I find myself once again in the uncomfortable place of apologizing for my lack of a blog last week, but I was wildly off the grid for two weeks. This is the busiest time of year for me in my other jobs, having just spent six of the last eight weeks traveling. I drove down the West Coast from San Francisco to San Diego, stopping at 30 different mobile food carts for my MSN.com series Appetite for Life and I shot four shows for the Travel Channel.
I am thrilled to be home and can’t wait to hit the State Fair this week with the family. I just got back from Madagascar and Namibia and in both places I was in remote corners of those countries. The picture is of a local Morondavan woman whose husband is a fisherman. The yellow paste on her cheeks is both used as a beautifying make up and as a sun protector. Like I said, I was off the grid. In Namibia it was even more remote, I was spending time in the backcountry of the northwestern region, living with the Himba tribe. They are the women with the fabulous hair and red ochre paste smeared all over.
In both places the poverty was staggering. The circumstances of daily life for almost everyone I spent time with were dire and desperate by our standards. Despite that, the general outlook of all these people was rosy and hopeful. I asked one fisherman in Morondava if he thought life was hard or easy. He fishes 25K off the coast of his country in a 24-foot canoe that is 26 inches wide. After all is said and done, he catches a small load of fish with hand lines and lives on a few dollars a week. His extended family of 12 lives in the grass huts behind his wife (shown above) and the fish on her head, as well as the stringer to her right, represents a days work, weather permitting. He fished one day out of the five that I was in his village because of wind and heavy seas. He told me with a smile that life was easy because he had his family with him all the time and he could always eat something, even if he ate rice and salted, dried fish for days on end. He told me the secret to his happiness was keeping things simple.
In the hills of Purros where the Himba people live, we were asked to bring the tribe a sack of cornmeal for their porridge making because due to a dry summer their corn harvest was light. We would be eating with them and they were concerned about not having enough corn porridge to eat their goat with, or enough maize flour to make their fermented corn and sour milk ‘shakes’ that many of them consider food for one day.
But sitting around the fire at night with the elder men, as the women and children clustered around us, as we laughed and told stories and exchanged ideas, you would never think that these were anything other than the richest people on the planet. The village chief was looking at pictures of mine from home and was stunned that I didn’t own any goats? I had a big lawn after all. And how could I be considered successful without any goats or cows to my name? I had a big house but only one wife; he thought that was shocking. He offered me a wife and suggested I take one of his unmarried daughters since most Himba men take between three and five wives. I declined, but I was very flattered. He felt sorry for me and gave me an extra piece of goat to chew on.
But the biggest gratitude booster was the visit we made in Dodabis to the local hostel where 140 school kids from tribal villages around Kowas send their children to school. One-third are orphaned by AIDS and the place hadn’t seen a lick of anything new in terms of equipment or paint or toys since it opened 40 years ago. I cried my eyes out in the driveway of that place. There is so much in the world that I can’t make sense of, not to mention all the conflicted feelings I have as a westerner traveling through impoverished locales in remote corners of the world. I need some sleep to reconcile this stuff but it’s all that I am thinking about right now . . . I am not sure I am any happier than any of the people I met on this trip.
My logistics and security support on part of my trip came courtesy of a man I will call Dave. Dave is a British Royal Marine Commando (BRMC). Now that our trip is over, Dave is off to Afghanistan after some training in the UK. During our time together, he told me about a local Afghani policeman who was being trained by Dave’s unit in a remote province. This policeman had been doing quite well with his routine for a few weeks, but then one day on the shooting range he took an RPG and fired it back into the BRMCs who were training and living with them. Several died; many were hurt.
Dave's descriptions of that place would make your toes curl, yet very little of it is getting into the papers or on the TV news. As he put it to me: The joint US/UK efforts there are a mess; we don’t know who are enemies really are. His bravery on our trip alone merits him a special place in my heart and I am thinking of all our men and service women around the world who are so freely giving of themselves in an earnest desire to make our world a safer place.
Sorry about the international rave but, Chow and Again is a local blog that quite a lot of people outside of the Twin Cities check out from time to time, and let’s be honest, this week my 5-year-old kid knows more about the Twin Cities food scene than I do.
BTW, has anyone been to the new Pham palace downtown? My office mates went last week and said it was rough around the edges, which is to be expected. Anyone been this week?
As I am sure I am the last one to tell you, they are serving Korean BBQ at the State Fair this year. Who wants to eat that at the Great Minnesota Get Together?? Oy vey, the new foods zealotry has gone too far.
On the streets of Morondava, for 10 cents each (the rip off price for travelers that I happily paid) you can buy freshly grated coconut and date pralines with local raw brown sugar. They cook them in pots and let them ‘dry’ on hot greased flour sacks cut open and laid in the sun. They are insanely good, and we would buy them 25 at a time. Maybe Sweet Martha could try that on for size!