Eyes Wide Open

Madeleine Balchan - Senegal


February 8, 2011

“What is that?” Ndiy, my older mom, is stirring a rice paste in a kettle over burning logs (our stove).

“Rice with sugar” she responded.

“But why are you making that?” I’m confused. It’s mid-morning.  We eat breakfast before 8 every morning. Lunch isn’t until 3:00 and she usually cooks the rice last.

“Well I don’t have any powdered milk.” Ndiy responds. Now I’m really lost.  What does powdered milk have to do with cooking rice in the middle of the morning?

“Okay…but what is that?”

“Breakfast for Moma and Sier and Iada (my little brothers and sister).”

“But we already had breakfast.” I remember Iada spilled her coffee so I gave her a little of mine.

Ndiy explains, “They are  studying. They go to school. They get hungry. Usually I give Sier money to buy bread.”

LIGHTBULB. That’s how they make it between breakfast and lunch. I have been so impressed that they go through the first seven hours of the day on only four inches of baguette. I’ve struggled for a month and a half, my stomach growling every day till 3PM “lunch”, learning to “accept” the daily mini-fast as cheerfully as they do.  I’ve not only been hungry, I’ve been blind.

I wonder what other blind spots I have developed about this culture? What other things have I asked about, and, not fully understanding the response, assigned to false cause or faulty premise.  I thought I knew what I was doing here – what THEY ARE doing here.  Do I really?

And that’s how it happens. A small misrepresentation by a “credible” reporter leads to thousands of readers who, well intentioned, believe and spread a false truth. If it was always as simple as eating times, there’s probably not too much damage. But if it’s a fundamental belief or need or…

What else have I missed, eyes wide open?

Madeleine Balchan