Mind the Gap

Posted: 15 November 2008 in Charlottesville, Food, observations, therapy

Maybe it’s an unhealthy obsession with food.  Maybe it’s that my tastebuds are stronger than my sense of smell, hearing, or the vibrancy of my vision.  I know for certain that my memory has gaping holes in it and nothing triggers a rush of recollection like taste. 

Last night we went to a South African restaurant to celebrate D’s permanent position and our successful relocation to Charlottesville (in retrospect, we were also celebrating the State Department’s relinquishing the last of my pay and the silent shutting of that door).  From the very general (a glass of cold beer with dinner) to the specific (Amarula, an African liquor, to close), I felt like a thread to my memories of Africa was spiraling out. 

Early Saturday mornings spent driving too fast on a foggy highway from Mozambique to South Africa.  The line at the stuffy border crossing, getting back in the car to drive at a more relaxed pace (more cops, less diplomatic privilege) toward Nelspruit, a little town near Kruger National Park and the closest place with western shopping and movie theaters.  On our way, we invariably stopped at a fabric store for the restroom or a cold drink but always for the woman selling samosas in the corner of the parking lot.  About half of the time those samosas headed directly for the exit, but the heady spiced meat in a crispy fried shell could not be missed.

For supper I had peri-peri chicken while D enjoyed feijoada.  Despite my skepticism that the feijoada could be as good as that made in Brazil, the greens and rice that came with it were pitch perfect, recalling long, lazy weekend evenings in Mozambique (funny, I didn’t eat much feijoada in Brazil) eating the stew under a huge acacia tree on a dirt patio with white paper napkins. 

The chicken was perfectly spicy and, while not quie the right flavor, reminded me of what I had forgotten: six weeks after September 11, two weeks after I watched two Marines drown and a week after I pulled their bodies from the water, our embassy mail room received a shipment contaminated with anthrax.  Along with three others, I donned the bright green bio hazard suit and gas mask and bleached everything in that room, including the dead boys’ amazon packages and all of the Halloween candy for the embassy’s kids.  After we bleached ourselves, we peeled off the suits and, soaked in sweat, went to the local peri-peri chicken joint.  We ate in silence on wooden benches and afterward, the other three dropped me off in front of my house.  When I went inside, I pretended nothing had happened.  I pretended that my mind hadn’t broken somehow. 

Dinner was excellent.  I don’t think I could have remembered those things a year ago and still, the flavors brought tears to my eyes.  Perhaps the best thing to celebrate was closing some of the gaps in my memory.

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