Tacos or Butt Cheeks?

This story takes place while I was still staying with my home stay family in Naivasha, Kenya.  During the day we were in language and cultural classes.  The evenings we spent with our new families - talking, having dinner, the sisters helping me with swahili, me helping them with their math.

One night when I arrived home, I realized we would be eating early as dinner was already started.  Mama Mary (as so named after her first born, named Mary) was home and called to me "Robin, oka, oka haha" - come, come here.  Tonight she wanted me to sit with her on the couch while we had dinner.  In the background, the solar powered TV was broadcasting the news.  On the coffee table, the oil lantern was lit to provide lighting as my sisters did their homework.

Dinner was served on plates overflowing with sukuma-wiki and chapati.  Sukuma-wiki's literal translation in English means 'push the week.'  Most Kenyans are paid only once a month and money is scarce right before payday.  Families buy sukuma-wiki to help push the week to its end, until they are able to buy more food.  It's a very cheap green vegetable that closely resembles spinach.  Chapati look and taste like fried tortillas, but are a little sweeter and chewier.

I started to eat them in what I thought was a logical manner, like a taco.  Mama Mary began to look at me with quite a surprised expression.  She asked me what I was doing.  I told her "I'm eating them like a taco.  Americans eat something similar to these that come from Mexico.  Mexicans call them tacos."  Mama Mary continued to stare at me incredulously.  Even my sisters were confused.  I wasn't sure how else to explain it, so I just continued eating.

A few days later I was sitting in language class with my two other Peace Corps Volunteers and I told them story of family being so confused over tacos.  Our teacher stopped and looked at us with a quizzical expression.  I asked him if Taco was a swahili word.  He smiled and said yes, yes it is.  We, of course, asked "What does it mean?"  He merely turned to face the wall, bent slightly, and patted one of his butt cheeks!  We busted up laughing.  Now I understood that I had been trying to tell my family that I was eating butt cheeks!



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“Sunset at the Railroad” by PCV Nicholas Baylor Hall. Namibia, 2011.