I hesitate to sound like the old Nickelodeon campaign (Was it gather round the table?)…but something special happens around the table.
Over the last week I have come to appreciate the time spent around the table. Of course it is great because I am getting nourishment and everyone loves food but there is more to it. Before I get to the table it is always a mystery how many people I will be sharing a meal with. Then I get to the table and see how many places are set and begin to wonder who will fill those seats. After some time everyone gathers round and we pause to say a prayer of thanksgiving. Most of the time the prayer is in Malagasy and I can only pick out a few words but sometimes one of the young women will say a prayer in English. The meal always starts out quiet with awkward glances and smiles across the table but by the end we are laughing and having a good time. This has also been a great place for me to learn Malagasy and teach English in exchange. Cultural barriers are broken around the table. I feel as if we come to the table as strangers and leave as friends. I look forward to every meal knowing that I will get my fill of not only food but conversations too. This is not only true for meals at my house but for meals at Soatanana too.
In Soatanana we had no table to gather around but sat on the ground in a circle. As always, someone would begin with a prayer. The young women from Amboaloboka would then dish each of us a plate. At first I thought it was a coincidence but later I realized that each meal the women would make a plate special for me. Graciously, they gave me a smaller portion than everyone else so I would have no problem cleaning my plate. Just like that the meal would begin and conversations would slowly follow after. The first few meals were uncomfortable for me. The conversations were all in Malagasy and happening way to fast for me to understand. So I sat quietly and ate. After a few meals, my new friend, Nirina, exposed that she knew English and we began to talk. Eventually everyone began to take part in this conversation that consisted of broken English and Malagasy. The time we spent together in meals made me feel like part of the community. Again, we came to the table as strangers and left as friends.
When we come to break bread together we are in community. I can’t fully explain what happens but I am so glad it does. Like I said, there is something special that happens around the table.