Saturday, November 05, 2005

Picture This: Ronald McDonald's Mom

Dear all,

It is a funny thing to be stuck between cultures - enjoying my ability to fully embrace the surrounding people and environment, and then silently judging every experience, measuring every cost, and processing every conversation within the cultural constructs I have imported from home. This conflict is presenting itself, with increasing frequency and volume (just to clarify: yes, we're speaking of the voices in my head...), around the questions of body and food. I am invited to eat dinner, on a house visit just after finishing a very large dinner at home, and the hosts bring out enormous plates of rice and sauce and cake - I cannot say NOOOO!. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner alike - any meal is likely to be repeated at least once a day, in heaping quantities, and with equally large expectations and cooking egos at stake. Food is at the center of all social activities in Cameroon, because (thankfully) it is one thing that they have in abundance, and their cuisine is really a spectacular representative for this country and culture. But despite the wonderful bounty, I am recently resenting the food pressures - not because anything has changed in the world, but because of how I see myself in the mirror.

Over dinner the other night, the family remarked pleasantly - proudly - that my face was quite shiny and wide. "Hey Mara, you look great!" "Oh shit," I thought, "what am I supposed to say to that? America wants to cry; Cameroon is celebrating; I am so totally confused." With a smile and a laugh, I explained that being fat in America is actually not such a compliment - it is a national crisis. But Ousman, being the sensitive new-age guy that he is, set me straight. He was even kind enough to put it in American cultural terms:
"Now you see, Mara, there are two kinds of fat. There is healthy good-looking fat, that's what you are; and there is bad fat. Even if you ate Mac-Donald's Mom, you would not fat like that! Do you know Mac-Donald's Mom?! Do you know what she look like??! You cannot fat like that - no, even if you eat Mac-Donald's Mom, you will not fat like that! Me too, I will not fat like that. In America, I eat Mac-Donald's SOOO much - whoo, I really get big! - but I never fat like that. You too. ... Now, have some more fried plantains..."

What makes it all the more difficult is that I have no particular loyalty to either culture's body ideal - Cameroon's curves or America's slender sticks - yet I feel pressure to live up to these conflicting standards now imposed from all over the globe... I know that if the ideals were of my own creation, I might feel some acceptance and understanding, and feel good about wanting to attain/maintain a certain body type; but since they are not, I only feel resentment...I am suffering from imposed forces that I cannot control or change. The solution is clear: We must decide for ourselves what we want, what is important, and how we will measure the enjoyment in our lives...and then keep those goals always close, unable to be touched by the many cultures and environments through which we move. I am clearly still forming the ideals to hold myself to, and looking for the right mirror to look into, but with time...I am sure that it will come. In my juggling act of cultures' compliments and criticisms, with heaping platters of fried plantains thrown in for an added challenge, I will soon have to find my own rhythm. If not, it will all tumble down...and I could not stand to waste so many plantains!

On a more troubling note, I still don't know what Mac-Donald's Mom looks like. (Ousman did not clarify, and I did not ask.) So yes, there's lots to think about, isn't there?! Puzzled, with love,



Post a Comment

<< Home