Saturday, September 17, 2016

Pasta, French Fries, and the Meaning of Life

There is much to learn about the world and about life by lessons made evident in how we eat. Food, in its infinite forms, can be an expression of joy, survival, greed, family, pride, creativity, and love. Traveling the world, I discovered some valuable lessons. Certainly, many are no-brainers, but when they are so obvious that we no longer think about them, we get a little lost in satisfying that ever-perplexing quest for the meaning of life.

Woman in Vietnam selling cut fresh pineapple
Hanoi, Vietnam
Hard Work and Dedication

In many places, food can be too easy - bountiful and convenient. We often forget all that goes into what goes on our plates. This Vietnamese woman carts out her pineapples to the busy street every day, slicing them up just right for her customers. While not always exciting, hard work and dedication are essential to a meaningful life.

Tacloban, Philippines
Try New Things

My Filipina friend Phoebe had never tried s'mores before, so I was proud to introduce that to her (and a bunch of other international volunteers) one evening on base with All Hands Volunteers. Without exploring, we may as well be snails in a garden; discovery is what enlightens us to all this world has to offer and all this life can be.

Tacloban, Philippines
Make Time to be Together
Busy working to help people as part of a volunteer organization, the staff usually just ate when it was convenient individually. One day, we decided to schedule a lunch with everyone to eat together. It is well documented that we are not meant to be alone. If there is an option to be together, perhaps we should.

Paris, France
Appreciate What You Have

One stark realization I had flying from Asia to Paris and visiting a local market was that you can't get delicious tomatoes everywhere... or endives... or cheese. There is a lot in Paris you can't get in other places. Being thankful for what you have is something quite evident in places like the Philippines. Then when you hit France, you realize how good some people have it by comparison, yet maybe aren't quite as content.

Banana and mango trees and blue sky
Muona, Malawi
God Provides

Religious or not, if you think about it, you will see that many of the keys to life are at our fingertips - free will, air to breathe, love, opportunity, family, and our own talents. While many foods are not plentiful in rural Malawi, there is water in the ground and mango and banana trees above it. It was so hot there, we took our lunch breaks from digging wells under what I called "The Magical Mango Tree." Even in one of the poorest places on Earth, this tree provides some of the basic necessities of life in an otherwise inconspicuous fashion.

Basel, Switzerland
Accommodate the Needs of Those Around You

I was fortunate to have two great hosts let me stay with them in Switzerland. I wanted to show my appreciation by cooking dinner one night. I like a good culinary challenge, but it was difficult to create a tasty meal that was vegetarian, dairy-free, and gluten-free. It would have been easy to go for something mundane or just offer to show my thanks another way, but I decided it was worth the effort to come through with my versions of espinacas a la catalana and a potato soup with garlic mushrooms (the beer was for me). In the end, I can't guarantee it was their favorite meal, but at least they know I made the effort.

Tacloban, Philippines
Bring People Together by Sharing Your Culture

American Thanksgiving doesn't exist in the Philippines, so I brought it. I was worried that close to 90 people from many different countries would think I was trying to force my culture on them, but their reaction was quite the opposite. I got to celebrate my special holiday, and a bunch of other people got to learn a little more about me and the land that I love.

Pievepelago, Italy
Teach Others

The first day I woke up in my friend Alessia's family's hotel, I was ushered into the kitchen after my cappucino and promptly began my lessons on Italian cooking. Chef Bagatti was happy to share her knowledge of la cucina with me. Teaching is a way of communicating that enhances people's lives and it ensures our survival as a human race.

Valle D'Aosta, Italy
Celebrate Family and Celebrate Life

Surprise, surprise - Italy is on here more than once. From my point of view, Italians constantly win at life. My friend Susi invited me to her Dad's home in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. I was in awe of the air, the colors, the mountains... and then I was treated to a delicious meal. It was clear to me that this man loves his daughter and wanted to enjoy the precious time he had with her. And as a guest, I was given the best treatment.

Tacloban, Philippines
Give What You Have

Nowhere in the world so far have I enjoyed this priceless lesson more often than in the Philippines. I was invited as a stranger into homes for food and karaoke. I was treated like an esteemed member of the family. I was given love, friendship, respect, smiles and countless memories by so many people. Sometimes the best thing you can do is simply invite someone into your life.

Sister Maura Redington
Roscommon, Ireland
People We Encounter in Life are Not an Accident

Sr. Maura was my 6th Grade teacher. After that, she was my principal. After that, she was a treasured member of the community. After that, she allowed me to come visit her in her native Ireland. Of course, I learned countless lessons in her classroom, but she continues to be a source of inspiration, even in retirement.

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