By: Stephanne Morris Marsh, Missionary Kid and TCK (Third Culture Kid)
It seems like every day, there is a Facebook craze where people check things off of a list that they either will NOT eat OR exotic things that they HAVE eaten. You know the ones…..It starts out with “How many of the following food items do you hate? Is it more than 12?” Then you are supposed to copy it, paste it, and share with your personal response.
Those lists always send me into fits of giggles. It contains things like: green olives, bleu cheese, Spam, Vienna Sausages, liver, etc. Things that I think are kind of common and every day! The list of “exotic” food items is equally as funny to me. It contains things like: Sushi, Escargot, Grits (ummmm, why are grits exotic? I thought they were a staple food item?), Steak Tartare, Ostrich, and the list goes on with things that I don’t think actually deserve the “exotic” label.
Perhaps I find the food items on these lists to be comical because of the way I was raised, and the foods I grew up eating. First of all, let’s talk about foods people hate. I was never, ever, ever allowed to say I didn’t like something. I can’t even begin to imagine what would have happened if I dared utter the words, “I hate…..”. I can pretty much guarantee that I would not be here writing this story. I would have ended up in the Sweet By and By before I even got the “t” sound out in the word hate. I always, always had to eat everything on my plate. I didn’t get to choose what got put on my plate, either. My mama cooked, and we gratefully ate whatever it was she placed in front of us. Luckily for me, my mama was an excellent cook.
Now, let’s discuss “exotic” foods. Unless the list contains things such as: monkey, monkey brains, grub worms, cow tongue, chicken feet, fish eyes, fish heads, guatita (commonly known as tripe, in English. If you don’t know what it is, I will spare you now and you can look it up later.) and cuy (pronounced coo-eeee, and commonly known as guinea pig in English) then don’t talk to me about exotic. Although, now that I am thinking about it, the items on my list weren’t exactly exotic when I was growing up, it was just what we had to eat.
There are truly VERY few things that I won’t or can’t eat. I have a stomach of steel and can eat just about anything. There are some things that I wouldn’t necessarily choose to eat, but if it is prepared for me and set before me, you can bet your bottom dollar I will eat it. Some of the things that I would prefer not to eat are: salmon in a can (I dislike the tiny bones very much.), liver (chicken or beef), gizzards, chitlins, and cow tongue (the more I chew, the chewier and bigger it gets in my mouth). But, if it meant the difference between hurting someone’s feelings and swallowing the cow tongue, I’m going to swallow the cow tongue.
So, at this point, I bet you are wondering what in the world it is that I WILL NOT eat. You only have to read the title of this story to know. Bananas with brown spots. Even just typing it out, I involuntarily gagged. I know you are looking at the two lists right above this paragraph and think I have lost my mind. Well, my dear reader, please, allow me to explain.
When I was about 8 years old, we lived in Guayaquil, Ecuador. We lived on a very pretty street, called Avenida Balsamos, in a pretty white house with a pretty little courtyard where my sister and Keely played with our kitten, our dog, and our parrot. This is indeed the very same house, with the famous red-tiled patio, in which the story of “Soda Crackers and Fanny” took place. (If you haven’t had a chance to read that, you should, and you can just by clicking on the link. I believe that was the only time in my life that I misbehaved, and I documented it for you. You are welcome.)
Life was slow and sweet. Guayaquil is extremely hot with almost 100% humidity. It is very tropical and our yard was filled with beautiful and lush plants and flowers and fruit trees of all sorts.
One of my favorite activities was watching the coconuts get harvested from the coconut trees in our front yard. Every so often, the coconut gatherers would come by and ring our bell and ask my mama if she wanted them to get the coconuts down. She would tell them yes, and they would shimmy up those trees faster than lightening, gripping the trunk of the tree with their bare legs and propelling themselves up with their arms extended and their legs pumping, and always, they had a huge machete gripped in their mouth! I always wanted to try climbing the coconut trees, but I am petrified of heights, so, sadly, I never did. Still, I would watch them go up and bring those coconuts down, and it was absolutely amazing every single time. I never tired of watching them climb the trees. The only thing better than watching them climb, was being given a coconut when they came down. There is not much in the world that could ever be better than drinking the sweet coconut water and eating the delicious coconut meat from those fresh coconuts that had just moments before, been hanging from our trees.
In Ecuador, when I was growing up, and even now, at times, there is a bit of civil unrest as the government attempts to strong arm the people by raising taxes or imposing new taxes. This unrest will generally result in strikes and riots. Here in the States, children have snow days and hurricane days built into their school calendar. In Ecuador, we had riot days built into ours!
At one point, during the year I was 8, there was a strike and the ensuing riots lasted for nearly 3 months. It resulted in a military coup and then the president of the country was over thrown, it was very exciting! But, while that is intriguing, bananas are what is important to this story.
My parents were amazing missionaries and were always very well prepared for any emergency that might arise. For instance, since we knew that Ecuador was prone to riots and strikes, my parents kept staple food items in big huge plastic drums. During riots and strikes, it wasn’t safe to venture out and we stayed hunkered down in our home. We had a red drum of rice, a yellow drum of beans, and a blue drum of sugar. It was always great fun running to the drums with a cup and a pot and dipping out enough for our supper! Keely and I used to fight over who got to dip out whatever it was mama needed. Well, as you can imagine, eventually, when a riot and strike lasts for 3 months, and you can’t leave your house, you eventually run out of rice and beans.
I remember the day that we laid the barrels on their sides and Keely crawled in to scoop out the very last of the rice and the beans. We ate dinner solemnly that night. I remember hearing my mama whispering with my daddy after Keely and I had gone to bed. She said things like, “What are we going to do? We don’t have any food left!” I could hear my daddy reassuring her, “I don’t know what we are going to do, but God knows exactly what we need and He has never failed us yet.” Then I heard them praying. I went to sleep soundly, not at all worried about what we were going to eat. The Lord would surely come through. I was excited to see what He would provide, and I went to sleep dreaming of waking up, grabbing a bowl and running outside and scooping up manna from heaven. He did provide. It wasn’t exactly manna, but it was a miracle just the same. The next morning, when I got up, we had a HUGE stalk of bananas in the kitchen. Our landlords, the Cucálons, had banana farms and somehow, they got some and brought us an entire stalk.
Now, I love a green banana. I always have! Ecuador has some of the best bananas in the whole wide world. Sweet and just absolutely delicious. Next time you go to the grocery store to buy bananas, look at the sticker! You have a 1 out of 3 chance that they are from Ecuador. If you have a choice between bananas from Ecuador or Guatemala or Costa Rica, buy the Ecuadorian ones. They just taste better. Trust me!
That being said, we were exceedingly grateful for the bananas that the Cucálon family brought us, but…bananas don’t stay green forever. And a stalk of bananas has SO many bananas on it. We ate bananas and ate bananas. They were really good, until they weren’t. One day, I woke up and the bananas had brown spots on them. By then I was getting really tired of bananas. The next morning, there were more brown spots, and when I peeled my banana, it was mushy inside. I tried to eat it. Really, truly I did. But I put that mushy brown banana in my mouth, and I gagged. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t chew, I couldn’t swallow, and I couldn’t eat it. And that was the first time in my life that my mama didn’t make me.
Luckily, the strike ended and the streets cleared up and my parents were able to get food. I can’t remember for sure if it was the day I gagged on the brown spotted banana or the day after, but it was very soon. And let me tell you, I have never been so grateful to eat food again in my life!
To this day, I love a green banana. But if it starts to turn yellow, and if there is any trace of a brown spot on the skin, you better clear out of my way. Because I am fairly certain you don’t want to see what happens next.