In even the farthest reaches of the globe, travelers discover a powerful local pride. Guiding a tour group through eastern Turkey, I once dropped in on a craftsman who was famous for his wood carving. Everybody in that corner of Turkey wanted a prayer niche in their mosque carved by him. We gathered around his well-worn work table. He had likely never actually met an American. And now he had 15 of us gathered around his table. He was working away and showing off…clearly very proud. Then suddenly he stopped, held his chisel high into the sky, and declared, “A man and his chisel — the greatest factory on earth.”
Looking at him, it was clear he didn't need me to tell him about fulfillment. When I asked if I could buy a piece of his art, he said, "For a man my age to know that my work will go back to the United States and be appreciated, that's payment enough. Please take this home with you, and remember me."
I traveled through Afghanistan long before the word Taliban entered our lexicon. While there, I enjoyed lessons highlighting the pride and diversity you'll find across the globe. I was sitting in a Kabul cafeteria popular with backpacking travelers. I was just minding my own business when a local man sat next to me. He said, "Can I join you?" I said, "You already have." He said, "You're an American, aren't you?" I said yes, and he said, "Well, I'm a professor here in Afghanistan. I want you to know that a third of the people on this planet eat with their spoons and forks like you, a third of the people eat with chopsticks, and a third of the people eat with fingers like me. And we're all just as civilized."
As he clearly had a chip on his shoulder about this, I simply thought, "Okay, okay, I get it." But I didn't get it...at least, not right away. After leaving Afghanistan, I traveled through South Asia, and his message stayed with me. I went to fancy restaurants filled with well-dressed local professionals. Rather than providing silverware, they had a ceremonial sink in the middle of the room. People would wash their hands and use their fingers for what God made them for. I did the same. Eventually eating with my fingers became quite natural. (I had to be retrained when I got home.) Travel taught me that there are three ways to eat — and, sure enough, they all get the food into your mouth just the same.
About This Entry
You are reading "Three Ways to Eat", an entry posted on 15 May 2009 by Rick Steves.