One of the things we discussed prior to coming to the Congo was what to do about eating in the homes of local members, or native Congolese. It is often dangerous for us to do so because of the fear/likelihood of getting ill from the local food–depending upon what it is and how it was cooked. Now that I have been in the Congo for a while, it has become a little easier, and I have become a little less anxious about eating away from home.
It comes down to making sure the food is cooked. So far, the times I have eaten native food have been quite easy to tell whether the food was cooked properly, or well-enough for me to eat without fear. In most cases, I was able to see for myself how the food was cooked.
The first time was our first week in the Congo, in Laputa. After the local Zone Conference, the local Relief Society prepared food for all in attendance. I was able to watch them prepare and cook the food. Whether they prepare their food the same way at home, or whether they were taking special care because of us, I don’t know (it is possible that the Church has been training them how to properly prepare food to prevent illness), but it was clear that they were taking great care to prepare, clean, and then cook the food in a way that was safe for all. In any case, the amount of time they cooked the food would easily kill anything that could have been a problem–and everything we ate was cooked.
I have now had the opportunity to eat at Emanuel’s home three times, and have always been impressed with the care his wife Marlene takes in preparing the food. There is always clean water to wash our hands before we eat, and the food is always hot when we eat it.
The first meal was the standard FOO FOO along with linga-linga leaves, and some fish, that we ate with our hands out of a communal bowl. The second and third time we very similar: one being sweet potatoes (with various other veggies thrown-in, almost like a stew), the other being potatoes (with a mix of other stuff, not sure what). The meals were hot, and it was clear they had been cooked for some time.
As is traditional here, the wife did not stay in the room to eat with us– Emanuel and I ate alone (although his young daughter, Perciany, popped-in now and then to get a taste!). We made sure there was enough left for her to eat (although, I am sure if I decided to eat more, or even all, nothing would have been said). After we left, Emanuel’s wife and daughter would then eat. We have both heard and seen this tradition throughout the mission.
In two weeks, Terri and I are supposed to travel with Pres. and Sister McMullin again, as he has requested Terri to come and speak at Zone Conferences, to train and teach the missionaries concerning medical issues (I am along for the ride!). I’m sure that during the coming trip we will again have the opportunity to taste the local fare…
We will take care (especially with Terri just coming off the illness she had– not food related, I should remind you), not to risk getting ill. But when it is clear the food is well-cooked, we look forward to sharing meals with the local members.