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In Your Country You Eat What You Like; In My Country We Like What We Eat

“In Your Country You Eat What You Like; In My Country We Like What We Eat”

Uttered in a matter of fact manner, Sam’s poignant words touched a chord so profound – it seared its way into my cranial limbic system, and embedded the words in those variegated layers of the brain into which experiences and learning are compressed and deposited.

“In your country you eat what you like.”

Much like a Google search engine, the recalling of past experiences is prompted at magical lightning speed during which the synapses trigger a series of electric waves to zero in on a particular past experience. The instantaneous filtering and staging of the past helps the individual relive the retrieved experience from the long-mid-and-short-range brain’s hard drive.

“In my country we like what we eat.”

While watching CBS’s Sunday Morning show on November 20, 2016, Sam’s words echoed repeatedly and loudly. And for a while I relived a 1965 mid-November experience.

Each Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter celebration, feasts with which a plethora of foods are associated, I am reminded of the following quotation: “In your country you eat what you like. In my country we like what we eat.”

In mid-November 1965 Arkadelphia’s First Baptist Church’s WMU (Women’s Mission Union) president called the dean of the local university and requested the names and contact information of two freshman foreign students the elderly ladies wished  to invite for a pre-Thanksgiving evening of fellowship and a question/answer session. The invitees were to talk about traditional native customs, education, family life, and Baptist missionary work in their respective countries.

Sam Afolabi, a Nigerian national, and I, a stateless Palestinian from West Jerusalem, Palestine, headed to Miss Francis Crawford’s lovely home on Riverside Drive, just a block away from campus. Some 15 ladies crowded into one of Arkadelphia’s oldest and loveliest homes. Because of the warmth with which Sam and I were received, and because of their gracious and genteel demeanor, Miss Crawford, Miss Martha Green, and Miss Maude Wright and I connected in what would become a meaningful friendship that lasted until their passing away several years later. In their early seventies, each of these ladies was unmarried, had professional affiliations with the university, was well-travelled (at home and abroad), loved art, music, good books, and good conversation, and each was an active member/officer and generous supporter of the Clark County Library Association which held its monthly meetings in a red, brick, Greek Revival style structure which welcomed its avid readers into its high-ceilinged interior richly bedecked in dated oak furnishings, shelves, card files, and newspaper/magazine racks.

Built in 1906, the library’s four Ionic style columns on which the portico (whose raking cornice and pediment are amply decorated with dentils)   is suspended reminds its patrons (of all ages) that they are walking into an intellectual hallowed ground where learning trumps ignorance, a world where books are a woman’s, man’s and child’s best friend, and a world in which Sweetness and Light are served in abundance for those who seek it..

The father of three children, 35 year old Sam Afolabi shared the following confidential information: “When I first came to the United States three-and-a-half months ago, I weighed 98 pounds. Today I weigh 125 pounds,” Sam stated, in a very matter of fact fashion.

The proud father of three talked about his family, especially the wife and children he’d left behind to pursue a college education, about his village, about Nigerian customs and traditions, and explained to the-by-now-all-ears gathering that the markings on his face professed his tribal affiliation, a custom that was still in vogue when he was still a child.

And, when one of the attendees inquired about traditional Nigerian cuisine, Sam delivered a brief yet sumptuous oration on boiled, fried, and baked yams, rice and bread dishes, cassava, grain and vegetable stews and soups, plantain porridge, and a miscellany of dishes, most of which did not include animal proteins. And then the powerful statement was delivered, not in an accusatory sorry-me manner, but in a rather nonchalant and collected demeanor:  “In your country you eat want what you like. In my country we like what we eat.”

The entire November 20, 2016 CBS Sunday Morning Show was devoted to a smorgasbord of video reports including segments on  wild turkeys at the Allegheny National Forest; Mother Noella, the “Cheese Nun” who’s used her microbiology Ph.D. scientific-enzymes-knowledge to blend spirituality with cheese making at the Bethlehem, Connecticut  Benedictine convent of Regina Laudis; segments on rethinking and redeeming the nutritional value of butter, eggs, and potatoes/spuds (”potatopia”) – thus absolving the fatty delectable rations of the sin of artery disease; turmeric’s value in fighting disease; New York’s Delmonico’s and the 10 restaurants “that changed America;”  Nashville, Tennessee’s Hot Chicken restaurant where fried chicken is doused with cayenne so hot it makes the customers gasp, tear up and choke; San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art’s “Bite at the Museum” restaurant; Chesapeake Bay’s multi-layered cakes, a “Maryland traditional dessert;” Houston’s Lucille’s, the Southern Chef’s Legacy restaurant; a Copenhagen restaurant whose chef, Rene Redzepi, has made Danish wild herbs, moss, and other esoteric vegetative plucking from the hinterland a world class restaurant for gourmet aficionados with deep pockets (the average meal is served at a measly $400 per plate); a report on “The Jemima Code,” drawing on commercial stereotypes and recipes of African-American contributions to American cuisine.  And finally, a report on “The Giving Kitchen: Nourishing the soul, feeding the body,” at Atlanta’s Staplehouse Restaurant.

And for a whole hour the program’s coast-to-coast anecdotal narratives absolved the viewers of the deadly sin of gluttony, sin #2 in the hierarchy of those nasty sins that have plagued humanity since Adam and Eve succumbed to biting into the forbidden fruit thus damning humanity into perpetual turmoil.

And like a resounding leitmotif, “In your country you eat what you like. In my country we like what we eat” played itself repeatedly during and after each culinary segment.

While the world was watching from the sidelines, in November of 1965 The United States, under the pretense of keeping the Vietnam domino from falling to Communism, was reigning terror on millions of helpless Vietnamese. Napalm and cluster bombs rained on innocent civilians, and the defoliant Agent Orange laid waste to and rendered millions of acres into inhabitable terrains.

Having emerged from the clutches of colonialism, in 1965 Nigeria’s new found freedom floundered as regional, tribal, religious, and ethnic strife and political corruption plagued the country. And in Palestine the Israelis were surreptitiously building nuclear weapons and planning their next expansionist step; from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, a vision the Zionists connived in the late 19th century was on the drawing board.

Fast forward to November 2016: Never mind that 4.5 million Vietnamese and Cambodians were massacred and millions of others are living with debilitating birth defects, today the United States is mending its frayed Vietnam relations by coaxing its former arch enemy into lining up with its Pacific Tilt (economic/military) policy. On his recent visit to Vietnam, Merchant of Death Barak Obama has bribed Vietnam with arms purchases. Instead of Vietnam and Cambodia, the United States’ hegemonic charade, now shifting to the oil-rich Near East, and with the help of petty regional thuggish bullies such as Israel, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Qatar, has laid waste to Libya, Yemen, Sudan, Mali, Eretria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Somalia, Lebanon, Syria and Ethiopia, to name but a few. And instead of Napalm and cluster bombs, today’s equally destructive weapons of choice are the pernicious drones, guided missiles, and uranium-laced weaponry.

In 2016 oil-rich Nigeria is run by corrupt politicians paid off by oil interests laying waste to the environment, and religious fanaticism and tribal conflicts are the stake being driven into the heart of a country whose only value to the West are its rich mineral resources.

And in 2016 a compliant Congress and successive U.S. Administrations  have delivered Palestine and her people (much like John the Baptist’s sacrificial beheading)  to a group of racist, xenophobic, Fascist, religious fanatics bent on purging Palestine of her indigenous population. Begun by Britain and France after WWI, the hegemonic destruction of the Near East is now carried out by the United States, leading its European allies into the abyss of apocalyptic chaos and destruction.

While Americans celebrate Thanksgiving this November 2016, eating what they like, in Gaza/Nablus/Jerusalem/Palestine, Aleppo/Raqqa/Syria, Aden/Yemen, Mosul/Iraq, Libya, and all the European holding camps (dubbed “The Jungle” by France) into which refugees have been penned, this 2016 Thanksgiving Day is a day on which they have no choice but to like what they eat. That is, if they are even lucky to have anything to eat.

And for the hundreds of thousands in the bombed out hamlets of the Near East the looming hunger and starvation are morphing into an Albrecht Durer Horseman of the Apocalypse woodcut.

Ace Collins, a dear friend, recently observed the following: “At Thanksgiving we do a pretty good job of remembering the thanks part, but not the giving part.”

And today Americans will eat what they like. What America can do for the strife-stricken regions of the world is to stop exploiting and abusing them, to stop arming them, and to give them peace and harmony. Only then will they be able to like what they eat – just as we do.

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Raouf J. Halaby has just recently been awarded a Professor Emeritus status. He taught English and art for 42 years. He is a writer, a sculptor, a photographer, and an avid gardener. He can be reached at rrhalaby@suddenlink.net

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