And here, so very tardy and late, is the finish to that delightful story.
You’ll remember that on this particular Wednesday a five-way-car-accident had occurred in our parking lot and that I had already been invited to a dinner like snack at one family’s apartment and that the Nepali girls helped me cook curry while Molly was outside helping with the car accident and what not.
Ginesa, one of the four year olds, had finally left and the apartment assumed a relative calm as we played five rocks in the light of our two soft white lamps in the living room. I had finished doing dishes in the kitchen–one of the few places I feel at home in–when I noticed a small package sitting on the lopsided black table given to us by friends of Molly’s. It was a package of Maria Cookies. They were Ginesa’s.
And so, with Locksme as a translator I entered the first floor corner apartment just to return those cookies. But as I’ve said before, I should have known better. They waved me in and a table as pushed to the side while the men on the couch readjusted and made space for me. There were people everywhere. On the couch, on the bed in the corner, on the floor, at the table in the kitchen, and they were all chatting amiably when I stumbled in. A beer was pushed into my hands–Budweiser (which is barely a step above Coors) and plates were filled with food and set down on the table in front of me. I began to eat as the conversations resumed around me.
The rice was grey and flecked with spices. It was spicy, but I’ve had worse in my mouth. What really unsettled me were the chunks of…something and the fact that some of those chunks had a snappy crunch. It reminded me of breaking open the chicken bones at Ethiopian meals and sucking out the marrow. But it wasn’t quite that hard…not quite.
While we discussed my family, my home, my parents and my lack of husband (always a favourite among the Nepalis), I muscled my way through the crunch and tear of those chunks–some of which I was recognizing as gristle and chicken skin. And yet, skin doesn’t crunch, I thought to myself. But then I pushed the thought away and kept going. I’m a missionary kid. You eat what you’re given and you don’t ask questions until after you’ve eaten.
Tal told me that they are actually Bhutanese who had settled at the refugee camp in Nepal after being forced to leave Bhutan. I asked if they would ever go back, assuming they had been forced to resettle for economic reasons or something related to survival. “Awh, I wish,” he said with that goofy smile which makes his eyes crinkle into slits and yet has a sad edge to it. “If I were to return to my country, I would be arrested.” I nodded slowly, snapping whatever was in the rice between my back teeth.
“So you are here–”
“We are against the political leaders. We can not go back,” he said and the two men sitting beside me nodded their assent to his description of the situation.
It reminded me of the time when Asmita, noticing a picture of my brother in uniform said “sometimes in my country, the police come to your village and they take people, and sometimes those people don’t come back.” She said it with a shrug of her shoulders, unconcerned as I hastily explained my brother flies an airplane and he protects us and the police here are not allowed to do such things. She was nonchalant though, as though this is how things are done in every country. I know this to be true. I have friends who have lived in countries like this. But this was a nine year old telling me this. She is nine. She should not discuss the disappearances of individuals with such a casual air.
Tal is educated. And so were the men next to me on the couch. The old woman I took to be a grandmother, with her gap toothed smile, was nursing an infant while sitting on the floor (who was later handed to me to hold) is sweet and gentle. They are smart people. And they live, perhaps seven or eight people in this apartment? With a double bed that sleeps two sisters in the living room? Because they come here, fleeing their country and we struggle to find them a place in society where they can use their gifts and talents? It is a tragedy of humanity that we are unable to pursue who God made us to be because of political corruption and insatiable greed and war mongering.
But we moved on to happier subjects. Madav works at Panda Express. He came home midway through the conversation and seemed startled to find me as the greeting face when he opened the front door. The two brothers and Tal work at the airport. What do they do there? Luggage. Food service. They told me of the beauty in Nepal and Bhutan. Mountains that the white folk come to climb which soar higher than the Rockies and are more severe in their majesty. And the vast green valleys. And the rivers. And everything that is their home.
At one point, during a lull in the conversation, the man beside me asked if I liked what I was eating or if it was too spicy? I shrugged. It was delicious, I said with a smile. And spicy, sure, but not too spicy. They laughed. It’s okay, one said, if you can’t finish becuase it is spicy for white people. I smiled slightly, but shoveled another bite in anyway. And then, the man beside me said “so you like it?” And when I nodded, “it is made of…how do you say…” he pulled at the skin on his arm, “the outside of the chicken…mm…oh! the feathers. Yes, the feathers.”
I just ate fried feathers. Or cartilage of feathers.
But, this is good to them. In some way, shape or form they find feathers to be as comforting, as familiar, as perfect as the snow tipped mountains and the wide valleys and the home they’ve been forced to abandon.
But I wouldn’t say it was my favourite dish ever eaten in a foreign home.