Eating well

November 28, 2008

The first week of November was a vacation from teaching. I went to Antalaha and had a peaceful few days with fellow volunteers. There we watched America elect its first black president via a vanilla family’s satellite T.V. and ate langouste and fish the size of my abdomen. On the topic of food, I came upon two new culinary delights just after leaving Antalaha on a taxi-brousse headed for Sambava.

The taxi pulled over to a vendor selling the season’s first lychees. After hearing weeks of Malagasy’ excited anticipation for the fruit, I bought a small pile of them. Lychees are like brown golf balls but with spikes rather than divots. You chip away its hard shell and eat its white juicy insides. I ate all of them in my lap, resulting in sticky fingers, juice spots on my shorts, and lychee pits strewn on Route Nationale 5.

The second delight came from a street-side vendor holding small bags. The passenger next to me bought a bag and offered me some. I nodded, and seconds later I had roasted salted hornets in my hand. They had inch-long red stingers and most still had their wings. I popped two in my mouth and told my passenger neighbor, “Mmmm! This is really good!” They really were, too.

I learned something about myself that afternoon. Five months of eating in this country and seeing flies waltz on my fruit, waitresses with their thumb tips in my dinner, termites swimming in my drinking water, and vendors sneezing into their hands before handing me street food, have culminated to the point where someone can give me almost anything—even bugs!— and I’ll eat it faster than a Malagasy child can say, “Donnez-moi cinq cent.” For this I’m still wondering whether to be proud or ashamed.