For years, I’ve unknowingly waited for a sticky summer morning in December. As the truck slowly rolled through the thick red clay, just ten minutes outside of the hectic city of Lusaka, Zambia, I was overcome by emotion. The truck’s whining engine was suddenly silenced by undecipherable yet clearly joyful voices. We approached a humble compound overwhelmed by hundreds of eager children. Their voices in unison pulled my heart down to my stomach. Never before have I seen so much delight. I hadn’t a clue what they were singing but their spirits overcame me. My soul quickly translated their joyful song as a song of adoration—but why, I asked. I had very little to offer them.
During my week at this rural school, I had a resilient duo on my lap and as many as four acrobats on my limbs. These children unloaded their sole possessions in my hands- their hearts. They gave of themselves freely to me, with no expectation of any reward beyond a hug.
This particular misty morning threatened to uproot my deepest secrets. Half way into the morning program we Americans were running, two little children made themselves a home upon my lap. A slight sting startled me on my arm. The small boy was pinching at the fat on my arm. And he had summoned the attention of his female counterpart. The two of them began to explore my excess as if they were expecting to find gold. At first, I was annoyed.
I know, I know, I’ve got some extra fat on me. I’ve been trying to shed it, okay?
Since moving to Africa seven months prior, I had given my physical body a vacation in order to attend to the emotional workout I received each day as I worked among those affected by poverty and AIDS. As the duo continued to investigate my unneeded insulation, I become consumed in my own thoughts.
When I move back to America I’m going to pay the extra $100 and get a personal trainer. Then I can fit in those great jeans!
And then it hit me. These children were exploring a foreign luxury: fat. As I looked around the thatched room, I couldn’t find one child or teacher with any excess fat on their bodies.
As children of the 10th poorest country in the world, their diet consists of mangoes and millie pap, a more bland variation of cream of wheat. The children have one meal a day, which the school provides. There isn’t an opportunity for fat. Yes, opportunity- it’s a privilege, a luxury, that I have some extra chub.
That afternoon as I trudged through the red mud back to the truck, I found myself oddly praying gratitude for fat that had so often frustrated me in the past. I vowed to never again refuse or throw up food in hopes to avoid extra fat. That day I began to believe in eating. I believe, now, in eating, not just for the empty tummies of Zambian children but also for the hollow stomachs of American teenagers who are consumed by void quest for approval. No one, rich or poor, should go hungry in a world that offers the luxury of fat.