During our first full week in the village, we have been getting used to how to prepare our food. Sounds simple but we have no refrigeration, no stove, and not even a table. We use coal or firewood to cook each meal. I personally don’t care for using firewood because the smoke really bothers my eyes and lungs. Regardless if it is coal or wood, they are both a challenge to light and take a while to get going before I can actually put a pot on top. If I had a watch or some way of telling time I could tell you how long it takes but time isn’t so important in the village anyhow.
One afternoon I had a burning desire for popcorn. I spent the entire day talking about how wonderful and delicious popcorn would be and today we will enjoy the butter crunchy goodness. To perfectly complement the popcorn, we set up the cribbage set and then began to build what was our first entirely wood cooking fire. Children passing by were watching with curiosity as is true with everything that we do. I set the pot on top and the kernels started popping beautifully. I quickly then learned the problem with cooking with wood. The flames were so high that I couldn’t grab the handles of the pot without igniting my precious oven mitt. By the time the flames were low enough to retrieve the pot and only mildly burn ourselves, the popcorn was a bit too charred for my taste.
Round two. I decided to use my other cooking pot that has a longer handle. The flames were lower and everything seemed to be going well. Then we heard “Odi”, the request to enter. It was one of our banenes or grandmothers. Banene is an ancient woman who speaks very fast “deep” Tonga. We don’t really understand anything she says other than a word here or there but she really wants to make conversation. Based on the few words that I do understand, I think we are being reprimanded for something or another. For example, last time I think she scolded me for my stomach being empty which I took as not having children. Banene entered this time just as my popcorn was going. When elders enter, we are to give the proper greeting while clapping and kneeling. I figured it would take a while and so I took the popcorn off to try to avoid burning. While Banene was, I think, scolding us for not knowing more Tonga, we shared the slightly burned first batch with her. After a few minutes she is satisfied enough with the conversation and leaves. We then returned to our card game and the few glorious kernels that popped before she arrived. At that moment, those perfect kernels I had been dreaming about all day seemed well worth literally the afternoon’s effort.
Then, again we hear “Odi”. This time it was the Iwes (Iwe is a Bemba term for “you” without showing respect, usually used for dogs and children). The Iwes had seen us cooking before with the sticks in our fire and took it upon themselves to go out and gather some. They were all under 7 and they had their little arms loaded with sticks and small branches. Bobby and I look at eachother, touched by their thoughtfulness and he suggests that we give the kids the rest of our popcorn. I was a bit dissappointed because I had barely gotten 4 pieces throughout the whole ordeal but I was glad to hand over the bowl to the children. The eldest child took the bowl and sat down on the ground with it and shared it with the others until it was gone. Now we have plenty of wood thanks to to kids so there will be plenty of more popcorn in the future. Now at least I have the excuse that we should always have some popcorn on hand just in case of visiting Banenes or Iwes.