It’s interesting the things we know of our colleagues after a few years of working together. Often things that they don’t even notice of themselves. From the obvious moodiness after a spat with a significant other to little twitches and twists of the face when they are up to something mischievous – like giving a customer a not so subtle put-down. All their little habits and idiosyncrasies. As I write this, Tio is surreptitiously stuffing his mouth with a couple spoonfuls of his meal before swiftly closing this lunchbox again. Why surreptitiously? The devil knows. Must be an ill-gotten childhood habit that he’s never dropped. Perhaps from not wanting to share. Or maybe, not wanting to show others what was in this box. It is a strange thought but was definitely a thing when I was in primary school in Botswana. There was the comparison of who had the best-packed breakfast.
But it was more than that. This simple meal of sandwiches and fruit told the story of your upbringing. Of your social class. The “rich” kids didn’t even have their food packed for them. Their parents were too busy. They were given money instead. P20 per day was a lot for a child who only bought two Magwinya and a spoonful of soup.
Oh but that soup! I have never been able to recreate it no matter how I’ve tried. It was made from store-bought Knorr Minestrone with chunks of potatoes thrown in for added flavour. It isn’t much but to this day, this simple dish has been embedded in my memory as the taste of my childhood. I don’t know, it never quite tastes right when I make it. It seems to lack the magical ingredient that turns the clock backward and places me at the foot of the giant Marula tree, looking at the vendors outside the school gate. Sky blue shirt on, navy blue dress and white socks pulled high over skinny legs…
But this packed breakfast. This simple meal told the world your social standing and how much your parents earned. There were those who had only the meals provided by the school. Motogo wa mabele kana dinawa. Sorghum porridge on most days or beans. While some had butter and jam on bread, others had coated chicken with fries. You catch my drift?
This is how early on we learn to compare ourselves with others. To be discontent. To covet and desire what someone else had. I remember a school teacher making us declare how much pocket money we’d received from our parents before a school trip. P50? P250? She listened attentively, nodding her approval when a suitably high amount was mentioned. These were my early lessons of status. That I didn’t get a nod from the higher ups if I didn’t have enough. That my peers would not approve of me or hold me in high regard if my lunch didn’t smell of affluence. So that suddenly, there were seeds of self-doubt and insecurity sown into my subconscious.
Click, pop, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, close. I smile at the rhythm of Tio’s eating habits. Perhaps I should ask him why he does that. Does he even know he does this? At his age,44 years old, would he care what we thought of his lunch? Or his wife, his house, his car? Click, pop, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, close.
Were the seeds of self-doubt and insecurity sowed in him too? Do they still have an influence over his actions many years later? Did this seed of insecurity then grow roots and sprout into envy and jealousy? Is that generally why certain people find it so hard to be happy for others? Because it brings into sharp focus what they have not attained? Look around. Our society is crippled by the inability to work in harmony. There isn’t such a thing as constructive criticism. Our leaders are constantly bashing each other. One’s a cabbage while another is steak. Click, pop, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, close.
Have I gone too far in my thought process? Perhaps. But you have to admit it is an interesting thought. I read once that a person’s character was formed by the age of 7. Not 18, not 21 and not 30. Your character was formed as you opened your lunchbox at break time. Whether you said a prayer of thanks for your basic bread and butter sandwich or worried that two or three other kids would snigger and laugh. When you were moved to the back of the classroom because you weren’t smart enough. When you were told that you weren’t good enough if you were number one.Click, pop, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, close.
Click, pop open, stuff food in his mouth, close lunchbox.
Magwinya are like deep fried doughnuts but not sweet. If you ever visit Botswana, you have gotta try these. With soup 😉