Before we had kids, Josh and I spent four months backpacking through Africa. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
We had traveled to Africa for my brother’s wedding. My new sister-in-law is from a tiny village outside of Douala, and that is where the wedding occurred. It was a huge celebration that lasted for three days and three nights: 400 guests dancing, singing and feasting nonstop. It almost seemed like a dream, it was so incredible.
But it wasn’t just the wedding that was memorable. The days leading up to it were also noteworthy, in a different way. My two youngest brothers got lost, Josh and I made a 5-tier wedding cake in a wood burning oven with no electricity or running water, and there were a lot of animals being stabbed with knives. It all felt very wild.
We kept a journal on the trip, which is fortunate, because (although we swore at the time that there was no way this could happen), we find that we’ve forgotten some of the details. Some parts have become a little fuzzy.
But some we will talk about forever.
When we first landed in Douala, we were exhausted to the point where we were kind of vibrating. We were also really hungry. And overwhelmed. Some of our new in-laws met us at the airport and brought us back to their house in the city, where they killed a chicken, threw it in a pot, and told us that dinner would be ready in an hour or so. We gratefully waited with anticipation: what would our first meal in Africa be like?
Our hosts served us a spicy chicken stew. As we sat around the table, all eyes were on me. “Are you not going to serve your husband?” they asked.
I quickly realized my cultural error, and luckily we all laughed. I scooped out a portion for Josh and spooned it into his bowl. As I did so, there was a collective, horrified gasp. No more laughing. Josh’s bowl was whisked away and speedily replaced with a fresh, empty bowl. The oldest woman in the house grasped the ladle. She carefully studied the contents of the pot, and when she found what she was looking for, she nodded, spooned it up efficiently and placed it in front of Josh. There was another collective sound, this time a satisfied sigh.
By this point, both Josh and I were both very confused, very curious, and still very hungry. As everyone else served themselves, we both tried to surreptitiously peek at the contents of Josh’s bowl without seeming rude. What was so different about this serving? We had no idea.
Finally, it was time to enjoy the meal. The stew was delicious, perfect comfort food. I gobbled it as fast as I could while still being polite. “What is in this wonderful meal?” I asked, wanting to know for several reasons, not the least of which was: what precious ingredient could possibly be in Josh’s bowl?
“Aha! You must like the piment! It is a special spice. We will give you some to take home!”
I nodded, my mouth full.
“And you, Mister Josh! You like the piment as well?”
“Love it,” Josh said.
“It goes especially well with the chicken stomach, no?”
Josh smiled. “Is that what this is?” He balanced a dark brown item on his spoon.
Our hosts beamed with pride. “The best part!”
Josh smiled again. Then he opened wide and popped the chicken stomach into his mouth.
Yep, some parts of this trip have faded into the mists of time, but there are some parts that we will never forget. Like the chicken stomach, which Josh says was especially chewy.
What’s the most different food you’ve ever eaten while traveling?
By the way – I know that chicken stomach is not that unusual of a food, but it caught us by surprise. Also, we’re not used to eating chicken stomach, and I think it’s kind of an acquired taste.