Yesterday afternoon our family had the rare privilege of joining our friends, Joel and Andi McMartin and their boys, for an authentic Senegalese meal. We hadn't seen them in three years. The last time we gathered was to say goodbye, to send them off to Africa, and to make sure they knew we would be praying for their transition to a new life.
What a delight it was to see that their transition, while not without its bumpy roads, has been blessed. The Lord has been faithfully, uniquely and beautifully at work in this family who said, "Yes!" to His calling. They have blossomed and thrived in Senegal, from language learning and cultural expectations to school immersion, community fellowship, and meal preparation.
Joel and Andi especially wanted to share the meal preparation with the many families who know and love them on this side of the world. Because isn't gathering for a meal one of the best ways to live and laugh and learn?
Especially a meal which is eaten . . . from one platter . . . with one's hand. The right hand. Only.
We laughed and learned and dribbled and laughed some more, especially when Mom freaked out over accidentally using her left hand to grab the bread. Major faux pas.
The kids were very excited to eat with their paws (did you wash????), and Bethie beamed over being selected as the table mother. (She would assist any child who might need to have a piece of chicken ripped apart. With one hand.) The kids also liked the idea of not needing to be excused from the table. They could leave whenever they wanted to! (Did you wash????)
As we dined and visited, our experience shed much light onto our American ways of life. Such as the assumption that we should always have a large variety of foods from which to choose for each meal of each day. It's pretty common for a Senagalese villager to have the same dinner every day. How much simpler our lives would be if we didn't have SO many choices. Just cook up the chicken, add some potatoes, bread and veggies, and you're (deliciously) good to go!
Yes, it can definitely be a blessing to have variety, and it's fun to experiment with different flavors and menus. But I wonder how often the plenty turns into a distraction. Something I'll be pondering for a while. (Look out, kids. We might be eating lots of oatmeal, beans and rice in the days to come.)
Another cultural expectation is that of being available to linger and visit. If Andi passes a friend in the street, she is expected to stop and visit for a while. It would be very rude to just wave "hello" and zip on by. In order to attempt to get anywhere on time, people leave their homes with plenty of time to spare. You just might meet a friend along the way.
When visiting those friends in their homes, it is also expected that you will stay for a nice long time (join us for lunch . . . now join us for dinner!) and not move toward the door unless the host has given you permission. I have much to learn about lingering and listening.
We lingered and listened for the afternoon (occasionally asking the boys to speak French because how cute is that?!) but we Americans all eventually had to get to our next commitments. We finally said goodbye to our dear friends, realizing that it will likely be another three years before we'd meet again. Calculating how old the kids would be, we lamented and remarked and hugged and finally loaded up.
As we were leaving, Joel shared a final Senagalese sentiment with us. When guests are allowed to take their leave of a home after a nice long visit, the visitors will say something like this: "May we take the road now?" The generous host will say, "Yes! But you may only take half of the road. The other half is for your return."
And so we said goodbye to our friends, thankful for the road that will take them to their ministry and life in Senegal, and even more thankful for the road that will bring us together again one day.