Last summer, while scouting the local area near a village where we were collecting data, I made the mistake of turning down an offer of nsima. A lady saw me walking around and said “we have nsima”. I’m not sure what I said – my thoughts were along the lines of “that’s cool, good for you” – and I left. Bad idea. I subsequently learned that “we have nsima” is an offer to ask for some, and you don’t turn it down. I usually just take a little piece. This is generally pretty amusing, partly because Malawians tend to find it funny when white folks eat nsima, but mainly because my nsima-consumption skills are on the same level as my grandmother using chopsticks. You’re supposed to make a little ball and I’m useless at that so it just goes right in my mouth.
I’ve gotten such offers twice in the last two days, and they aren’t always from nice ladies who are in the middle of cooking and have extra. Last night the guy who I buy water from at the local gas station offered me some of his dinner. After an attempt to politely decline – it was his dinner, after all – I took a bit. Another employee who was looking on told me that white people usually turn down nsima, and he doesn’t like that. This is a little incongruous, given that white people eating nsima is an amusing sight, but it makes a certain kind of sense; we’ve built up a negative reputation in that area.
This is now my second consecutive post on little tidbits of Malawian culture. I’m hoping some future Jason will be able to find these on Google, since I’ve often tried to look this stuff up in vain.