The pot began as any other pot: dark black enamel covering the base of its cooking surface; the perfect handle with an attached metal opening if the purchaser chose to hang it decoratively on the wall. It was even bought for the low price of N$35 from the China Shop, which, in retrospect, should have been a tell-tale sign that its aesthetic appeal would only last so long. In the moment, however, it seemed like the perfect deal – a good looking cooking device that would last for my 2 years of service and then be given to someone else, as the transition took place of one person’s exit and another person’s arrival. Surely nothing could corrode that quickly, and hand-me downs are essential in volunteer life.
The food in the beginning contained flavourful remnants of overwhelming discord and excitement mixed with mildly fragrant pieces of discomfort. The meals were basic and felt like home – vegetable stir fries, an emphasis on breakfast foods and the comfort of a boring old pasta with homemade tomato sauce. They didn’t taste any different from how they did in the U.S, or how my distracted memory allowed me to think back on, but the environment surrounding it swaddled each bite with exoticism. “I’ve never eaten this meal in another country! Now I am on another continent. In what other world do I get to experience something like this?” circulated my mind as I moved through my first few weeks in Khorixas. How lucky could I be that I get to have an adventure such as this – the only thing I have known I absolutely wanted to do in my life?
Months go by and the meals are beginning to lose their splendor. They no longer buzz around my tongue, electrifying my body and bringing anticipation for what is to come in the next day. The same spices that I could find in my Harris Teter at home begin to collect dust on the tops of their lids – a sign that I live in one of the dustiest places in Namibia as well as the birth of disinterest and apathy. I begin to notice that the perfectly sized (for one meal) pot I had purchased in June when I arrived at site has a few scratches on the bottom, where it once was midnight black and heated evenly. I rationalize that I have been using it three times a day for almost three months and that it is only natural for some wear and tear to begin to show. Those minuscule scratches don’t mean anything in the long run, when my meals have been cooked well and have sustained me physically. Scars make for interesting stories in the future, right? What doesn’t kill you.
A year goes by and the scratches fill the bottom of the pot, radiating outwards and up the sides. The black enamel is barely visible anymore, instead giving way to the silver base of the pot as its core is now fully exposed. Small black flecks of enamel have appeared in many of my meals for months now, and have become a new seasoning that I couldn’t previously purchase in the store. The taste is metallic and bitter, with hints of disappointment and frustration. In certain bites, I found remnants of resentment on the back palate that paired nicely with the outer flavour of cynicism that is a repeating taste in my dishes. I thought seriously about becoming a food blogger. The pot’s handle was now covered in rust that could not be scrubbed away by the coarsest of metal scours, leaving a sour smell behind after washing that seemed to stick in my nostrils. I took time to reflect on how the pot varied from a year prior. The visible differences were obvious, as they stood out like a sore thumb in the vastness of memory. What lay under the surface was much harder to sense. Was the depth of decay only surface level? Or is there something much more worrisome seeping into the food I continue to cook with that same pot. What a year it has been.
Decay usually takes place slowly. Decay can be positive, especially if the corrosion is of something irrelevant to us currently. Decay can jointly surface negatively, especially if things that you once valued about yourself start to fade away. Sometimes we notice the drastic changes after a long period of time has gone by, other times we notice slight alterations every few days, if we are observant enough. Breathe in the metamorphosis, exhale the anxiety about what it all means. There is a balance in the world that will right itself sooner or later, and most of the time we have no control over how long of a process that balancing act takes. Decay is a slow process. Breathe.