Reader Question: What Surprising Thing Have You Learned?

From John Burger: What is the most surprising thing a poor person has taught you?

John,
I think a lot of Westerners working abroad would tell you that they’ve learned patience, resilience, perseverance, determination from the people we work with. All of this is true. But it’s a little abstract. And maybe a little cliché.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned:

In Liberia, Mathew, who lived in the forest and lost three children to starvation, told me you could survive on bush cabbage, kiss me (small snail like animals that live in the swamps) and river water for a very long time.

In Guinea Bissau, I learned that women don’t scream during child birth; it’s a sign of weakness. They whimper, pray, mumble and moan. But nobody screams. That’s surprising since many of them are only teenagers.

In Nigeria, you should eat moi moi wrapped in banana leaves for breakfast. It’s congealed bean paste with spices. It sounds awful, but it’s has more protein and will keep you going a lot longer than Cheerios.

I also learned in Nigeria that if you roll up cotton just right, find yourself a condensed mild can and fill the bottom of it with olive oil, you’ve got yourself a candle. It’s much cheaper than paying for electricity.

In the hills of southern Sierra Leone, I learned the papaya and tobacco leaves crushed and mixed with soap then sprayed on the rice shoots will help keep aphids and other insects from eating the rice. I also learned how to set a trap and catch a bush rat. (These are “very sweet” when grilled according to Musa, the rice farmer I visited.)

Thanks for your question,
– Lane Hartill CRS West Africa

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