Last night I had my first Shabbat dinner at my friend Becky’s place in Hatsalatladi (try saying that three times fast); it was interesting to learn about this Jewish tradition while sitting in her little house, in her small dusty village in Botswana. Let me give you a bit of back-story on Becky and her “cross cultural” experiences in Botswana thus far.
Botswana is officially a Christian country, meaning that everyone is a Christian, whether you are devout or in name only, Batswana are Christian, end of story. If someone claims to be of another religion they are viewed with a lot of skepticism, if your religion is not Christianity, your religion is probably pagan. On our first weekend in country Becky’s host family invited her to come to church with them that Sunday. The family is deeply devout, the father is a renowned pastor, and one of their four sons is studying theology as well. During the service the pastor singled Becky out, asking her to stand in front of the congregation and talk about where she went to church in America. She answered no, and sat keeping her head down, hoping she hadn’t offended anyone. Unfortunately her host family did not allow her to not participate in religious activities, pulling her hand up when the pastor asked, “who accepts Jesus in their hearts?” making her get on her knees for “prayer”, and even contributing two pula for tithing. If this were I that first weekend, my first real “cross-cultural” experience, I would have been on the next plane back to America, but thankfully Becky is made of strong stuff and she’s still here (and still Jewish).
*I want to add that Becky’s host family is absolutely the most loving and wonderful people that I have had the pleasure to meet in Botswana. Yeah, they probably still want to save my and Beck’s souls but they don’t let that get in the way of just loving the shit out of us. The five children are awesome, intelligent, hardworking and super tall and gorgeous. They welcomed me in their home despite my weird haircut and tattoos, that’s a big thing for any Batswana. *
So back to dinner last night, due to the limitations of grocery shopping in Africa, our spread wasn’t quite traditional Jewish cuisine, but it’s the thought that counts. Also, it’s the bread that counts, she made challah bread, and in my opinion it is the best invention in 6,000 years. It was rising when I arrived at her house, by the time we finished chopping squash and cauliflower to make roasted-curried veggies, the dough was ready to be braided and egg-washed. We stuck the bread and veggies in the oven, and then she made some kasha too. Kasha is my new favorite grain, its similar to barley and has this wonderful crunch to it, she usually cooks it in a homemade honey-mustard sauce but tonight we stuck to the old fashioned way, mixing the dried Kasha in beaten eggs (leftover from the challah eggwash), then cooking it on the stove.
In minutes the smells of baking bread and roasting veggies filled the house, it was so good I was counting down seconds for the food to get on the table. Once on the table Becky began the shabbat traditions, first, she sang the prayer while lighting the shabbos candles, then waving her hands three times in front of them before placing them on her eyes. The next song prayer was for the wine, then finally for the bread. When she finished the prayers we have to eat a piece of challah before the other foods. The bread was piping hot, but too delicious to resist, burning my tongue was totally worth it.
As we ate she told me about her family having this dinner, singing the prayers every Friday night, and growing up as a New York City Jewish girl. She is thousands of miles away from her home, her friends, family, also tragically bagels and coffee, in a small village in Africa. But every Friday night she is lighting candles, singing prayers and breaking bread with a loved one (me, obviously) just like her family on the other side of the ocean.
Can’t wait to see you in December for our own family traditions, Lord of the Rings with the commentary on.