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TRAVEL VIGNETTE

The Gesture of Shared Food


Food is powerful. Food not only has the power to nourish our bodies, and fuel us. It also has the power to allow us to experience pleasure, and fulfill one of our most basic needs for life. Food is also powerful though, because food has the power to build community. Family experiences, dinners with friends, holiday celebrations, a favorite restaurant, and cooking with others build relationships. I have a community in Houston that is built on food and music that we share at house concerts. Sharing food, offering a snack to a man or woman experiencing homelessness is also a way to share a moment, a smile, and eye contact. Food offers an instant connection for people. It connects us with our family, our friends, places, and traditions. The gesture of sharing food and nurturing spirit and body, is one of the most generous gestures I've experienced. Thinking about sharing food, especially with a traveler brings me back to an experience I had several years ago


Bhutan, Friday, March 30, 2007


Festivals, such as the one we attended, are celebrated monthly on the 10th of the month according to the Lunar Calendar. People dress in their finest clothes, and come see the Buddhist monks dance and play music. It is a celebration of the Monk who unified the Kingdom of Bhutan.

We arrive just in time to hear the giant gongs and horns (which sound a little like bagpipes warming up) and see the beginning of the procession down the steps of the Paro Dzong into the festival area. A series of brightly costumed people proceeded to the performance space in an ordered parade. I wandered around admiring the explosion of color in the costumes of the performers, and in the dress of the people attending. I watched the dancers.


I sat under a tree to write in my journal, and attracted a curious but shy crowd. People here were marveling at the novelty of this white American tourist sitting and writing, just as I marveled at the beauty of the people and the festival. The explosion of fantastic color, beautiful clothing, and smiling faces is something I will never forget. At one point, an airplane took off from the airport, and it was completely anachronistic--a very bizarre event in the setting in which I was immersed.


The sounds were different in Bhutan. There was no noise pollution. Every sound I heard was distinct. The wind--both a close breeze in the trees, and the wind whipping through the valley below. I heard voices of men talking in the distance, and also the sounds of the music coming up from the festival to the clearing where I sat. In the distance I could see the world's tallest peaks, covered in spots by traces of snow.


A family sat down nearby, and began to unpack their picnic lunch. They were talking and laughing as the women worked to set up the simple meal. The bowls were passed, and a woman came up to me and handed me a bowl. I must have looked puzzled, because she gestured that she wished me to join them. I dined on a lentil stew and the local red rice with my new friends. We communicated little with words, but with some gestures, and a lot of smiles. It was not so much the generosity of the Bhutanese people that struck me, but their happiness. I think that happiness and generosity are connected. Gratitude also. Shared food, shared happiness, shared community. I was grateful for the gesture of sharing what these people had to give. A simple lunch. A few smiles. A lifetime memory.


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