Open the Table
If you’re like me and love to travel, experience different cultures, people, cuisines and ways of living life, then you know that hospitality is an essential part of this process. More and more it’s become such an experience that we get to share with those we want to connect with. It is a part of our identity in a sense and when we host people, we’re actually drawing in all people to commune together as one.
I have come to learn from a young age that food is love for most cultures. Coming from a mixed background myself- Australian/Rotuman (which is a small South Pacific Island north of Fiji), I know that food is an essential part of coming together as a family, as fellowship, festivities...and pretty much any excuse to eat, we will! It is actually a positive thing to be on the larger side physically speaking because it means you’re prosperous and healthy. My Rotuman father made the mistake of “complimenting” his colleague's wife when first coming to Australia saying “she’s nice and fat”, which unfortunately did not have the same flattering response it did on the island!
When I first went to visit my family on the islands, as a vegetarian, I naturally made friends with the pig in the backyard, feeding it each day, patting it, giving it a name. It was nice. In our culture, we have the ‘mamasa’, which is a welcoming or returnee ceremony that means the ‘drying off’. When the voyagers have been out at sea and come home, a huge feast is prepared and normally an animal i.e. pig or goat is given for this special event - not to pat, but to eat. A day before the ceremony, I was giving Simon the pig half of my apple. My cousin said, “don’t get too attached to the pig, that’s going to be our lunch tomorrow”! My heart broke. I begged them to spare, but my dad told me it would be rude to reject the “food” and that it’s just the way it’s always been - it’s tradition. I was so sad, but I realised that food, especially the kind that requires a sacrifice is an act of labour and love, to be given and shared in that expression.
HOSPITALITY UNIFIES US
What I love about the act of hospitality is that it unifies us, regardless of our political views, skin colour and stature, it is an invitation to say, “come and fellowship with me because I value you”. When I was on a solo trip in India I was only a few weeks in and I had been feeling a little lonely. I came across a coastal beach town called 'Mahalibapuram' (AKA Mahabs), where I met a lovely local who invited me over for dinner with his wife and family. What was interesting was he was mostly deaf, but could lip-read and sign. And when I came to meet his wife, I learnt that she was mute and couldn’t speak, but could also sign. They were a family of 5 all living in a one-bedroom house, and when I arrived they gave me the only bit of furniture in the house to sit on - a plastic chair. The wife showed me how to make a real chai tea and how to pour it properly. It’s actually quite an art! They gave me the largest portion of curry (I still have no idea what was in it, but it was delicious!) with rice. We sat together, ate together and had silent conversations through my minimal make-shift signing and make-shift gestures and so much laughter at the attempts of conversing!
I've never had such a fun-loving time with people I’d just met! What is more, is that they gave me all they could give and the very best of it too, which was more than enough. These people in the greater scheme had little-to-no money, but they had big hearts and a warm house filled with love. We couldn’t even speak each other's language, let alone have other barriers of hearing and speech, but through this communion of hospitality, we had this wonderful exchange which was priceless.
This kind of open-handed, large-hearted hospitality invites people of all different backgrounds to be a part of a family that might not be their own, and always provides nourishment and care. To give someone who might be lonely a place at the table (or chair) speaks love, care, kindness and unity. If there’s anything I can urge you in if ever you have the opportunity to host someone, to invite into your home, do it. You never know how much they might need to know they're cared for and loved.