Saturday, May 8, 2010

Table or Floor?

I wanted to invite Mohammed and Nabila and their four children over for supper but felt uncertain what kind of food they would like. Shortly after their arrival we took them out to the farm during harvest season and had a picnic with the harvesters. They loved being outdoors among the crops. It reminded them of back home. We spread out picnic blankets and ate. They didn’t feel comfortable each having their own plate but ate off of one big communal plate and picked up the food with their fingers. Nabila was fascinated with the grasshoppers jumping around and picked them up and examined them. They enjoyed themselves tremendously and even were given an opportunity to ride on the combines. The children loved the fresh air and running free in the fields. It was a welcome change from their apartment in the inner city.

Once they invited us to their home for fufu and okra stew. We ate the sticky fufu(like boiled thick cream of wheat) and boiled okra with our fingers. They said they like to eat fufu every day. When it came to our turn for hospitality I wondered what food they would eat that they would truly enjoy. Finally I came up with mixing spaghetti sauce with big pasta shells and a green bean and potato mild curry dish and cukes and tomatoes and a watermelon. When they arrived I asked Nabila, “Would you feel comfortable eating at our table or should I put a plastic tablecloth on the floor and we eat around that?” She preferred the latter. I asked her, “Would you like to eat off of one plate or each of you have a plate?” This time she wanted each one to have their own plate. I put out spoons for them to eat with but they all wanted to try forks. It was an interesting evening. Nabila must have had the children practice eating with forks beforehand because they felt proud as punch being able to use them comfortably! There was no looking at the strange food as being peculiar but a digging in. To my surprise it was all eaten up.

When we first went to Pakistan my husband who was used to drinking coffee suddenly had to start drinking tea. Not only any kind of tea but strong tea sweetened with a lot of sugar and fattening buffalo milk. It took time for him to adjust to drinking chai. Likewise our friends little by little become aware of new foods and eating customs when they come to our land. It takes time to adjust and feel comfortable. Not everyone is like Mohammed and Nabila. Some are not able to enjoy any food but their own kind. I have come to observe over the past 30 years ministering among Muslims that the ones who are open to new foods and eating customs often are the most open spiritually to new spiritual truths. Mohammed and Nabila have been open to hearing new truths.