Yesterday I saw a Comboni temporary deacon soon to be ordained a priest (Malawian by nationality) that I hadn’t seen in a long time. One of the first things that he said to me was, “You are getting fat!” Feeling quite pleased myself, I thanked him and we continued chatting. Two things struck me as funny as I reflected on his comment later: one that a man would tell a woman (still rather recently post pregnancy) that she is getting fat and two that I was genuinely glad to hear it. I took it as a sign that I now feel comfortable in this culture.
Although in America, a woman might react with horror at being told that she has gained weight, here it is received as a compliment. The difference resides in the disparate realities of these two places. In America, we assume everyone has enough to eat and so food issues revolve more around overeating. Contrarily, in Malawi, because of poverty and problems with food security, overeating is an uncommon luxury. If you see a person looking very thin, the first thoughts to come to mind are that the person must be suffering either from hunger or some kind of disease. To be chubby and full-figured shows affluence and is taken as a sign of success and well-being. In noticing my weight gain, my Comboni friend was flattering me.
Here’s to getting fat and no longer taking food for granted!