Tuesday, January 12, 2010

“Finish your dinner… there are starving children in Africa”

Day 13

Yes, there are indeed starving children in Africa. Hmm... that’s funny, I happen to be in Africa.

Last night, something happened, that made me feel strangely ________ [enter appropriate feeling here]. I can’t really find the word, so let me just tell you what happened.

For some reason, I just wasn’t really that hungry last night, and I couldn’t finish the stew that my host mother made for me. It was tasty, as always, but I just wasn’t that hungry. Maybe it was the two cups of tea I had after lunch… I don’t know. Anyway, I apologized to my host mother and said “Je n’ai pas plus de faim.” Which means – according to me – I don’t have a lot of hunger or I’m not very hungry. Not sure if it’s grammatically correct though. I had heard voices outside, and she grabs the bread and bowl of stew, and she goes and opens the door. But before she does that, she explains that she’s giving the food to the Talibae.

Let me explain what the Talibae are. (I’m not sure if that is the exact spelling.) From what I understand, the Talibae are children that are enrolled into a Muslim school to learn the Koran, and to live holy lives. There is some controversy surrounding the Talibae because, according to the locals, the Talibae are sent out to the streets to beg for money, and the money isn’t always used for Allah’s will. Sometimes it is, but sometimes it’s not. And you really don’t know when, so they tell us not to give money to the street children. You can give food, but it’s recommended to not give money.

I’d say, judging by looks, the age of these boys is between 7 and 10ish or 12ish. I don’t really understand the whole system, but I’ve told you everything that I know.

So, last night, my host mother gave my uneaten meal to the Talibae boys. Although it’s not your stereotypical starving child in Africa, there are a lot of similarities. It got me thinking about a couple of different things. It was so easy to just open the door and find someone who would finish the meal that I didn’t. The food wasn’t put to waste, it was all eaten up.

Another thing I thought about was Islam. When we were in Morocco, we were told, by our Moroccan professor, that in the medina, or “walled city”, the people take care of their own. When there is a family that is having a hard time with money and aren’t very wealthy, then the neighbors around them will pitch in, bringing food, and other items over to help them out. So, ideally, there would be no beggars. Our professor explained this process, and told us that it was because of one of the pillars of Islam: charity. She also explained to us that a lot of people are embarrassed by being poor, and they won’t beg. She also told us that the people that we saw in the streets were somewhat of an embarrassment, and that we shouldn’t give money to them.

Anyway, last night, I kind of wondered to myself – is that why my host mother was giving the extra food to the Talibae boys? Was it apart of this system of Islam? The community caring for itself? The pillars? Or, is it just because there was extra food and there was no need for it to go to waste?

I thought about it for a while, and wondered about the significance of that gesture? And if it even was really that big of a deal. Which brings me back to where I started – hungry kids in Africa, and myself in this strange cycle.

As Americans, we’ve all heard that saying “clean your plate, there are starving children in Africa that would love to eat that.” Inciting guilt, and leading to obesity – not really, that’s kind of extreme, but you get the point. I’ve even said that to friends in the Caf when one person piles their tray high with food, takes a bite of everything and decides they don’t like anything, sending it all to the garbage. Of course, there is always the wry response “well, if I packaged it up and mailed it to them, they probably wouldn’t want to eat it” thrown in there somewhere. Then we all have a laugh.

So, I guess the big thing I really want to say, is that it was really weird for me when that was what happened. Who cares if I didn’t finish my meal, if I wasn’t hungry, if I didn’t like what I was eating. It didn’t matter. Because, literally, if I didn’t eat it, someone would. Someone who didn’t have food before, now did. Someone who was hungry, who was poor. If I had been hungry last night and had cleaned my plate, then they wouldn’t have eaten. It was strange to actually be in that situation, instead of just hearing it from your parents or friends, and immediately forgetting about it, guilt free.

One last thing, on top of that, it’s really bad, but, in the states, it’s easy to be complacent. It’s easy to say – yeah, there are millions of people dying of preventable diseases, or hunger. There are people without access to potable water – all of that. It’s easy to say it, but just as easy as it is to say, it’s just as easy to forget about. Because that’s on the other side of the world, and we’re not there. We don’t know those people, and it doesn’t really affect our daily lives. It doesn’t matter, and they don’t. And it’s easy to joke about cleaning your plate and the starving kids in Africa, because we can’t see them. But we can see the piece of cheesecake in the dessert line. It’s easy to ignore a problem that you can’t see. And it’s even easier to forget when you’re sitting on top of a hill, wearing a sweater, hiding from the cold, complaining about the odor of lutefisk and dreaming of the sun.

I suppose I was overwhelmed with this bizarre feeling because it’s a situation talked about so much, but one I never ever ever thought that I would actually be in. And that starving kid in Africa got his meal.

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