Inside a bag of peanuts

Gaya Morris - Senegal


August 10, 2009

Earlier today I was sitting the car wondering what on earth I was going to write for my first blog post, what little piece of myself I should toss out there into cyber space, when I opened a packet of dry roasted peanuts. It was a shiny red package the size of a tea bag that I had picked up on a Delta Airlines flight a few weeks ago and had tossed in my bag for moments such as this.

I have never really liked peanuts, but after returning from a six week trip to Senegal last summer I have found them particularly difficult to eat. In Senegal, where groundnuts are among the most common crops, I discovered the wonder of a true peanut: either earthy and moist with a slight tang, right out of the shell, or roasted with a flaky, salted skin, in tiny knotted plastic bags, 100 francs each. Or even ground into a rich oily paste, also in plastic bags. Although it is very possible that these nuts I ate today originated in African soil, very little in their waxy taste, or in the shiny red packaging would suggest this connection. The only location mentioned on the little sachet is the company headquarters in Solon, Ohio. For the purpose of this blog post I visited the company website hoping to find a little more info on where exactly the peanuts served on Delta flights come from, but with little success. I was a little disappointed, but not for long as I realized that the mystery of the landless peanuts fits perfectly into the moral of this story.

Imagine a small number of huts, mud walls and thatched roofs, clustered near a dirt road in a flat, barely green landscape. In the center of the village there is a cleared space where everything is a shade of brown except for the bright colors of the people’s clothing (children, men, women and elderly), a few goats, chickens and the patterned mats on which they sit as they shell peanuts, one by one. It could be any village, any family, any corner of the planet anywhere. The point is that the seeds are gathered, added to a pile and then dispersed, and somehow millions of miles away we open a little package and eat them and all the faces, the names, the origins are forgotten. The point is that the connections are there, and are many and are growing in today’s “flattening” planet and that more often than not, whether blinded by shiny wrapping or the actual illusion that the world drops off beyond the horizon, we don’t see them. They’re just peanuts you might be thinking. And sure they are, for us. But for that anonymous village that may or may not be in Africa, the peanuts are everything.

Every time I eat a peanut this is the picture I see. And it’s not a photograph in a text book, or a cut-out of a magazine. It’s a bit foggy in places but it has the depth of smells, textures and fragments of sound, some more pleasant than others, just like any other memory. It is only one of many similar images of my experience last summer that I believe inform the decisions I make from day to day and also on the larger life-scale: such as, for example, my decision to take a gap year. I am looking for a kind of tangible learning that I know can’t be found in the classroom: to understand the lives of others by participating in them, to learn by doing and even beginning to make a difference.

I can not tell you how grateful I am to have already been given this kind of awareness, and then to now be given the opportunity to pursue the passions it has inspired in me with Global Citizen Year. Nothing beats the feeling of realization that hey, this place – fairy tale land or blazing inferno depending on how you look at it – is real. This is a feeling I hope to learn how to share this year, as I invite you into my story. For whether you believe human greed or misunderstanding is at the root of the disparity in our world today, I believe that by spreading this kind of consciousness – lifting the veils of cellophane and bridging the physical gap of land and ocean with the technological means we have today – we will unlock one door to the possibility of a better world.

Gaya Morris