What do you do with your leftovers?

Did you grow up with a mother telling you to finish all the food on your plate because there were kids starving in Africa? Was it just something annoying she’d say? The food on our plates as kids that we don’t eat and the food kids do or don’t get to eat in Africa are certainly not related but that really wasn’t our moms’ point.

I was frustrated with Simon as we left the grocery store last week. He wanted to carry the candy that I had let him buy instead of just letting it ride in the bag with the other food. I feel guilty buying a lot of food. The boys who bag your groceries and carry them to your car get a small tip- 100 cfa, 200 cfa, I’d been advised to give something small.
Simon & I were having a hissing, angry, wordless conversation on the way out of the mall. Me mad at him, him frustrated with me. Why couldn’t he just leave it in the bag with the other food so it wasn’t so obvious that not only did I buy food that the family needed to eat for meals, but that I also bought something frivolous for him to eat. ‘Just because’.

‘Just because’ doesn’t need explaining back at home. ‘Just because’ feels like I’m doing something wrong here. No one says anything. It’s my own issue. No one else’s. Simon didn’t understand why it couldn’t carry it when he got to do that back at home, no big deal. A ‘just because’ often came out of the bag on the way home to admire or open. He truly didn’t understand why I was so upset with him for doing something that just seemed normal to him.

“Why didn’t you just tell me?” he asked in the car on the way home after I explained why I was upset. I told him that the truth was that I thought I shouldn’t have to tell him, that he would just know. “Well, I will from now on,” he replied.

What do you do with your leftovers?

Do you feel guilty throwing away food?

I’ve always had an issue with throwing food away. In the past, we were often too lazy or busy to cook what we had bought, or there were fruits and vegetables that needed to be cleaned so they could be eaten and we never got to. I’ll admit that in the past there were times when we threw away a shameful amount of food-whether it was leftovers that no one wanted to eat again, meat that ‘might’ have been in the fridge for a day too long in my persnickety opinion, or who knows what else.

Here, I felt/feel terrible throwing any type of food away. Even scraping a plate into the trash causes me pause. Knowing there are people literally within two blocks of my home who do not have enough to eat, it really bothers me to think about throwing anything away. Yet, how do you give it someone else when you don’t want it? I remember a silly thing we’d do in college in the dining hall where someone might have a bite of something, discover it was “gross” and then try to pass it off by saying, “Here I don’t like this. Do you want it?” No one ever wanted the item, but it kept on being funny to us.

I also have the issue of not wanting to let the housekeeper know we are so wasteful that we’d throw away food. The first couple weeks I’d take the food we weren’t going to finish to work and throw it away there. Silly–I know. She’s a wonderful cook but sometimes there is more than we can eat for dinner and for lunch leftovers. I didn’t want it to be taken as a reflection on her cooking or a reflection on our American ‘wastefulness’.

The person who employed her in the past gave her 200 cfa for bread each day. That former employer shared with me that she believed that might be all the food Martine got to eat for the day. It’s not really the kind of thing you can verify with someone politely, but I do believe it to be true. “Excuse me Martine. What do you eat during the day?” Since her grand-newphew Justin comes with her most days, she was sharing her bread with him. I’ve written about how Simon has been the most successful in getting Justin to eat things, by giving him the same thing he was eating at the same time. I had encouraged Justin and Martine to eat fruit, eggs, anything they wanted without much luck.

This week we had a breakthrough! Somehow, Martine and I managed to have a conversation about our leftovers and came to the understanding that if there were leftovers in the fridge that didn’t get eaten within the next day or two, she and Justin could have them for lunch, she could take them home, she could do whatever she wanted with them. Pretty good for not speaking French that well.

Last night she took home a small container of left-over shrimp and pasta. “For Justin,” she tells me as she puts in her bag. She is happy, yet I feel like weeping.

This past Sunday it was pouring all day. I had made a pot of oatmeal for the kids and myself for breakfast but there was some leftover. We don’t have a microwave (we could buy one, but I’ve chosen not to so far) and I knew trying to warm it would be trickier than I would probably be willing to negotiate the next morning. I plunked in a bowl and fixed it like I would for Simon, with butter, milk and cinnamon sugar, unlocked the door to the car parking area where the day guard sits if its raining and handed the bowl to him.

“For you. Pour vous.” I said. I decided that if he didn’t eat it or acted offended, then I’d rethink this in the future. I wish I could talk to him more but my lack of French is in the way.

He nodded a ‘merci’ and had already started eating it before I had the door all the way locked. I have a little window where I could peek out and see what he did. He ate it up pretty quickly and then hunkered down to rinse out his bowl using rain water that had gathered in his outdoor bucket. He carefully set the bowl down under the overhang.

Small things that I know mean a lot to them, allow us to feel like we are doing something positive, yet I still struggle with the whole issue. I know I can’t feed the cardboard/metal ‘village’ but maybe I can make a small difference for the people who I interact with daily.

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About bestbookihavenotread

Kristine has been in education since 1993. She taught fourth grade in Ohio from 1993 - 2008. She has been a Curriculum Coordinator for four years. She is relocating to Dakar, Senegal to be the Director of Curriculum for the International School of Dakar in August 2012.
This entry was posted in Africa, Dakar, expat, poverty, Senegal and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to What do you do with your leftovers?

  1. Sue B. says:

    What an oppertunity, you have done what many take so long to figure out. Helping out someone is what we all should strive for. Im sure before your 2years we will all be able to send money or clothing. Everyone needs to travel to a 3rd world country, it breaks your heart. Thank you. Sue

  2. Karen Sheaffer says:

    Giving leftovers to guards was one of the first things I learned when I arrived–but often Martine would be happy to take them–and, not having kids, meant it was easier to plan appropriate portions. I also had a microwave, and froze single servings to be reheated. The number of times that Martine would ask me about something I had thrown out, like extra ear buds which I didn’t need, (she thought it was a mistake on my part) I became so much more mindful of putting items aside to ask people if they wanted it. I remember how pleased Justine was with paper which had been printed on one side that I stapled together for him as a drawing tablet and a box of partly used markers. I have been enjoying your blog. Thanks, Karen

    • bestbookihavenotread says:

      Thanks Karen-I’m learning to think everything very carefully before I put it in the trash and to not be embarrassed to offer food to anyone.

  3. KT says:

    That’s a great story–and a good reminder to me to think as you are when buying and storing food. I especially like the part of the story in which Simon says, “Why didn’t you just tell me?” I think that’s the hardest balance in all of the hard balances of raising children. I just never know where the line is in terms of realistic and unrealistic expectations. Ah, life.

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