Peanut Butter and Idli by Abigail Gard

Day 1 in India:

As I pull my red and black suitcase from the baggage claim in Mumbai, I notice a large, dark stain along the top. Concerned, I open it up to reveal what I might dramatically call “my worst nightmare”. The jar of peanut butter that I packed had broken and exploded everywhere. So, I stood there in the middle of the Mumbai airport starring at the bag containing all of my essentials for my next 6 weeks in Pune, India.

I LOVE peanut butter. It is a rare day that I go without it back home. So naturally, I graciously accepted another NSLI-Y student’s extra jar when it didn’t fit in her suitcase back in New York. “How perfect,” I thought, “I’ll share this with my host family and then they can get a taste (literally) of my American life.” Instead, my host family probably thought that I was a bit crazy when I arrived at their apartment smelling like peanuts and sadly remembering the broken jar now sitting at the bottom of a trashcan in the Mumbai airport.

Day 9 with My Host Family:

We are shopping in the Phoenix Mall in Pune when we decided to go into a grocery store for some food. MY family wanted me to cook for them, so we picked up some pasta along with the American classics—pancake mix and bacon. Then a glorious moment occurred where my host sister turned to me and asked, “Do you want to get some peanut butter?” The choir of angels began singing a melodious rendition of Alleluia in my head, but I contained myself, replying only with a calm “sure.”

Day 11 with My Host Family:

2 days later, we open our precious jar of Skippy creamy peanut butter and I made my host mom and sister peanut butter and banana sandwiches for breakfast. They were skeptical at first, but they ended up loving them! I of course was over the moon that not only was I having peanut butter, but that my family liked it too. We had peanut butter and banana periodically over the next 3 weeks for some breakfasts or lunches. We even had to buy a second jar after blowing through the first one.

Day 19 with My Host Family:

I walked into the kitchen to find that breakfast was idli with a mint, garlic chutney. I love the majority of all the food I’ve eaten here, but out of everything, this meal is not my favorite. Idli is a popular southern Indian dish made from rice flour. It is very well loved, and although it is interesting and tastes a bit like sourdough, I have had to ease into it. However, as I sat down at the table, my host mom advised me not to eat the chutney because she had made it “too spicy today”. Instead, she handed me the jar of peanut butter with a simple, matter of fact, “here, use this.” “Peanut butter and idli?” I thought. “Well it probably won’t be the craziest thing I try while I’m here.” Hesitantly, I spread the peanut butter on top of my idli and took a bite.

Day 24 with My Host Family:

I consider this moment to be a perfect example of one of the goals of this program. It truly exemplifies a cultural exchange. My first eleven days with my family were about adjusting to India and having them showing me how to live life here. Then once we were comfortable with each other and our new situation, I was able to open up about life in America even if it started with something as simple as peanut butter. From that moment on our apartment has become a melting pot of ideas, dance, music, art, sports, food, clothing, relationships, politics, hobbies, transportation, languages, American, and Indian. It has become an exciting combination of the spice of new adventure and the sweetness of home. Now, you may prefer one or the other, but if you ask me I’ll take both. So, please pass me the idli AND the peanut butter.

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