communal chow-down

There is a nice ritual at my new office that my co-workers like to call “la messe” (translation: the mass).  No it’s not a religious service of any kind.  But it is an experience!

Every afternoon, anytime between 2:30 and 4:30, Cecile, the resident cook with a radiant smile, comes around and tells everyone that the food is ready.  By this she means “come downstairs and NOW!”

Slowly, the workspaces empty and the little seats around the coffee table fill up.  Then the director comes and leads the chow-down.

It’s a simple process really.  One large metal bowl filled with rice, fish, a few leaves of cabbage, sometimes carrots and a nice red sauce.  And big spoons.  Nope, nothing else.  No bowls, no plates.  Just 10 or so people around a big bowl filling their bellies with good Senegalese food (in homage to the director).

one big spoonful at a time!

That’s not all of it though.  How good would communal food really be if the conversations around it wasn’t deep and informative???

So far in my attendance at “la messe”, we have discussed the absence of African philosophers from yester years.  They informed me that there are African philosophers alive today but none from which social or political history can be based.

We talked at length about the origins of man.  How the first words uttered by children are dada and mama, no matter the local language.  How many geographically spread out African tribes use similar words for the same things – even tribes that are unlikely to have made contact until recent times.

Today’s conversation, however, was very heated.  As we were a large number of people we had two tables set out (plus one more in the kitchen!).  So the staff dubbed one table Ouattara and one Gbagbo, following it up with a very lively debate about the merits of each man, the situation in Côte d’Ivoire and the ramification of dictatorships.

A communal meal with socio-political lessons… now that’s what I call a “messe”!

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~ by Caroline Spira on April 21, 2011.

2 Responses to “communal chow-down”

  1. When I worked for the government, we used to have big communal meals every Friday evening. We’d take turns cooking for everyone. Lots of good conversation, good food. I guess some things are universal.

  2. What a great tradition! And no food fights, either.

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