Dressed in the local fashion, and carrying a big bag of roasted peanuts and brown sugar, I struggled through the narrow sea sand streets to Salma’s house.
Many greetings, and “Where are you going?”, followed me on the way there. I didn’t mind the repetition of the same phrases though; it’s good for language learning. Salma probably told everybody that I was coming. Some neighbours stood waiting for me.
Salma was going to teach me to make ‘sweets’ — that’s peanut brittle. The visit was not really about learning how to make peanut brittle, bur rather about making friends, and learning more of the local language and customs. This was going to be a tiring afternoon. I could help myself in the trade language, but I had just started learning Isoni. Knew a few basic words, and some survival phrases, like “Sorry, but I cannot speak Isoni well”. They would always reply, “But you just spoke Isoni!” Good point. Salma spoke Isoni and some other local languages of the area. The rest spoke only Isoni! They all read Arabic. None spoke English. Contrary to the hopeful, but rather naive belief, there are actually many people on this planet who do not speak English. Not one word.
After a lot of greetings the grandmother —Yaya —came out and sat on the ground. I brought her some white sugar and tea bags as a gift. She took each tea bag and touched it as if it was a precious jewel. Then she touched her heart with a wrinkled hand, and thanked me in Arabic.
Salma couldn’t believe that I had bought the peanuts at one of the little stalls next to the road. She went off on a loud rant in Isoni — of which I could understand only a few phrases. Ignorance is bliss —sometimes. Apparently, the peanuts at the road stall were much more expensive than buying it in bulk at some shop in town. I didn’t know of the existence of such a shop, but that was not the point. She repeated this apparent shocking news to the group of women standing there. They too laughed.
Ok, Lord, I am dying to myself here, and it is not nice.
Peanut Brittle 101: First, we crushed the peanuts in a flat basket, mainly to get the skins off. Salma then expertly tossed the peanuts repeatedly into the air, using the basket to catch it again, and the peanuts and skins separate. Amazing. Didn’t know I had to have that skill too, besides knowing how to learn an undocumented tonal language so that I would be able toexplain the Trinity to Mus1ims.
Talia— Salma’s two year old daughter — had her hands in the basket all the time, and Granny Yaya would hit her on the head. Was that just a cultural expression of Iso-discipline or child abuse? Repeating the mantra in my head: it’s not wrong, just different.
The peanuts were thrown into a tall, wooden pot. Then came the pounding. Salma used a long, thick pole and hit the peanuts time and again. I was given the pole, and instantly became the centre of attention. Lord, I just wanted to tell people about Jesus —and not be a star performer! Everybody was watching me, laughing and pointing. I thought I was doing pretty well, until the cloth around my waist started to loosen. Now I had to try to keep the cloth up, and pound at the same time. As soon as I stopped to try to adjust the cloth, Salma yelled at me to go on. This was becoming quite stressful.
Granny came over and watched me carefully. Another neighbour came into the yard, and she also heard the story about the expensive peanuts. The Granny poked me in the stomach and asked something in Isoni. Salma laughed and translated: “Why are you so fat? Do you have a baby in there?” Decided right there to give up on my diet; obviously it wasn’t working!
After a lot of pounding the peanuts had the same consistency as butter. While I was pounding, Salma made a fire, putting three stones on the ground, and some wood in the middle. One of the older kids went to the neighbour’s house and fetched a few smouldering coals in a dried-out coconut shell. How clever! We put the peanut mix together with brown sugar and some water in a pot on the fire, and stirred it with a wooden stick. I was amazed at the Iso chickens —they knew just how far from the stones and fire they could venture without getting a hot piece of flying ember on them. Suddenly, Yaya grabbed my sagging cloth, as it almost caught fire. Didn’t understand what she said to me — didn’t sound nice though.
A fishmonger came by, yelling at the gate, and Salma’s husband bought a few small fish for their evening meal. The fishmonger also heard the whole story of the expensive peanuts. He just looked at me in amazement. Meanwhile, the mixture became thick, like cookie dough, and Salma expertly threw it out onto a large flat piece of wood. She pressed it down, and after it was cooled down a little, she cut it into squares.
More waiting and the squares became perfect pieces of peanut brittle. Not too bad for my first try at making peanut brittle! Until today, I didn’t know one could make peanut brittle, especially in such basic circumstances. I was given four pieces to take home .... really?After sponsoring the whole project — with expensive peanuts —and spending a long afternoon in a cloud of confusion, I gotonly four pieces. Four!
Salma often made“Sweets” and sent the older kids into the streets to sell it for a little income. So, I suppose it was for a good cause. The call to prayer from the mosque made me realize that it was getting late. Dusk was approaching and I didn’t want to walk home in the dark. A lot of greetings followed as I left. My whole body ached. Didn't know I had muscles in my arms for pounding peanuts. The granny was still looking at me with a perplexed look on her face as I struggled through their bamboo gate, my cloth half-draped around my waist, burnt at the hem, and four very precious pieces of peanut brittle in my hand.
But I wanted to stay. I wanted to sit in the sand, with Talia on my lap — tugging at my arm hairs — while smelling the smoke of the fire and frying fish. I wanted to eat coconut rice with my hands, and listen for the hundredth time how friends and neighbours were entertained by the story of the dumb foreigner who bought expensive peanuts. When I looked at Granny Yaya earlier, I realized that she was very, very old. I desperately wanted to tell her that Jesus was the Son of God and not just a good prophet; that He died for her so that she could have a home in heaven.
Walked home, praying, oh Lord, help me learn Isoni quickly!]
1 Cor 9:22, To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.
What do you need to let go of, in order to reach out to the lostwith the love of Jesus Christ?