Pictures from Senegal

Sunday, November 14

Soup For Thought

The buffet of incidents leading me to swear to always be an amazingly grateful house guest is never ending. Most recently, while my whole family is recovering from a cold given to us by a certain family member, my mom and the maid started a pot of soup for dinner. We rarely eat it because of the heat, but with the changing weather, cooler nights, and never ending cold and flu season, we had good reason to whip up a batch.

Generally, food is prepared in the house by the maid, my mom, or collaboration between the two. This last one goes mostly for the night time meal. My mom will ask the maid to pre-clean and cut veggies leaving them in the fridge for her to later use for dinner long after she’s gone home for the day. On soup night, this was the case. The maid prepped the veggies and meat, and left them in two separate bowls in the fridge. The boys were told to start the broth with bullion and the bowl in the fridge. Hours later a bowl of soup is brought in to my room by a brother, followed by another with a hunk of bread, and my mom.

“We forgot the meat,” she says. The maid had cut it, but somehow that bowl never made it into the soup. Internally I’m jumping for joy. The meat here isn’t frequently appetizing to me, and the fatty soups worthy bits are no exception. Shamefully, I act like a little kid and hide the bits I don’t eat by flushing them down the toilet or putting my bowl at the bottom of the stack in the kitchen so it can’t be traced back to me. So, yeah, I’m ecstatic there was a mistake in communication on this one. There’s a bowl full of broth and veggies with my name on it, and I dig in.

Insert my famed uncle. It’s a miracle he’s able to get up off our couch and walk his bowl to the kitchen as he usually just hands if off to one of the kids. But the reasoning is soon clear. He uses the opportunity to walk through the house making jokes with everyone about the meatless soup. “Soda, how is your water?” What are you talking about? “Anna is stupid and forgot the meat. We are just eating water for dinner. It’s horrible.” It’s not horrible. It tastes great. “You are stupid, too.”

At this point I am boiling over in rage. It’s enough to make me reconsider watching so many vampire related TV shows because there is just no stopping the fury from exploding from my mouth in a combination of 3 languages. The only person who is stupid is you. Anna is an amazing cook and you never appreciate it. You never say thank you. You take and take but you never once give back.

He laughs. My fire starts to flame blue. “It’s unbelievable that I have to remind you to say thank you. You don’t live here. This isn’t your house and therefore everything given to you is a gift. How could you be so unbelievably rude as to insult a free meal? You need to apologize to Anna right away for what you’ve said.” And about now you need to visualize me physically bullying my uncle into the living where my mom is sitting- as the last person to eat left all alone by the people she’s served who have already finished. My uncle covers the small bits of shame poking through his thick skull with a sheepish laughter and says he’s sorry. For what? Because there’s no meat in the soup. “The soup still tastes good,” my mom says. Yes, I believe that to be true, but he doesn’t. I’m sorry.

I go back to my room in order to lower my blood pressure. My uncle goes to the fridge and pulls out a bottle of water to drink. He’s been embarrassed by my shaming him so he’s still making jokes and laughing. I would normally leave it be, but he just happened to grab my water bottle to drink from. Oh hell no. Put that back, I say, it’s not yours. He’s thinking I’m referencing that all things in the house aren’t his, and his ego has taken enough bruising for the night, so he ignores me. I follow him into the kitchen, blood pumping a million miles an hour again, and take the bottle from his hands. See? It’s got my name on it. It’s my bottle. “You’ve never put your bottle in the fridge.” It’s been there for over a year, so don’t bother with that lie.

He can’t take it anymore. Calling someone a liar, or out directly on a lie, is a major insult around here. He deals with his anger by laughing. This is the Wolof way; making mean spirited jokes. I put my water bottle back and he makes a move to grab another one. I’m way beyond flying off the handle (is it bad to admit that?) and I start screaming that he can no longer just take what he wants to while he’s disrespecting the house that I live it. Get out. Now. You’re done here. Go. Now. I pick up his shoes and throw them out the door. I’m actually hitting him. My family is an uncomfortable state of awe watching my utter unraveling in its process. My dad who is the most non-Wolof (read non-gossipy and non-confrontational) people I’ve ever met, has come out of his room to see what the fuss is about. He is so uncomfortable he giggles. Everyone else has stopped laughing uncomfortably and is staring at the floor. My brother comes up and tries to hug me. I shake him off. He pulls me back. Another brother hands my uncle a water bottle and a cup. “It’s done,” he says.

Yes. It is done. They might let you get away with it, but we’re done. Do not speak to me again until you find the meaning of respect. It takes me almost an hour to calm down and stop shaking. This is partly because I can hear my family recapping the incident in whispers and jokes. And as I reflect on my own actions or reactions, a few thoughts come to mind. I read an article about a new book by Tim Gunn, a man of the fashion industry, in which he talks about taking the high road. The value of shutting up and letting people be responsible for figuring out their own mistakes. Boy, am I the anti-thesis of that right now. Must do better in future.

But also I think about where all this sudden anger has come from. Friends have commented that people back home have noticed a change in their aggressiveness, and though I haven’t gotten the same comments I can’t help but believe it’s only because no one has noticed yet. I’m going through the same experiences as my fellow volunteers, so it’s incredibly likely that I’m also becoming more assertive with my anger. I’m more Wolof actually, because the culture here is to make a big deal out of something as quickly as possible. The quickest tongue and loudest mouth wins an argument, because peace, the always desired outcome is sought out quickly. Make a big enough scene and everyone else backs down. Not making a scene at all, trying to use respectful indoor voices and rational will get you nowhere. No one will do what you ask or take you seriously in any way shape or form. That’s what I’ve been learning for the last year anyway. And I’ll be damned if I didn’t I learn it well. Or if I’ll be speaking to my uncle again any time soon.

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