Finding Common Ground in Africa

On 5/12/2010 5:12:11 PM Staff Sergeant Amanda McCarty wrote:

(Note: Sergeant McCarty, U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs, is blogging from Camp Bangare in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, while supporting Exercise Flintlock, a multi-national military exercise conducted in various Trans-Saharan countries to develop military capacity of African, American and European participants.)

I arrived in Burkina Faso May 10 in support of Exercise Flintlock. Being my first time to the country, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was excited to be part of the union of so many countries in the exercise and to experience different ways of life, but I have to admit a vast change in culture can be a bit un-nerving for me sometimes.

I awoke the morning after my arrival and headed down the restaurant for breakfast, not sure what I’d find. I entered a large room to find a plethora of different patterned uniforms, Americans eating raisin bran flakes next to Malians eating eggs and Frenchmen eating croissants. They sat together like family, talking in French and English, as they enjoyed breakfast. I stood, just observing for a few seconds before I went on. I ate thinking of how a meal can bring people from all walks of life together.

Later that day when lunchtime rolled around, I made my way with a fellow American to check out what African cuisine would be served at the Camp Bangare where the exercise was taking place. The venue was an open tent outside, filled with large round tables seating eight or more people. The dishes were served buffet style and as I made my way through the line I met an African-born U.S. Army lieutenant serving as a translator. He explained to me the different dishes, like yam, and how it is a starchy staple for many. Chicken, rice, potatoes, avocado and pineapple were a few of the other I items dished up. I put a few things to try on my plate and looked for a seat.

I had lost my American colleague, but found an open seat at a table of mainly Africans. We talked and enjoyed the food and each other’s company. I learned a little about each person I spoke with and discovered any concerns I may have had were gone. It seemed again that food was a common denominator for us.

I realized that despite our differences, we all shared at least something – a career devoted to service, the hope and determination for a more stable and secure Africa, and of course, a meal that brought us all together around the table to learn more about each other, make new friends, and eat whatever may be the cuisine du jour.


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