Over the “war years”, I accumulated about 3 physical war related scars.
One is so faint that I can hardly make it out anymore and another is one I see each day when I am undressed. All of them acquired in the course of either running from rebels, jet planes or opposing dissident groups.
Many times months go by and I don’t think on them or how they came to be a part of my body, my life, my story. Sometimes when I do think on them, it’s with a passing memory, a smile, nostalgia or a shiver.
However, my invisible scars of war are a lot more numerous than the physical ones and ironically they are the ones that I “see” almost daily. For example, the “scar” I acquired by learning to eat fast during the war days in order to not be hungry.
During the war food was scarce a lot. Many things that other people took for granted in other parts of the world were a novelty and treat for people in war zones. Like sugar. Milk. Chocolate, Cornflakes. And rice.
Rice is the stable food for Liberia and there are jokes regarding how a Liberian would eat all the food available, spaghetti, potatoes, meat, etc. but if he or she didn’t have rice to eat all day would quickly tell you “ I haven’t eaten all day”
Due to this scarcity of food and many mouths to feed whenever meals were cooked, the food was distributed according age groups and gender. This meant that kids within a certain age brackets/range were grouped together. So for each meal the food for all the female kids within the age range of 10-13 was placed in a big plastic pan and the kids were expected to eat together.
This worked for a lot of the other kids because many of them already knew how to eat with their hand and to eat fast. Unfortunately for me, I was used to eating slowly and with a spoon.
Ask any “native” Liberian child what is a spoon and they will smile or laugh and lift either right or left hand and spell S-P-O-O-N with their five fingers.
For me coming from Monrovia with my “civilized” mannerism, eating with my hand proved difficult. This meant I had to eat with a regular spoon. Now the problem for me stems from the fact that the size of the palm is bigger than that of a regular spoon. So by the time I took one spoon of rice to eat, my “peers” would have in essence taken 2-3 spoons of rice. Of course, the food would quickly disappear (wasn’t all that much in the beginning anyways) and I would be left hungry again.
I quickly had to adapt. No, not to learn to eat with my hand- although it’s a skill I still wish to master one day- but to eat faster. This meant hot or cold food. As soon as that bowl of hot steaming rice was placed in front of us 5-6 hungry kids, I had to be ready to eat fast. The faster I was able to get food into my mouth, the more that entered my belly. The longer I would NOT be hungry. My mouth-tongue, teeth- and throat quickly learned to eat steaming hot food at fast intervals. I survived.
Unfortunately today, 20 years later, I find it difficult to un-learn something I forced myself to learn in order to “survive”. I no longer know how to eat slowly, to savor food. To “play” around with food. I find I cannot tolerate cold food or food that has “settled”. It has to be hot. Preferably steaming hot. Ha! Embarrassing to even write I tell you.
Some family and friends tease me about it and sometimes I catch myself and try to slow down, to savor the food, but after a few bites or swallows, I am back to wolfing it down.
Recently, I was out with some friends from the United States in a fancy restaurant and I had to mentally and physically force myself to count to 20 in between bites and swallows in order to not appear “hungry or country”.
I used to be very ashamed of this until one day it hit me “it’s another scar from the war, live with it. Deal with it”. So that’s what I do.
So whilst I won’t always wolf down my meals, I certainly don’t think I will be a candidate for high tea with the queen of England. By the time she be lifting a pinky to sip her first drop of nice luke-warm tea, I would have probably eaten all the cakes, sandwiches and drunk all the tea and looking at her with raised eyebrows asking “ aren’t you done yet?”
So, I continue to ask myself, what do I do with my scars of war? Especially the “invisible” scars.