The campus has all but shut down completely as the academic year comes to an end here. Because our course is part of the University of the Pacific curriculum, we continue on. In the last few weeks final exams have come and gone, the big national college exit exam is over, post-semester meetings are done, and even the compulsory military training ended on July 3. All campus facilities are in the process of closing up for the summer, including the on-campus grocery store, the vendor with the fresh produce, and the barber…even the magazine shop has shut its doors.
But one portion of the dining commons (or “cantine” as they call it) has remained opened. At lunch today, the program director told me they would keep the cantine open so I could eat. It sounded like they were keeping it open just for me (isn’t that what that sounded like?), so I was relieved to arrive and see others eating. They did expect me, however, which I didn’t quite understand until dinner had finished. I tried paying for my food and they refused — twice. I thought maybe I misunderstood, so I tried again & they refused again…they must think I’m a dolt sometimes. I can just imagine them saying, “What is it with these Americans that they don’t understand simple hand gestures? Poor people…and they’re a super power?”
I usually select my food by pointing at what I want & this generally works well. Tonight it was the scrambled eggs with stewed tomatoes (which is actually better than it sounds), eggplant, and green beans — and, of course, the required mound of rice. I swear they must think I’m undereating because they gave me HUGE portions of everything including about 1 1/2 cups of rice. Then, oh, too bad, there’s no room on my plate for the fish heads you’re offering me. No, really…thanks…I couldn’t possibly eat those. No, really.
Having successfully refused the fish heads, I went to my table, started eating, and soon a bowl of cooked shrimps arrived. The server had such a big smile as if to say, “Okay, no fish heads, but here, have these.” Sigh. And the princess inside me thought, “I sure hope these are de-veined.” After delicately removing their heads (The cook probably thinks I’m such a weirdo for bypassing not one, but two opportunities to eat fish heads tonight), I took a peek at the little shrimp (is that redundant?) bodies, saw no shrimp goo, and ate a few.
After dinner a student was talking with the person who seemed to be running things and she was able to ask on my behalf why they wouldn’t let me pay for dinner. It turns out someone has mentioned the foreign guests and that our dinner would be free. He also said that my dinner would be ready every night at 5:00. Now, isn’t that sweet? They’ve taken their responsibility to feed me quite seriously — heaping generous portions of food on this poor, starving American who doesn’t have enough sense to eat a good fish head when she sees it.