Hospitality failure: I couldn’t eat the caterpillars

Hospitality failure: I couldn’t eat the caterpillars

Back in my Peace Corps days, I vowed to eat anything offered in home hospitality. This seemed especially important when the invitation was from a family with limited resources who had prepared food especially for the guests.

Back in my Peace Corps days, I vowed to eat anything offered in home hospitality. This seemed especially important when the invitation was from a family with limited resources who had prepared food especially for the guests. I have eaten some interesting things under that rule: guinea pig in Peru (yes, tastes like chicken), a hundred year egg in a Chinese home (blackish-greenish in color, kind of salty), “old ham” and beaten biscuit in Kentucky (dry as dust and hard as rocks), roasted goat (tough but good) and millet drink (bitter) in Uganda, but I had never before been faced with a bowl of roasted worms. If the food has a strong flavor, eating it while holding your breath so you don’t smell it helps a lot. But these roasted caterpillars looked like caterpillars, had no odor, and the crispy-chewy texture–and then idea of eating a worm–was what I couldn’t handle. I did manage to get half of one down, surrounded by nshima, the cornmeal mush that is a staple here, but that was my limit. Fortunately, I had only put two on my plate.

This happened in Caroline’s home. She is a big-hearted Zambian woman I met recently who takes in orphans. She asked if I had visited in a Zambian home yet, and when I said I hadn’t, she said she would invite me to her house. I don’t teach on Fridays, so today she came by to take me for a visit.

She came with the baby tied around her back in a colorful cloth sling. We walked out of the compound, down the road, onto a dirt path through a market, down more dirt roads, to another market where she bought some local eggplants, onions, and the caterpillars. Mountains of caterpillars. She smiled and asked if I liked them. I confessed that I had never eaten one, it was not a food we ate in my country, but I would try them. We walked some more.

When we had walked about an hour, we reached a main road. She asked if I wanted to take a collective taxi the rest of the way, or keep walking. The sun was hot, so I opted for the collective taxi, and we squeezed in with 2 others in the back seat and bounced along for at least 15 minutes more on rutted roads. That was the best dollar I ever spent! When we got out, we still had a ten-minute walk to Caroline’s home through wide dirt roads with houses close together, neatly swept yards, many trees.

Crispin, her husband, is a taxi driver. They have 3 children of their own, ages 1, 4, and 7. Caroline farms, cares for her children and the orphans, and is looking for other income generating projects. They feed, clothe, educate and support 12 orphans, none related to their family, in their rented 2-room home. You read it right, two rooms! Here’s how it works.

One room is the multi-purpose sitting-room, semi-kitchen, and sleeping room and the other is the bedroom and clothes storage area. There is a wooden front door, but the two rooms are separated only by a curtained doorway. In the all-purpose room, there is a small refrigerator, two sofas and a stuffed chair, a TV (the only luxury), a low coffee table, rolled up grass mats, and in the corner a huge plastic tub filled with all the clean dishes and pots and pans. Cooking is done in the front yard, over a charcoal fire. Clothes are also washed there and hung behind the house on a line to dry. The youngest orphans sleep with the family in the bedroom, the others bed down on the floor and couches in the all-purpose room at night.

Some of us ate in the all-purpose room, others in the yard on mats. Most people eat with their hands in Zambia, just as they did in Uganda. We were given a bowl of water and soap to wash our hands before eating. There is no running water in the home. A latrine is out back.

The orphans range in age from 2 to 16. All but the youngest are in school, which means that this family pays most of its salary for school fees. (Public education is not free in Zambia. School fees run between $50-$125 per child per year, depending on school and grade level.) Much of what they eat grows on the family’s small farm plot, a short distance away. Our meal was nshima, the staple food here, a firm ball of cornmeal mush, together with sweet potato greens cooked with onions, and the roasted caterpillars, which the rest of the family ate happily. I hope they are a good source of protein. We drank chilled boiled water.

Caroline says that she was helped by others when she was growing up, so that is why she takes in the orphans. The older ones try to find part-time work in addition to school to supplement the family income, and they somehow get by. Caroline shows me pictures of some of the people who help her with money when they can because they know that she struggles to find the resources to care for all of them. She lives by faith, and God has never let her down. It is a family full of love.

What an eye-opening and amazing first experience with home hospitality in Zambia!

Ann Nichols

Ann Nichols serves as a long-term volunteer with the Mindolo Ecumenical Foundation in Kitwe, Zambia.  Ann teaches social work and leadership development.