I haven’t done anything too out of the ordinary for the past two days, so I figured this is a good opportunity to walk you through what a typical meal time looks like on campus.
First, yesterday was the first full day I was able to relax since we work Mon-Sat, and the previous weekend we went on an excursion. It was so amazing to have no plans and just relax. We actually just lounged around the guesthouse in the morning, I read a bit and sent some e-mails. We stayed on campus for lunch because there was another guest in the guesthouse that we had talked to who donated a large amount of money to ASSA and also donated a feast for lunch, insisting that we stay to join. A feast here means that there are more dishes available for a meal, so not a feast in the typical sense you would think of in Canada, but more food than a normal meal here. We stayed for lunch and it was just as expected – delicious with some of the more speciality items we don’t usually get. After lunch we lounged around for a bit more, before deciding to wander into Tenkasi, a town located about 5km away.
We wanted to try out the bus today because it costs 6 rupees (about $0.15), whereas a rickshaw costs about 35-50 rupees (about $0.70-$1.00) per person, some times more. Today we just wanted to try walking around to find our way, because previously we had basically hired a rickshaw driver to drive us around from place to place. We were somewhat successful until it started to rain and then we opted for a rickshaw ride to get us to a couple places. We went to our favourite coconut man for coconuts (if I haven’t talked about him in a blog, I will elaborate in a future one – he is great!), checked out some shops, got some pictures printed (because any time you take a picture with someone they always ask for a copy), found a great supermarket that we will be returning to whenever we need snacks, and then finally went for dinner in town. It was a nice treat to eat in an air conditioned place with cutlery (although I really enjoy eating with my hands). After dinner we went home and played some games (I’ve learned cribbage and love it), then off to bed in good time!
Anyways, now that I’ve rambled for a bit, I will tell you about how a meal goes here. As mentioned previously, we eat in the canteen (basically a cafeteria). Everyone on campus including the staff, children, youth and adults who live in the hostels, and the SCI unit guys eat here. It is a great place to run into everyone, because depending on what we have been doing all day you may not have crossed paths earlier. It also makes for a unique environment living and dining with your clients. I can’t think of a situation where that would happen in Canada, but it is always nice seeing my clients in the canteen and saying a friendly hello checking in on their day, especially if I didn’t see them that day.
The building itself is basically just a big open rectangular building with open windows, a common sitting area, and then the kitchen at the one end, that is somewhat open to everyone else. You sit at metal tables with plastic lawn chairs. You take off your shoes before entering and leave them outside – similar to most places in India (even though the floor inside isn’t exactly what I would consider an “indoor” floor – pretty dirty!), then you go towards the back near the kitchen, where women turn right and walk to the one side of the building where there is a trough style sink with multiple facets that you wash your hands, and the men do the same but on the opposite side of the building to the left.
Next, you come out and grab a metal plate with raised edges (since you eat with only one hand – so sides are helpful for scooping). As with many cultures, you only eat with your right hand because your left hand is “dirty”. Actually, when you eat you only eat with your fingers. I have learned the “scoop and push” where I grasp the food with all fingers/thumb, and as you scoop it up, you push the food into your mouth with your thumb. Anyways, after grabbing your plate, you go to the serving table, which is in the eating area. At times there is a line, and other times it is every man for themselves, you just get yourself to the front and put out your plate out while the kitchen staff spoon each dish onto your plate. They seem to be used to the foreigners asking for less food, because they give us much smaller scoops than everyone else, but it is still a ton of food – no one goes hungry here!
The kitchen staff is extremely attentive to us because we are foreigners, even though we are here for a while. I’d like to think that will die down as time goes on, but I don’t think it will. They also treat other visitors the same – usually people who are visiting as potential donors to the organization. We eat our plate and they don’t seem to like when you linger after your meal, so when we are done eating we get up, walk to the back again where the sinks are and wash (rinse) our plate, wash our hands, and put the plate on a drying rack. And that’s it! Then we leave, and get our shoes back on before heading off to whatever we need to do.
Meal times are 8:15-9am for breakfast, 1-1:45pm for lunch and 8-8:45pm for dinner. So I’ve thankfully been able to buy some snacks in town to have available between meal times, I’m not one who can go so long between meals, and it took some time getting used to eating dinner so late. Steph and I have not been going to breakfast lately because it seems to be more like lunch/dinner type foods – warm and sometimes spicy too. Although I usually like the food, it isn’t something I want in the morning. So we have peanut butter, oatmeal, and fruit at the guesthouse that we can prepare ourselves for the morning. If there is a feast that day, they are always at lunch, so those are usually the biggest meal of the day, and then dinner is typically rice, chapati, rice noodles or dosas and one type of sauce – more simple than lunch. Oh ya, and we were able to eat on bananas leaves a couple times so far, they seem to have those available for more special occasions.
I have loved pretty much all the food I have eaten here so far! It is a bit weird not cooking for myself, because I do enjoy cooking at home, so I am missing that, but meals are super simple when all you have to do is show up! Funny story actually, the man we met that wanted us to come to the feast was very curious about our cooking abilities. He wanted to know if our mothers taught us how to cook and what things we knew how to cook and how complex of meals we could make and for how many people we could cook for. Basically, at the end of his questioning, he said that he heard western women were not good at taking care of their family because they could only cook simple meals like “toast and jam”, and they just “order food from hotels”. So he was pleasantly surprised at learning that we had some cooking skills. I find it very funny the perceptions some people have of western life here. Strangely enough, that was not the first time I was asked if I could cook more than just “toast and jam”.
Anyways, that’s all I’ve got on food for now, I hope that paints a clear enough picture of my daily meal times!