As I consider these comforting rhythms of daily life, especially those involved in food preparation, I remember the video I have of Love and Hope that I call “The Papusa Maker”. Sarah Measures took the film, and she pointed out to me how much the little girl of 6-years old watching the cook make the papusas was learning. Of course, she was learning how to make papusas, but she was learning much more. She was learning “sequencing” by watching the cook as she moved through the specific acts involved in making papusas, in the same order, again and again. She was learning to tolerate frustration as she constrained her own activity. She was also learning about respecting boundaries as she observed an older boy flip one of the papusas, giving him instructions, but not attempting to do the job belonging to an older child until she herself was a big girl. In addition, she was most likely exercising her imagination, dreaming of herself as a “papuser maker”.
I then wondered what I could learn from my observations of meal preparation that I could bring back to my families in the U.S. It is hard to recreate a lengthy, methodical process of food preparation in the U.S., where busy multi-tasking two-career parents have a hard time even sitting down to “take out” with their children, let alone letting their children watch them prepare multiple courses from scratch. It does occur to me that the experience of a child watching an adult perform a meaningful sequence of repetitive acts in the context of a caring relationship offers a learning opportunity we rarely consider in the U.S. I am aware that one cannot transpose the features of one culture onto another, but I am hoping those reading this posting will send me some ideas about how parents in the U.S. can create for their children some of the comforting rhythms and learning of food preparation at Deenabandhu and Love and Hope.
This preparation takes hours, but the children have already risen before sunrise and eaten their gruel to assuage their hunger before their activities. They join us at breakfast after these are completed. The children sit on the floor and chant their prayer. Most of the children chant in an animated way but some stifle a yawn. Then one of the children designated as server, or one of the adults, serves all of us. The act of serving also has special meaning.
Prajna explained to me that the act of serving is an experience of giving, the expression of generosity; it communicates love and in that sense is self-enhancing. This belief was given special meaning by an experience I had with Prajna one evening at the girls’ dining hall.
Prajna and I walked to the girls’ residence to give them supper. An amazing sight ensued. We carried with us a metal container of the rice and vegetable meal the cooks had prepared. Prajna crouched in the middle of a circle of about 15 young girls with the container of food between her legs. Dipping her cupped hand into the food, she scooped out a round handful and ceremoniously place the ball of rice into the cupped hands of a waiting child. This was repeated for each child in the circle, Rajna adjusting her body position so that she was facing each child as she served her. When they were all served, Prajna asked, “Next?” and the girls eagerly extended their little hands. One after another she cupped her hand and served another ball of food to each waiting girl. It was the ceremony that was most impressive, including the face-to-face, social moment in which language and the face and the body were all engaged in a rhythmic, repetitive, perfectly contingent social activity. I thought that if this occurred on a weekly basis it would be essentially healing. I think it is what Bruce Perry talks about, and Peter Fonagy too.
photograph by Ginger Gregory