We’ve arrived in Cairns; thawed, partially; discovered the markets and the almost-naked sunbathing backpackers down by the lagoon (we’ll get to that story in later). We’re still having some trouble with food, though. It is true that food is grounding, and it is upsetting that not only are all the people different, the houses, the language, the weather, the airplanes and sandwiches different, but damn it, the soy sauce is different! Vannac is now truly destabilized.
With a kitchen and a chance to unpack, though, Vannac is able to cook his rice again. There is no rice maker, but that is a compromise we can accept, and soon he will be able to eat meat again which is also reassuring. Although still quite opposed to western food, he is beginning to see the appeal: the rest of us walk into the kitchen, pull out our bread and sprouts or yoghourt and muesli and off we go; meanwhile, Vannac is diligently chopping his onions, mincing his garlic, scrambling his egg, boiling his rice, salting his fish, and long after we’ve retired to the living room, Vannac is ready to eat his breakfast. No sooner is he done, he begins on his lunch. A few four-hour asana sessions with Nicky and his hunger might just start to crack this attachment.
I find I’m getting frustrated at his attachment to food. I believe that the basic state of one’s psyche is reflected in the relationship one holds with food. If you guzzle your food, that consumptiveness will be reflected in the way you interact with other people and your environment, and indicates a state of want, or an invisible or feeble self-image. If you are conscientious about how and what you eat, that conscientiousness manifests as care towards other people and things in your life. With Vannac, his intolerance of any deviation in what he is used to reads to me as a belief that “strange = bad,” a principle I believe is opposite to what we do in yoga.
Of course, I understand that familiar food is his touchstone in this upside-down land and certainly don’t condemn Vannac for wanting to eat what he is used to. I am just worried about his being uncomfortable here and I wish that he could be as relaxed as we are. At the same time, leaping into a world so utterly and shockingly different is the best way of severing attachments, of learning to orient oneself on something other than what one is used to, discovering things without knowing if they’re good or bad or ho they work, and moving into a place of not-knowing. This is yoga. But, this is also the hardest part of yoga.
That being said, we had an interesting conversation at dinner last night about this word, “nutrition,” a word Vannac didn’t know. I have some Khmer, but I don’t have the words for “vitamin,” “mineral,” “proteins,” “enzymes,” “calories,” but I wish I did. Priska, the woman who’s house we are in, is very conscious about nutrition and diet and together we explained to Vannac why we eat brown rice and not white rice; why we like to eat fruits and vegetables and not instant noodles; and how we can balance our diets by combining rice and beans, which are very easy to get in Cambodia, instead of eating meat. We also talked about how some people in Western countries can be very fat, but because all they eat is processed and refined foods, they are actually suffering from hunger; that is, nutrient deficiency. Vannac the sponge was quite taken by this idea of nutrients, and thought that maybe he should start using brown rice. I wonder if anyone has thought to write a simple kids-type introduction to nutrition and how our bodies process food; it is something I would like to share with the orphans, also, who don’t have access to a wide variety of food, and could benefit from eating intelligently.
I think a lot about teaching yoga as an ideology and am quite uncomfortable teaching anything that sounds dogmatic. But when it comes to food, I have no reservations about preaching vegetarianism and seeking converts. Am I taking advantage of Vannac’s open ears? But then again, maybe vegetarianism is not an ideology, and is actually as scientific as Nicky’s style of yoga.