Friday, June 29, 2007

Passion in the Land of Posho

Stomachs are revealing, too. They rumble when needy and churn when upset. They make noises just for the hell of making noises. Some may describe them in terms of gastric juices and digestion jargon, but the stomach is really just one big basket of I-told-you-sos. I told you to finish the plate, I told you not to take the second helping, I told you that Grandma’s is the best, I told you it would taste that good, I told you not to mess with me, I told you I told you I told you…

When Bonnie Raitt came out with “Something to Talk About,” I doubt she was singing about stomachs. But tummies talk 24/7, and Uganda has surely given mine lots of things to talk about. It praises greens (the generalized veggie of East Africa) and raises the roof every time chipati makes an appearance. It rages on and on whenever meat and fish try to slither down, and it still has yet to fully make a verdict on the rarely white, ever so popularly dark let’s-hope-it-tastes-like-chicken chicken. Thankfully, Pepto Bismol and his prescribed ally Cipro haven’t had to mediate. Yet.

Above all, my stomach dishes out the most on posho. Posho: a white, sticky ball of watered down corn flour. The bread and butter of starch (without the bread and butter). The nuts and bolts of carbohydrates. Yes, posho puts the b in bland. But my stomach is a fan. And it happily talks whenever and wherever posho falls onto my plate.

However, my stomach was not the only thing talking when posho was recently served at supper (supper, not dinner, is popularly said in this neck of the global woods). In fact, it seemed like everything – every feeling, thought, fear in my brain and heart and body and soul – was shouting to be heard. Over posho, I was engaged in a deeply intense (and rather intensely deep) conversation with my fellow AGRADU-ers Sandra and Austin. Of course, none of our supper conversations start off deep or intense. We hardly brainstorm questions that lead to illuminating, even irksome answers. No, we just look at the table. Sip down our Cokes and Fantas, fill up our plates with food, and start chomping down on the posho.

That night, the topics were many. Love. Race. Religion. Culture. Gender. Everything outside of politics that you’re not supposed to talk about at the dinner (I mean supper) table. And the tangents were just as intimidating. How to be respectful in a foreign land. How to understand and form the bridge between difference and similarity. How to connect beyond beliefs and values and move into something just as rich. Big things to simmer over and work through. Tough things to chew on.

Big and tough things aside, there were many significant moments in our conversation that night. Tiny seconds of earth-shattering and earth-making reflections. Moments that recalled just as mind-blowing, This-Thing-Called-Life-Is-Big kind of moments. Moments when I realized that I have not had the most open of minds. A conversation about gender when I turned my ears off and tuned out. A discussion with youth involving the Bible that I deemed ineffective in my neat and tidy separation-of-church-and-state world. But also: moments when I realized that Uganda has given me glimpses of the very passions I already knew but now can affirm. A reinvigorated desire to eradicate gender inequity. A spiritual journey on my own terms. An interest in not just believing but engaging in change. As taboo the topics at supper may have been, our conversation got me thinking.

After all of the posho had been downed, I rushed back into my room to scrawl out some last-minute reflections into my journal. Most of my scribbling dealt with two elements increasingly brewing inside of me: passion and an open mind. While most of the chicken scratch that is hidden in my journal pages led to no solidified epiphany or direct answers, I realized that passion and an open mind can, at times, be opposing forces. That to be passionate can restrict an open mind, that to have an open mind can stifle passion. I also understood how, at other times, passion and an open mind can be complementary, even partners in crime for a world traveler. That an open mind can challenge, morph, even mold passion. And that passion can stir an open mind to reach better understanding.

Who knows? Maybe my making sense of passion and of an open mind has yet to make sense. For you, for me. And perhaps my quibbles over open minds without passion are energized by the books I am reading here: Alice Walker’s Meredian and Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains. Maybe the combination of a fictitious commentary on revolution and a real account of revolutionary change is the fuel for my train of thought. Nevertheless, I am immensely enjoying the ride.

Ask Sandra and Austin about that night’s conversation, and you will probably get a different story. Then again, there-is-never-one-side-to-a-story kind of story is the only one I know. And this is my version. My Ugandan chapter of Life. The part when I am learning many things. My inward journey. My self-discovery. My unlocking of passions. My knowing and living and loving of me.

For now, I have nothing left to say. Only my stomach has the drive to talk. And it is saying one thing and one thing only:

Passionately pass some more posho, please.

P.S. Internet is a tricky thing in Uganda. This post is already a week old. Sorry for the delay. :)

No comments: