Often in my life, I have purposefully lived in a large house and purposefully had a large dining room table. I have always loved having people over to eat with my family, and I have always let people stay in a guest room at my house. Often, those people are foreigners who happen to be traveling. When we lived in Nigeria, we had a nice big house with an extra bedroom. Often, we had guests. A Canadian woman stayed in our guest room in Nigeria for a long time, and we became great friends. Another time, a group of Nigerian missionaries from the southern part of Nigeria were traveling north to preach and teach people about God. They came through Jos, and we invited them to stay at our house. You see, the southern part of Nigeria is bursting with Christians, and at that time, there weren’t many Christians in the north, and the south was sending missionaries to the north. I was thrilled and delighted to be able to serve people who were leaving their homes to help others. However, I made a terrible mistake in my exuberance. I wanted to serve them an very nice dinner when they were with us.
I got a chicken, and I stuffed it and baked it. I made mashed potatoes and gravy. I made homemade bread and nice deserts. Everything was perfect! I knew they would love the food I served. They did. They loved it, and ate their hearts out! They appreciated the hospitality.
However, none of us counted on what happened next. The food I made was not the kind of food they were used to. Nigerians eat a lot of pounded or fried yams, grilled meat, boiled or scrambled eggs, fruit, rice with pieces of beef and tomato sauce, mackerel, etc. They don’t eat roast chicken, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, homemade bread, and pies. Their stomachs couldn’t take it! They all got sick. My house was full of sick Nigerian missionaries running to the bathroom with diarrhea and vomiting.
I felt so bad! I learned an important lesson that day. Just because you can eat it doesn’t mean everyone else can. If you entertain foreigners, never just assume they can eat the things you eat. Maybe they can, and maybe they can’t. Maybe they want to, but afterward, they could pay for it like those Nigerian missionaries did. I thought my food was harmless. I thought my food was good, but it was only like that because I was used to it.
When you travel, you are always trying lots of foreign food. I have heard many Americans who travel brag and say, “I have a cast iron stomach! I can eat anything!” That tells me one thing. They haven’t traveled much. I struggle all the time here in Korea because I love my Korean friends, but I have to be very careful about what I eat with them. Some of their food is wonderful, but every time I eat it, I get sick, so I have learned to be very careful. If the food where you go is too different from what your stomach is used to, be very careful. If someone is eating at your house and they are from another country, be very careful. Our stomachs become adjusted to the food we eat all the time, and we may be fine if we eat food from other countries, but you never know what food is going to be the bomb that keeps you in your room and the bathroom.
I learned after that to be very careful with other’s stomachs and never insist they eat things that they aren’t used to. In Nigeria, they sold cans of mackerel in tomato sauce. I kept a supply around all the time, but not because we loved mackerel in tomato sauce. Often, Nigerian students came to visit, and they would forget and not make it on time for their cafeteria food from the high school. It was okay, though, because we would break out the mackerel in tomato sauce, and they loved it! It was like serving pizza to a young American or a young Korean. If a foreigner is coming to your house, they may want to try your unusual food, but try to be sure it isn’t so unusual that you make them sick.