Monday, June 30, 2008
The Matebeto with Birdland on Sat. June 28th
I would like to record about the Matebeto (Thanksgiving) we attended on Saturday June 28th, even thought Margot already wrote a comment on that day. I had written a personal journal entry online about the day, and thought I would put it up on the blog.
What the Zambians call a “Matebeto" is in essence a Thanksgiving, hosted by Olive and rest of the staff of the Birdland school. They held this celebration to thank the group I am with here in Zambia for the computer training we have provided to them as well as the many donations and fundraising we have done for them.
We arrived a little early, and entered their school yard to see chairs and parasols set up in a semi circle, with a long low table in front of several of the chairs in which Melinda and the rest of the trip leaders were asked to seat themselves. The table in a way framed the leaders apart from the rest of us, giving reason for Peter and some of the other leaders to later allude to the fact that they felt a little awkward in such a position.
We sat in the yard as parents of Birdland students, friends of Olive, and other members of the community or schools of the area trickled in through the iron gate and found a place to sit. If we were smart we had already lathered ourselves in sun screen. I felt SO underdressed in my corduroy pants as women wearing dresses of colorful prints entered the yard. Olive came in beautiful as always in a green and black two part dress with her hair high up in a bun (she had clearly gotten it styled for the event). I know that Olive and her staff had been preparing the meal and planning for the Matebeto the entire week beforehand. They had even made dresses of the same print for all the women on the staff.
As we waited, Miranda got up and walked to a circle of about six or seven women near the back of the school house. These women had been playing drums and singing for already a while, and Miranda had gathered up the guts to approach the women and ask if they would teach her to dance. They immediately adorned her with a waist wrap (I believe this is to accentuate the bootay from the rest of the body so that it moves as a unit when dancing) and began to show her the ways to twist and jerk her hips by rhythmically raising one of her feet at the appropriate moments. The traditional Zambian dancing style is rather discreet, but very precise (the hips and feet move right on beat with the drums!).
We shared another AWESOME moment with the drumming and dancing women after the meal when Sydney came up to the drummers of the group and asked to play the drums. I jumped right up and followed Sydney when I saw that she had a drum between her legs, as I have been trying to reap any opportunity for some drumming lessons (I did so a week ago outside the Church off the Palabana road). It was so fun to pump out the bass rhythm for the dancing women in front of me…even for two minutes.
Through this all, a woman from the tuck shop that shares the walls of the school yard (a tuck shop is like a little convenience shop with candies and drinks) came and took orders for “softies” (soft drinks).
So the meal….The staff of the school, all in their matching wonderful dresses, and led by one of the best dancers from the drum circle, came into the yard from the back of the school building where the kitchen had been set up. They danced and sang their way to the low long table in front of Melinda, Peter, Olive, Mindy, and Nick, where they slowly kneeled, each woman holding out a pot or dish in her hands, which they placed on the ground in front of the table before retreating. Two women remained and picked up each dish one by one and presented the contents to us. Included in the HUGE array of foods was: n’shima, rice, beans cooked two ways, pumpkin leaves cooked two different ways, pumpkin seeds roasted the way we do in the States for Halloween, sweet potato leaves, roasted peanuts, mushrooms cooked with ground nuts and two other ways, okra, spinach relish, red bean relish, ox liver, ox heard, fried chicken, bush meat (gorilla? see note), fried fish heads and bodies (take your pick!), dried fish, fish soup, cassava (charred, boiled, or dried), “Zambian bologna” (a meat-less dish made of ground roots which only looks like our bologna), wild fruits of the region, and…drum roll…caterpillars!
I have tried bugs before (ants and crickets in a Seattle Science Center “Science Night” sleepover when I was in grade school) but I don’t remember eating insects in a meal setting. The caterpillars were very chewy and bitter. I think I would have liked them better had they been fried and crunchy.
Note on the Bush meat: As we sat and contemplated the array of foods and textures on our plates, one question of many arose: what exactly IS bush meat? Cody was close to positive that it was gorilla meat. I somehow doubted that the staff at Birdland would be serving us gorilla, as it is probably not readily available to anyone in the city without special delivery of sorts, on top of the fact that I do believe gorillas are a protected animal in much of Africa (?). Alex, a friend back home, had told me that the national dish of Zambia is monkey (even though I have not heard this as the truth from any Zambians. Where did you get this information, Alex?), so perhaps bush meat could be gorilla meat. However, after inquiring, we learned that this specific bush meat was impala. Bush meat can be anything killed in the bush, but varies upon ones location.
All this food was presented to us and we were asked to stand and form a line in the front of the school house where three or four long tables had been aligned to support all the dishes. We took a plate and began what had to be a very selective rationing of the food. There was no way anyone could fit everything on their plates, so what some kids like Cody did was take a bit of anything he had never tried before (which, it turns out, was pretty close to everything). Other kids, like Cheray, knew their own tastes and stuck to the foods they knew best and knew they would eat. I managed to take a little of everything minus the meat dishes because I knew that I would have trouble eating them (for digestive reasons). Albeit, I DID try some of the chicken and fish from other kids after we had sat down and people realized they had much too much food on their plates. A charred taste underlay most of the food, maybe due to the fact that it had been cooked over the same charcoal. When I smell the charcoal burning here I am reminded of the taste of the food.
I could keep writing about this Matebeto and the discussion it spurned afterwards among our group, but it would take up pages and pages. In short, we were pushed to think about the impact we are having on Olive, Birdland, and the other people we are helping. We talked about the differences in the ways people around the world thank each other, and that giving us a feast was the way in which these people could thank us, even if it meant stretching their wallets. They may not have anything other than their generosity in heart and open arms to thank us with. We also discussed the guiltiness many of the group members felt after not being able to finish all the food on their plates, especially when we had been enjoying this feast squat in the middle of one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in Lusaka. All in all, though, we reached the conclusion that we cannot feel too guilty about not eating the food. While we can offer our knowledge of computers and our willingness to help, these wonderful Zambians can offer their homes and their great food, which is just as fulfilling and stimulating. We were unable to express how thankful we were for THEIR thankfulness toward us!