Ten thousand miles away from my home I find myself confronted with an inner monologue I thought I would never find rolling around in my head. Would I eat human flesh? What a question.
I am sitting with my wife in a small home in a remote village on the southern end of the island country of Madagascar. We have been spending the weekend with a family that is celebrating the ritual circumcision of a 5 year old boy. Don't ask...that's just when they do it.
What's really irksome is the idea that traditionally the paternal grandfather eats the foreskin after its been snipped and while that concept is strange enough, sitting in a room 5 feet away from him I realize that he doesn't have to eat it himself, he can give it away to anyone else in the room as long as they hold an honored position at the event. So while the boys dad is out in the street unable to watch at all, I on the other hand am right in front of grandpa with a sign on my head that says HONORED GUEST in big red neon.
And its been a hard week in general for me. Madagascar is a lawless country, absent a central government for many years, and a place we found extremely tough to navigate. Lost luggage was rifled through and some of my personal gear was stolen. Safety in some areas was circumspect enough that we had some serious protection flown in to escort us while we were there. Communication with the outside world was almost nil. It adds up to a stressful experience. And what made it a trip that ranks as one of my all-time best was the people, warm and welcoming and genuinely happy despite their difficult circumstances. The poverty is extreme and the short-term prospects for any real change in the lives of the Malagasy people is nil. So despite the fact that the local currency is worthless and not even accepted in places like, say, their biggest airport or largest city, and despite the fact that we basically ran away from the danger and despair that is Antananarivo (the capital city looks like the final pages of Dr Seuss' The Lorax. For a country renowned for their wildlife, Tana as its colloquially called is essentially stripped clean of all vegetation to the horizon), the joyous nature of the Malagasy themselves is infectious. They are resilient and kind, funny and generous and I desperately don't want to be rude to the amazing family that is hosting me.
So I sit, and hear the snip, and watch the uncle pass the foreskin to the grandpa and I watch him hesitate. He grabs a banana which is typically eaten with foreskin (no jokes please, it's true), peels it and places the flesh on the tip.....And he clearly isn't going to eat it and I think "holy crap he is going to give it to me and I don't know what I am going to do"?
I was convinced I would never cross that line and I also live by a creed of acceptance and exploration, curious about everything and trying to experience life and translate that experience for my viewers. I swore never to be rude to my hosts. What would you do? I am conflicted.
So I prepare for the worst and grandpa shrugs and passes off the foreskin to the maternal grandpa who scarfs it down like a hungry drunk at a hotel hors d'oeuvres buffet. I am off the hook. And for the record I wouldn't be able to do it...easy to say now.
The world is a vast and storied place. What is commonplace in one culture is often topsy turvy in another. I think handling it requires a plan, and some forethought, but every once in a while you have to rely on instinct and luck to get out of a jam. Lesson learned on the cannibalism front. And to whomever is in charge of the universe....thanks, I owe you one.
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