Saturday, December 17, 2011

Commitment and Canned Meat

One of the big themes of my Peace Corps experience, dating back all the way the application process, is the idea of commitment. Before I even knew what country I would be posted in, or when I would be leaving, I made a commitment to myself: I would see it through to the finish—27 months. For me, this mindset went hand in hand with a commitment to avoid having expectations—good or bad—about what my Peace Corps experience would be like. Basically, it was a two-part affirmation to myself. One: I had absolutely no idea what to expect, and if I thought I did, based on an info pamphlet or another Volunteer’s war-story, then I was playing myself. And two: no matter what the surprises, I could and would handle them. So far, this approach has carried me pretty well through the first five months, and I’m glad that I prepared to be unprepared. You are always surprised by the things that surprise you... that’s what makes it a surprise.

Along the same lines, I made another important commitment to myself. I promised myself that over the course of my service I would not start anything. I know this one take some explanation, so give me a chance. Don’t get me wrong, I love to start stuff—projects, businesses, activities. The point is, I did not come all the way to Cape Verde to “do my thing.” I certainly want to be involved with the launch of exciting projects while I am here. The important thing is that I will not be the one who starts them. Being an “idea guy,” it can be difficult—damn-near impossible—to hold back when I see an opportunity. But if development work isn’t damn-near impossible, then you’re probably not doing it right. So I haven’t formed a new soccer team, organized a co-op, or launched any awareness campaigns lately. Instead, I’ve been scoping out the landscape, getting my hands dirty when it’s welcome, and doing the double-dutch dance, waiting for the right second to jump in and start jamming.

So, while my contributions have often felt peripheral, I still feel like I am in the right spot. It is still rewarding to witness other people reap the benefits of their own hard work, even when they could have done it without me. For example, I conquered the cycle just in time to attend the closing ceremony of the Culinary Class. Oh, I remember their first days of  the training when they needed a recipe to boil water. Look at 'em now—how ya like them apples?!

Not everything in my life has been restaurant quality over the past week. Unfortunately, I have to admit that I recently broke an important commitment to myself. Shortly after my arrival in São Vicente, I vowed that I would never eat meat out of a can. Actually, I’ve been staunchly anti-canned meat for my whole life. When I was growing up, Spam was not a real dish, it was just an idea that came up when clowning folks**. As in, “your mama’s got snakeskin teeth.” Or, “your mama eats canned Spam with a spork and loves that sh*t.” I remember my visit to Hawaii as a child, when I first saw Spam on a actual restaurant menu. Eventually, I learned that Spam’s popularity throughout the Pacific Region is a legacy of the U.S. military presence, which only made me less likely to indulge. I even made it through living a couple of months on Guam without eating “spahhhm”*** even once—sorry Vicky, it’s nothing personal.

Let me be clear, this is not just about Spam—all canned meats are off limits. And don’t give any crap about “it’s just like eating canned tuna," because it’s not, and you know it. But, like I said, I broke down this week. Being a foodie, I was ecstatic when I finally got access to my own kitchen so that I could expand my diet beyond corn, potatoes, salt and butter. But as I stepped out of work on Monday, I recognized a funny feeling on the back of my tongue. It was a craving for something I first tried during my homestay during training: "spaghetti." So, I swallowed my pride, headed to the store, and grabbed the necessary ingredients for spaghetti a la Cabo Verde*: 1 pack of pasta, 2 eggs, butter, and a can of salchichas. Yes, I said a can of salchichas—that's how we roll.

Later that night, I sat down with a bowl of pasta goodness that made me feel just a little bit more integrated. Not surprisingly, my roommate decline to partake in the feast, but he was there to support me in my time of weakness. Besides, we reasoned, if you’re gonna eat canned meat, it might as well be hot dogs—after all, can it really get any more processed than miscellaneous meat parts and preservatives stuffed in an animal intestine? So, I loaded up my fork with a heap of noodles, hot dog and hard boiled egg, dripping with melted butter and hot sauce. And as I savored my first bite of the goodness, the sweet words of Luther Ingram floated through my head...

“If loving you is wrong, I don’t wanna be right.”

Pura Vida,


* No, this is not the actual name of the dish, it's just what I call it. Many Cape Verdeans find marinara or tomato-based sauce to be "too acidic."
**For the Motown Generation: clowning = playing the dozens
*** The vowel sound in the Chamorro pronunciation of Spam is the like the sound that the dentist asks you to make. As in, "say aaaaah."

1 comment:

  1. it's all good che'lu ... i don't eat spam anymore. though josh ate both spam and corned beef at a restaurant this morning for breakfast. ai adai, guam. like your dish, filipino spaghetti also has hot dogs in it. random.