28 January 2005

new friend

a few weeks ago, i flew back to eugene from ann arbor, landing around midnight. while waiting for the shuttle into town, i befriended b., who had just arrived from haiti and spoke the most minimal english. he was on a fulbright, had no place to stay and no idea where he was supposed to go. i called and woke my friend heather, who speaks much better french than i do and in no time at all, we had b. safely checked in to a room at the Quality Inn. b., as we learned, had come to the university to learn english and take the TOEFL and GRE before pursuing his studies in economics at an american university. our friend, 31 years old, had never left haiti, except to travel to the dominican republic. haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, plagued by corruption, poverty, disease and all other nasty things, which, come to think of it, plague our country, too, but in a more covert way. i don't know too much about b.'s experience there, but i think it's safe to guess that coming here is pretty intense.

all this is the background to our Welcome to Eugene dinner last night with b. at Iraila, a mediterranean restaurant in town. it occurred to me, on our way to to dinner that b. was probably unfamiliar with mediterranean foodstuffs, thus rendering our description ("oh, you know, sun tried tomatoes, feta cheese, couscous, that kind of thing.") somewhat useless. we were seated at the restaurant after b. puzzled over his options for a bit, he asked us to chose for him...he doesn't know "menu" english yet. we ordered, for the table, an olive plate, halumi salad, beet salad, vegetarian cassoulet (a contradiction in terms, perhaps) and persian rice. he also asked for assitance in chosing a beer...we got him a Stella Artois. unfortunately, b. didn't eat too much -- mostly just salad and his beer, which he was very happy about. huh. maybe it was too much and too overwhelming. it reminds me of arriving in southern india and sitting down to a table of mysterious food (at the time, most of what we got in the u.s. was northern indian) -- it's more comfortable to go with what you know, especially when you've just arrived and you're completely overwhelmed by everything else...who wants to worry about food, too?

anyways, that's all.


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