My ability to eat the food I am offered has gone down during my time here. Now, even when I am hungry, I am unable to stomach the starchy white rice or the sauces drowning in palm oil. The smells make my stomach twist. The family keeps encouraging me to eat the communal rice dish on which they all eagerly feast, and are perplexed that I never join in. I feel that I’m being rude in my refusal of the food, but even social graces can’t get me to eat.
I’ve also long lost the small appetite I had for popcorn, fried banana cakes, and eggs dripping in palm oil. As my appetite shrinks, my hunger has naturally grown and my temperament has taken a turn towards the grumpy. It’s a surreal experience to be asked what I want to eat and to have no answer despite a gnawing in my belly.
What I crave is roasted beets and steamed kale served with quinoa, a big pot of black beans cooked with garlic, ginger, and cumin and served with sour cream and diced onions, or a fragrant pot of tomato basil soup, but none of those things are available anywhere in the country. Guineans use salt and Magi as their only spices, and the small white beans I’ve seen are not picked through prior to cooking. That means a mouthful is just as likely to contain small stones as white beans. They’re also prepared with a generous helping of palm oil and crushed fish complete with bones, all of which make the dish inedible for me. I can’t see any way around the massive quantities of palm oil that are used. After all, it helps keep the food from sticking to the aluminum pots that are placed directly on the charcoal to heat the food. These days, even the smoke from a cook fire makes me run for searching for fresh air. With all the dust I’m already inhaling, smoke is the last thing I want to add to my poor lungs.
Because of this endless hunger, and the numerous cases of food poisoning I’ve had since my arrival, I’ve opted to cut my trip to Guinea short. There’s still a week before my return to the States, yet I spend many hours imagining the food I’ll cook on my return and even what I’ll eat in the airport during my layover in Morocco.
It’s bittersweet to be leaving early. On a physical level, I am ready to begin meeting my nutritional needs with more than just vitamins. On a social level, I’ll miss this loud and boisterous family whose household regularly swells with guests visiting from throughout Guinea. I’ll miss the way Aicha greets me with her arms extended over her head in a V for victory, Gacim calling my name every time he sees me, and the enthusiasm of my English and yoga students. I might just even miss the calls of foti that follow me as I make my way through the market and around town on the moto.
I plan to spend this last week with my favorite people. I’ll eat lots of mangees, mangoes, which are finally in season and dropping lusciously from the trees. I will visit once more the cool blue pool that offers a balance to the scorching African sun, and have another djembe lesson in the cool palm forest of Kolaboi. I’ll give myself up to the eager hands of the girls at home for one last head of African braids and I’ll sit in the shade next to my boyfriend’s mother. I have only picked up one or two words from her language, Langdoma, different from both the Soso and the French. Despite the lack of understaning, she keeps up a sweet chatter of narratives about the day sprinkled generously with prayers and blessings. “Amina,” amen, I respond, as she blesses my future.