Making Space for Something New

March 11

One year we gave up rice for Lent. We were living where there was no chocolate, candy, cheese, eggs, milk or pop, although you could buy this “fruit”-flavoured drink concentrate called, “chemi-cola”.  Sugar and kerosene were also rationed. In our usual diet, in the morning we had corn porridge with local honey to sweeten, and rice and beans for our noon and evening meals.

That year instead of rice we ate ugali, the stiff corn porridge that was the staple of all of our neighbours. Before that Lent, we had turned up our noses at ugali, like most of the “wazungu” (white people) we knew. By the end of Lent, it had become one of our favourite foods, and we had broadened our diet to enjoy sweet potatoes, cassava, wild mushrooms, a wide variety of greens and flying ants.

When invited to a home for dinner, the host always brought a pitcher of water and a bowl for each person to wash her hands. Then we sat around the table together and broke off pieces with our hands from the one large mound of ugali and dipped it into whatever sauce was served with the ugali.

We were still strangers in the village, but Tanzanians are very good at welcoming “wageni,” a word that means both strangers and guests. Sitting around the table, breaking ugali from the same mound and dipping together from the same sauces made us a little less strange and a little more human. Human, humble and humus all come from the same root.

Lent is a time in the Christian tradition when we are meant to become more humble. Most people misunderstand the meaning of humility and think it is about seeing our own unworthiness, or hiding our gifts, or letting others oppress us, or some other distorted perception. Humility means to be ourselves, to accept our humanity, both our gifts and our failures, to forgive ourselves … and to do the same for others: accept their gifts and see their humanity and ours in their failures. To be humble/human means to recognize what connects us to one another and to the earth is deeper than what separates us.

Gratitude Prompt: Our “giving up” rice brought to us the gifts of belonging, friendship and an amazing new diet. What surprising gifts have you received when you have let go of something?