Many of my Kenyan friends would ask me, “What is your American dish?” I could never give a good answer. Yes, there is hot dogs and apple pie – but really there is no food that all Americans eat on a very regular basis. Pizza and spaghetti are Italian — we can’t claim them. Tacos and quesadillas are Mexican. We can’t claim them. What we can claim is our need for variety. If I were to serve the same 7 meals over and over again, one for each day of the week, after a few weeks my family would start looking at me funny. They want variety – something new, something different. Yes, lots of spaghetti for the boys and chicken korma for Richard – even pizza every Saturday. But I need to try new things and rotate lots of meals to keep them happy.
Kenyans however have a few dishes they eat A LOT. Ugali (very thick grits) and Sukuma Wiki (stir-fried spinach type stuff), Githeri (a stew of beans and maize), and beef stew with chapattis (flat bread) are their three basic meals. You can eat them two or three times a week every week of your life. We are finding Nigerian food is much the same – they like tuo (sticky rice formed into a ball) and ground nut soup or rice and red stew (tomatoes and onions stewed together with red pepper). They do not need a lot of variety – stability and familiarity is the name of the game for them.
When it comes to the Jos missionary community – it is more American in its preferences than African. Here I am not referring to its food preferences but in its value and make up. You see, variety is the spice of life. Stability and familiarity are not as common among us. And our basic international make-up shows that clearly. Here are a few examples of the variety that our family deals with each day.
- Our compound: When we got here all but one of the 14 houses were full. Now that school is out and several have left there are only 6 houses occupied right now – 3 by Nigerians and 3 by Americans. But when we were full we had one family from Canada, one from New Zealand, and one of the girls boarding at the hostel was Indian. During the summer things will begin to fill up again and by September we will have a Korean family and a different Kiwi (New Zealand) family living here. There will also be some people coming for short times over the summer and I believe they include others from New Zealand and Australia.
- My Bible Study: It is completely made up of women working with City Ministries. Members include a Texan (even she says it is it’s own country), a Brit, 3 from Northern Ireland, another from Switzerland, and me. When summer ends we will regain a woman from Denmark too. Hopefully 2 Americans will return as well. Most weeks the Americans are in the minority.
- Brian’s Kindergarten class: Brian wants to continue to home-school, but we are planning to encourage him to go to Kindergarten at Hillcrest. If he goes his class will be made up of 1 Dane, 1 Korean, 2 Lebanese, 2 Americans and 5 Nigerians. There are two other kids we wish would join the class but they are opting to wait another year – one has a Nigerian father and a British mother and the other has a Nigerian father and an American mother.
- Restaurants: There are really only 3 restaurants in town that the missionaries will frequent – we risk sickness at many of the others. All three are owned by Lebanese families. One is a Chinese Restaurant that of course has Lebanese food as well. Another serves Nigerian, American and Italian food. The third we have not been to – but I believe it is also serves a variety of foods – but they are mostly known for their Danish pastries.
- Our headquarters: The Director is American. The Personnel Director is from New Zealand. Her assistant is Nigerian. The Finance Director is Australian.
- Friends: I have made friends with an American woman who is married to a Nigeria (from the Yoruba tribe). They are wonderful people who run a ministry to people affected by AIDS. At their ministry two of their workers are Kenyan. I have also been befriended by another woman – because she loves to shop and knew I needed to get dishes and things for our home. She is South African.
So if I count right – these are the countries and cultures that are adding spice to our life . . . . Nigerian (from several tribes), Australian, Danish, Kiwi (New Zealand), Lebanese, British, Korean, Canadian, Irish, Swiss, South African, Indian, American, Kenyan and Texan.
The variety is fun – but there are challenges to it as well — as you might imagine. Spice – can make things tasty or hot. Trying new recipes can turn out flops. Familiarity and stability can bring and ease of relationship or life that makes for peace and calmness. Our God is creative and never changing. Pray we would know how to press into life here with both aspects in mind.