It’s not really about the tea

on

After so many inspections of rice in warehouses comes the invitation to eat and drink. Everyone hovers around a big, metal bowl filled with spicy rice and fish elaborated with colours of boiled carrot and cassava and pokes a spoon in eagerly. It is delicious. I’m pretty sure we’re sharing spoons. Everyone crouches flat-footed on the dusty warehouse floor while I am offered a chair. I try to refuse the meal; it is brushed off quickly. I am hungry; I was only going through my own cultural rituals of politeness after all. Would I like an after meal tea? Why of course, the Ataya. I know the word, they are glad that I am learning. I am glad that I am learning too.

It is so sweet this tea, and I’m pretty sure we’re sharing glasses too. Bottoms up. Principles of hygiene aside, the hospitality here is, in a way, so matter of fact. As if well, obviously, the only way to be, is to share what one has with those one is with. Back at the office, I peek into my tin of my special brew of roasted-grain beverage that I brought with me from Europe. A taste of a luxury that will be difficult (or impossible) to find here. It has been looked into by another, the powder is less than half of what it was when I saw it last. I say nothing. They have shared with me. Obviously, there is an unspoken rule that if I leave things lying around it is assumed to be sharable with others. I hope it was enjoyed by whoever enjoyed it. I step out to buy fruit and ask my colleagues what they would like; bananas, mangoes, oranges and tiny Gala apples spread their colours out on the table and we share some more. This is how it is here, I am learning. I feel the belt that is my strict, Western concept of property and fairness loosen a notch. It feels more comfortable this way anyways.

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