Once I went to Africa.
I had thought that the wildness of the land, the lack of paved roads and street signs, the potential for lions to be licking their large chops around any corner would be exciting.
But once I got there, it was really just scary.
At least for the first few days. Then I got used to it. I learned to trust that the old jalopy that wouldn't pass a test at the DMV if you bribed the attendant with stock in Google from way back when that they used to transport us would not fall apart or fall prey to some of the roaming herds that stood casually in the middle of the dirt roads. I decided that, after the first few days of visiting churches, orphanages, Compassion International, and Bible Colleges and always coming back, chances are that would keep happening: I would keep coming back.
So even when I was whisked off, by myself, to a tiny rustic church in a village that was no bigger than a few of the hallways of this sky rise hotel I'm now in, I just concluded that yeah, I'd come back.
But what I didn't factor in was the meal I'd be expected to share before I came back.
With two men, two pastors, actually. And just me.
They treated me with all the pomp and honor they could afford, though it was probably more like all the pomp and honor that they couldn't afford. They took me to a restaurant and in a country where only one meal a day is standard, they ordered me a meal. And not just a meal, but the works, from what I could tell.
We sat there, and when the first course came, I relaxed. It was bread. BREAD!!! And in my heart I greeted it like an old friend, only I never do eat my friends, old or young, so there was that. But bread I could totally handle. I could eat it anywhere, with the devil himself, if it was necessary.
Though I hope it never is.
I'm sort of counting on that.
We all dug in and have you ever seen a hungry person eat?
I mean someone who is truly famished, who probably hasn't eaten since yesterday, and carries the kind of leanness that has nothing to do with those size 2 jeans and everything to do with a lack of food.
These men ate with gusto. I tried to keep up and honestly I wasn't doing so badly with the bread. The bread that was like an old friend only not because I am not a cannibal and I think Hannibal Lector is one of the most frightening villains ever. Genius, but scary as all get-out.
But then out came the second course and Hannibal Lector himself might have gotten a little weak in the knees at the thought of consuming it. My heart dropped and I asked God for courage. It was a mash of some sort, green in color, mealy in nature and steaming with a smell that had never before presented itself to me.
Which was just fine.
The waiter placed it before each of us, respectively, and I gave my newest nemesis a good stare down. I sized up it's weakness and came up with a plan of action while the men beside me started shoveling the food into their mouths. Devouring it. Like it was the best thing ever. Like it wasn't a mash or green or mealy or smelly.
I picked up my spoon and started to follow suite. Only I had a trick up my sleeve; one rarely survives a house full of three older brothers without making sure to never leave home without one. Or never come home without one, for that matter. See, I vaguely remembered that the taste buds were on the tongue (remember? 3 whole science credits from college!) and I was hoping that they were on the forefront of the tongue.
My whole plan hinged on that, actually.
Cause I just tossed the mash into the back of my throat, bypassing the taste buds and going almost directly down the hatch (yes, hatch is totally the technical term. 3 credits, people, 3 credits!). And it worked. Kind of. Cause slowly but surely the food was disappearing from the bowl.
But not fast enough, I guess, because one of the men paused mid-feasting and asked me pointedly, Are you not hungry?
I thought about who I was talking to. That many of these villages do not have enough food for the people, that many of them live a pretty hungry life and that to be "not hungry" is a luxury that is rarely afforded.
I re-doubled my efforts right after I told them that I was hungry. And I ate that food, that awful food. Because I don't ever want to turn down somebody's kindness. I don't ever want to deprive anyone from the blessing that comes of giving out of nothing.
Nor do I ever want to be somebody who turns down a meal that others would devour.
I guess this came back to me because I went out for Indian food tonight with some friends. Two of these friends were so excited that I had never had it before and therefore wanted to show me the ropes, so to speak.
They ordered dish after dish, putting pieces of this and that on my plate.
And there I was armed with a fork and nothing to lose.
Did I love everything that I tasted?
DO YOU EVEN HAVE TO ASK?
Of course not. Not even close. I could go on and on about the cilantro that seemed to be the Indian version of salt and pepper, it was scattered throughout the dishes so generously; the potato that was (horror of horrors!) mashed and mealy and orange (and no, it wasn't a yam; please, I am not that lucky), the spicy bread that wasn't bread at all because isn't like one of the cardinal rules of bread that it be soft? And before you start telling me about crusty french bread and matzo bread and other hard breads that all you smart people can think of whereas I run out after only listing two, maybe I should rephrase it and say that it's one of my cardinal rules for bread.
That it be soft and IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK?
It's not like I'm wanting it served on the tip of a unicorn's horn or anything extravagant like that. Sheesh.
But as I was saying, some of the food was hard to swallow. And that was after the very difficult part of chewing it and tasting it, so my strength was already a bit flagged by the time it came to actually swallowing the stuff.
My friends were just so excited. They wanted to share their knowledge of Indian cuisine with me; they loved it and were happy to see cilantro brighten up my night too.
So I ate it. All of it. There was not one thing that I didn't try.
And we all had a smashing time.
And later on in the night, the waiter brought out some more bread. Soft bread this time. Delicious in all ways and here we go with me telling you how it was like seeing an old friend, unexpectedly.
Only, you know, in this scenario it doesn't end with me eating the old friend.
But I already explained that, I know.
And I guess my point is that sometimes there are just some things that are more important than a certain meal tasting good. Even when you're picky, even when you're me.
Oh, and some of the Indian food really was good; not every bite of it was simply for friendship's sake, if you know what I mean.