It’s dinner time again and the murmurs start.
Mumble, mumble, mumble, groan… groan, groan. One animated face after the other… and out comes a disapproving impression. One Mamma says something and the ward chuckles making way for waves of jokes and smiles to get louder and louder until the ward falls apart with laughter. It’s like a snowball rapidly falling down a hill, gradually picking up speed and momentum. Normally it is about the way the rice is cooked or the size of the bread.
It’s like watching a modern day Shakespearean play…Mamma X enters stage left shouting and laughing whilst acting out a very animated performance that infers the general gist revolves around the process of making cassava. Then a light appears stage right and illuminates Mamma Y who smacks the table in agreement and carries on the raucousness with a story that looks like a tale about fish…
And it was a tale about fish.
Most of the patients and their relatives dislike the food that they are provided. It’s free and it’s ‘African’, although apparently not Congolese and definitely not edible. This is our first time to the Congo and so that may be why there is dissatisfaction. Prehaps we are providing Togolese food to the Congolese. Anyway regardless, they think that it’s very funny. There are running jokes about cous cous and bread and now fish. Last week the patients were given salmon as they had run out of chicken, which most people I know would be very happy about. But the patients and their relatives refused to eat the ‘pink fish’. One Mamma said that she refused to eat it because she didn’t belive it was fish. She said she didn’t trust it. Our Congolese colleagues weren’t sure what it was either and they kept calling it “salomans”. When I asked one of the interrepters why people didn’t want to eat the Salmon he said;
“It’s because it is pink and we don’t have pink fish here in Congo so people do not trust it”
He reluctantly carried on and said …
“That Mamma wont eat it because she suspects it is the meat of a dead white person”
“She thinks its cooked mundelli?” I shouted..
“Yep, she thinks that’s the reason it’s pink and so she will not eat it!”
I think I may chuckle everytime I eat salmon in the future. It actually makes some sense; if you have never seen something before, you don’t trust it.
Another food example:
One day the kitchen had run out of the fish they normally give patients so they recieved a bowl of sauce and rice and a breaded fish slice on the top. Standard frozen breaded fish that approximately every westerner that owns a freezer would have stored away for a rainy day.
When one of the patients was given this she said that she wouldnt eat it …
Because it had no head and no tale and looked nothing like a fish! She therefore immediately presummed we were lying to her that it wasn’t actually fish in her bowl lying over the rice and sauce. And so she refused to eat it.
I thought of all the people back home with Birds Eye fish fingers in their freezer. No bones, no head and definatly no tail. Just the way we like them. To look absolutely nothing like fish. Lady got a point.