some items in the Medina Market, but most of the foods are completely different from what we have back home and I don’t know what’s what. Would you mind going with me sometime to point things out?”
“No problem! How about tomorrow morning before my 1:00pm lecture?” I smiled again to myself again.
|Rachel helping me prepare dinner, October 1, 2014|
|Freshly chopped vegetables for dinner, October 1, 2014|
|Tuna pasta with vegetables. It turned out pretty good! October 1, 2014|
At 9:00am the next morning, we headed to the road and took a tro tro10 minutes down the street to Medina Market. I had never done any serious shopping in the market so it was all very new and exciting. The sun was pouring down on us, the vendors, women with children saddled to their backs, and the goods, some of which were live and dead. I saw things I had never seen before up close such as healing medicines and edible slugs on a platter. I like to think that I’ll try anything once, but those slugs are where I’d have to draw the line. They looked gross! Although I had made a list, moving through the crowed and being haggled by people trying to sell us random items like belts and blankets, it still took us about three hours to get everything on my list. By the time we got back to our hostel I was thankful, but exhausted. Being in the African sun really zaps one’s. I was glad to be back in my room with a cold bottle of water in my hand and a swirling fan above me. After I rested and collected myself I thought, finally, I know how to get to the market and get some food!
|Fresh vegetables at the market, October 2, 2014|
|Kind woman selling Heirloom tomatoes, October 2, 2014|
|Medina Market, October 2, 2014|
|Herbs, vegetables, and medicines I’ve never seen before, October 2, 2014|
|Snails for sale to eat…no thank you, October 2, 2014|
|Beautiful rainbow-colored crabs, October 2, 2014|
|I love this photo for its mysterious glow. Wonder what’s up those stairs, October 2, 2014|
Rachel also invited me to her friend’s Eid ul Adha celebration. I wasn’t sure how I felt about celebrating a Muslim holiday, but once I did my research and discovered that the is a celebration commemorates Abraham obeying God’s command to sacrifice his son, and then God saving Abraham’s son due to Abraham’s obedience (a familiar bible story from childhood), I felt more comfortable. Rachel’s friend and her family were very hospitable. We spent most of the day on the couch while they prepared dinner. I had managed to get a little breakfast that morning but pretty soon, we were both hungry. We debated whether or not it was impolite to ask our host for food, but once our stomachs were growling long enough, we figured we had to. Rachel told her friend I was hungry and I thought to myself, okay, if saying I’m the one who’s hungry will get us some food, I’ll be the scape goat. I was so happy when her friend’s mother brought out a huge box of Raisin Bran! I practically ran over to the dining room table and hugged the box as if it were a newborn baby! Not only was I hungry, but seeing something familiar from home meant a lot. I think it was imported directly from the States, too because it didn’t have any Arabic writing on the side of the box (which made it more meaningful). My friend was laughing at me, but I didn’t care, those grains brought a lot of comfort!
After breakfast I offered to help prepare dinner. Soon, we were in the kitchen chopping vegetables. Rachel’s friend’s mother asked if I would like to try the breakfast they were cooking on the kitchen stove. I pulled out a bowl and poured what appeared to be porridge along with some sort of sweet yogurt they had made. I was surprised at the delicious texture of the food! It was a dish they called “La” which was a typical breakfast food they enjoyed back home in The Gambia.
After helping prepare dinner, my friend and I sat back on the couch and watched some American TV shows with the family. I was amused that they enjoyed American television so much. They recognized some American celebrities that I wasn’t familiar with! After a few hours, Rachel’s friend called us to ask if we wanted to see the killing of the lamb. I thought to myself, what?! Sure enough, we went outside to see a sweet looking goat, tied to a tree in the front yard and a lamb on the front lawn. Two men held the lamb down while the other killed him. It was really sad to watch, but I understood that this was part of their tradition of sacrifice, this had happened for eons before I had been born, and was probably happening all over the city at that very moment. I walked back into the house a bit sad for the animals’ suffering. But I have to admit, when it was time to eat, that lamb and goat meat was delicious! Paired with rice, cole slaw, onions, and sunflower juice, I went back for two more helpings.
We spent the entire day at with Rachel’s friend’s family laughing, eating traditional food, and ice cream bars for dessert. Around 5:00pm we said our goodbyes and hitched a ride back home with Rachel’s classmate. Before heading home he took us for a little sightseeing around the city. The sun was beginning to set and so were my thoughts on the events of the day.
It’s interesting how comfort and help comes when we least expect it and need it the most. My friend came at a much needed time to help me learn how to survive in the unfamiliar culture and I learned about a common, yet foreign holiday. All in all, I was very thankful for last week’s experiences. Next week, I’ll discuss seeing off a new friend bound for the States!