In elementary school I bought cafeteria school lunches, where the food was partially frozen and the pizza had the buoyancy of a rubber ball. When I got into junior high, I still bought cafeteria school lunches, but it was an upgrade. It was trading in a flip phone for an iPhone. They sold better snacks, decent pizza, and warm delicious chocolate chip cookies that I grew to love and spent my money on every single week until I thought those cookies were disgusting. Overall, junior high just had better food than elementary school. As soon as I went into high school I did a complete three- sixty and decided to bring food from home.
When I told my mom that I wanted to bring food from home she was happy. In her mind she thought I was going to take African food to school. When I explained to her that I wanted to make sandwiches she had this puzzled look on her face. In her mind she was probably thinking, “Where did she get this idea she wants to take sandwiches to school? Why would she make a sandwich when she has beans, Jeloff rice, baked chicken, eru, jama jama and fufu in the fridge? African comfort food at her feet. The best food at her feet. Sandwiches?!” She asked me, “Arlando, you do not want to take the food that I prepared to school.” I said, “No, I want to take sandwiches, like PB&J”. She looked at me and said, “You don’t like PB&J, you do not even like peanut butter.” She was right, I hated peanut butter but, I just told her, “Mom, I am going into high school and I need a change. I may not like peanut butter now but I will in the future. You will see that taking sandwiches to school will be beneficial.” In my head I thought this was a win- win situation: I would save her money and not have to wait in line for lunch. Man, was I wrong. I had one big blow against me: I did not eat sandwiches.
As a kid, I wasn’t surrounded by sandwiches. My parents did not force me to eat my sandwich instead they were trying to get me to eat eru and fufu with my right hand, because that is the traditional way you eat it, instead of using a fork. They didn’t even make it or buy it, yet alone eat it themselves. They did not grow up eating sandwiches in Cameroon. They lived off beans, gari, okra and plantains. Sandwiches are not considered as African, it’s a Westerner thing, which makes sense. The majority of the sandwiches I took to school had peanut butter. I hated peanut butter. I hated how it tasted. At first I tried to eat peanut butter by itself, with jelly, with honey, with bananas and the list goes on. Every peanut butter concoction that you could think of I tried and it didn’t work out so well. Then I went on to cold cuts which I hated as well. Most of those sandwiches ended up in the trash and I always ended up buying cafeteria food. Then I discovered the chocolatey hazelnut amazingness of Nutella. The ultimate nut spreads of all nut spreads in a sandwich. Once I started eating Nutella I had to stop eating it because it made me break out with pimples. Nutella forever missed.
Speed up to junior year and I am stuck in the position that I started out with freshmen year about lunch. I felt hopeless about lunch. One day in AP Chemistry I just told myself, “I might as well just bring my mom and dad’s cooking to school. What is there that I have to lose? It’s delicious food that is nutritious so why not take it.” That same night I just packed what we had for dinner for lunch the next day and my mom saw me and she asked me, “What are you packing that for?” I said. “My lunch.” When I popped my lunch into the microwave at school the next day, I was in a food coma of happiness. The smell of stew made my mouth water and my stomach growl. After that day, I looked forward to eating lunch not because it tasted, smelled, and looked good but it was comforting food I brought from home.
Honestly, I wonder what took me so long to bring food from home. Why did it take me so long to be a witness of the magic of home cooked food? I think now I understand: I thought it would be bad, it would smell weird and I would get complaints. When the reality was different than what I was thinking in my head. Once I started bringing food from home I had classmates and teachers telling me that my food smelled good, looked appetizing to eat that they wanted it for themselves, try it, and would love it if I would bring food from home for them to eat. It turned out that I was the lucky one when it came to lunch.
Since I graduated high school, my dad always keeps telling me that I will love dorm food in the beginning and that I will get tired of it. Once I grow tired of it, I will be begging to come home for some good old cooked African home meal. He is right, I probably will miss it because there is nothing better than home cooked food. Period. There are always the holidays.
About The Author: Arlando Mba is a graduate from Los Osos High school. Her poem One Tennis Ball and Four Rackets was published this spring in, A Celebration of Poets as well as Beyond the Horizon in Anthology of Poetry of Young Americans. She will be attending UCLA this fall.