We wanted a quick and cheap meal in Maseru, so one of the other volunteers suggested a meat and papa (the traditional corn meal dish) place and the others agreed. As the lone non-meat eater, I had to come up with alternative plans, a chain fast food pizza place nearby. I ordered a Margarita pizza and took it to go.
We took two taxis to the place that looked like an auto garage. A tin room sheltered the outdoor dining area of several rows of tables. As soon as we got out of the cab, dozens of people rushed to us, trying to convince us why there food was the best. We chose a less-persistent woman and followed her to her table. I sat down with my pizza and the others were served large potions of beef, papa and vegetables. I nibbled my pizza from the cardboard box and felt like a jerkwad.
Here I was, in a very ethnic eatery full of noises and fresh cooked food that, when paid for, helped the cooks survive and I was eating chain pizza. My priorities needed to change.
Four January 1sts ago, I decided to take on a vegetarian lifestyle. That fall, my friend Kate, went vegan for nearly two months to write an article for the newspaper we both worked at and the her experiment inspired me to do my own for a year.
I slept better and felt more energized without meat in my diet. A lover of bread, I overindulged in carbs and the occasional cravings for a hamburger or fried chicken were easy to overcome. Once the year was up, I decided to continue being a vegetarian.
I liked being a vegi. It was something I actually stuck to and I feel like I belong to a certain club. Plus, there are several yummy alternatives to over processed beef and I was never a steak person. Eventually, a few friends joined the vegetarian campaign and I wasn’t the only one ordering cucumber rolls at sushi night.
My initial decision to become a vegetarian wasn’t about animal rights, but eventually you understand that thinking when many people don’t eat meat for that reason. I am not entirely opposed to animal as nourishment and I am from one of the biggest meat producing states, but corporate farms and mass-produced meat are scary. If I do ever become a fulltime meat eater again, I will stick to organic and grass-fed.
When I applied to the Peace Corps, I had to write an essay about how I would handle being a vegetarian in a country where not accepting food is rude and it’s hard to find the proper nourishments. I said I would change my behavior to culturally fit in.
In Niger, no one was getting proper nutrients from the millet and sauce. If meat was offered, which it rarely was because it is so expensive, I would take a few pieces in a polite gesture but leave the rest for my villagers.
The Basotho are a bit more well off and most families can afford to have meet more than once a year. At any formal function, it is rude not to have meat. When I told my villagers that I do not like meat, the concept was as foreign to them as I am.
“What? You don’t take the meat,” they said. Nope.
But it is my job to fit into this village, to be one of them. In many ways then one, I have had to let go pieces of the American Heather to become the Lesotho Keneoue. It’s another sacrifice of this job, just like missing big events at home. In order to be the best you can in the village, you have to be one of them.
SO, I have changed my status to sometimes vegetarian. At formal function, like school board meetings, I will take the chicken. If my friends want to eat at the shop around that corner that makes awesome sausage, I will go along and try it. I I am going to embrace every part of this experience.
Before my parents high-five each other and say, “The phase is over!” I am still a vegetarian. When veggie options, ones that include more than papa and moroho, I will take them. I am not going to rush to KFC or order a steak from the lodge and I will probably resume my vegie habits stateside, but for now I will eat meat, sometimes.