This past Sunday night, we invited 50-some people to Pangani for what we called a "Global Awareness Experience." This event allowed attenders to have a taste (bad pun) of the ways people live and eat worldwide. Our invitations were purposefully vague--not knowing what to expect helped everyone think more about what was happening as the night played out. As people arrived, they were asked to draw a number that would determine where they sat for the meal. Each table represented a different economic class, and the number of people seated at each table represented the approximate percentage of people who live at that level worldwide.
Table One: Three people sat here and enjoyed a three-course meal, served by a waiter. They enjoyed salad, steak, roast potatoes, and green beans, followed by chocolate mousse for dessert. Cloth napkins, a color-coordinated tablecloth, nice dishes, and candlelight completed the experience. They sat apart from the other tables and enjoyed their delicious gourmet meal as all the other tables looked on. Although some wanted to share their food with others who had less, they were told by their waiter: "This isn't that kind of restaurant."
Table Two: This table of ten enjoyed a family-style spaghetti dinner, with french bread and salad, and bottles of soda to share. They ate from regular plates with plain flatware and used paper napkins.
Table Three: No tablecloth and no fancy dishes here...our table had a meal of rice & beans, which we ate from plastic plates. The sixteen of us had clean water to drink from our plastic cups and we each had our own bowl or plate, plus a fork.
Table Four: Here is where the term "table" becomes negotiable. This group of 14 ate rice from a common bowl, and had dirty water to drink from a few cups (there weren't enough for everyone to have their own). Some at this table became a little bitter, and attempted to steal food from Table One. (They were reprimanded by the waiter.)
Table Five: yet again, not exactly a table. Six people gathered around this wastebasket fire and scavenged food from a trash can. Later in the evening, they began to beg food from the other tables. They actually ended up eating better than our table did, enjoying scraps of steak and potatoes leftover from Table One (these they dug out of the trash) and whole plates of spaghetti that were shared by Table Two.
Going into the evening, I was nervous about how things would play out. When I invite people to an event, I feel responsible for how things go for them--I want to make sure they have a positive experience. I'd invited several women from Soshanguve, and I let them know that this wasn't going to be a usual meal. The vagueness of the invitation made me wonder--and worry a bit--about how they would react. Admittedly, I was a little nervous that I would end up at Table Five--but I was more nervous that my guests would land there and have a bad experience.
My fellow apprentice Sarah and I picked up Emily and Winnie and brought them to Pangani, and when we arrived, everyone but Winnie drew Table Three. Winnie drew Table Five. I worried about her having to scavenge her meal from a trash can, but as it turned out, she ate better than I did and had a great time hanging out with the "homeless" people in her group!
The evening turned a lot of expectations upside down for most of us. Sitting at Table Three meant that I had a fairly filling, if plain meal. It meant that I had some food left to share with those who had less. However, Table Five didn't want our extra rice--they preferred leftover spaghetti from Table Two. I'm used to having something to offer to those less fortunate than myself, and it was strange to feel as if what I had wasn't good enough to be shared.
At the end of the meal (which wasn't really much of a meal for some), we gathered in two groups to discuss the evening and our reactions to it. The goal of the event was to get all of us to think more deeply about how things actually are in the world, where we fit within that bigger picture, and to experience a bit of what life is like in different economic classes. Ultimately, we all were asked to consider what we can and should do with the awareness we gained from the experience.
As we talked in smaller groups at the conclusion of the night, I was again struck by the overwhelming generosity of my friends from Soshanguve. Their economic level is probably closest to the Table Three group. Emily and I talked a lot about how she wishes their family had more--not so they could live like Table Two or Table One, but so that they could better help others who have less. She talked about how hard it is to not be able to help in the ways she would like. And we talked about how important it is to help in the ways we can.
What are the ways you can share what you have with others around you?