Eating Authors: Sheila Finch

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Welcome to another installment of Eating Authors where I ask other writers about their favorite meals. .

This week we visit with Sheila Finch. Sheila won the Compton Crook Award with her first novel, Infinity’s Web, and a Nebula Award for Reading the Bones, but I always think of her for her many Lingster stories, which were finally collected in The Guild of Xenolinguists.

I first met Sheila as the result of some random carpooling at the 2001 Nebula Awards Weekend in Los Angeles, and was delighted to meet up with her again on a linguistically-themed panel I moderated at last month’s World Science Fiction Convention. Naturally, I asked her the question that’s on everyone’s mind.

The Guild of Xenolinguists Sheila Finch Reading the Bones Infinity's Web

LMS: Okay, Sheila, what’s your best, most memorable meal?

SF: I’ve had many great meals over the years in many different cities, big and small, in a number of countries on four continents. But the meal that was most memorable wasn’t gourmet at all.

I’d gone to Rwanda for ten days with People-To-People to see the effects of the genocide and the progress the country was making healing its wounds and rebuilding. We stayed in a four-star hotel in Kigali and traveled round the country visiting farms, co-ops, schools, orphanages, medical clinics and museums. Sometimes, we stopped for lunch and were served tilapia, rice, fried plantains and spinach. It was always the same meal, and the beverage was always lukewarm orange soda or Coke because the drinking water wasn’t up to western standards.

One day, we’d been far afield and were returning tired and looking forward to a shower and a good meal (maybe steak) in the hotel restaurant when our guide told us we were invited to eat supper in a particular village way out in the dusty country. There were groans all around at the prospect of more of the ubiquitous tilapia, but it would’ve been very rude to refuse the hospitality. When we arrived, the entire village was assembled outside to welcome us. They seated us under a canopy where barefoot children and goats roamed past, both eying us curiously. The men of the village were barbecuing something which smelled good, not tilapia! While the children watched wide-eyed, the women served us plates heaped with rice, fried plantains, spinach -– and goat meat.

Now I quite like goat meat, but for some of our party this was a first and maybe not particularly enjoyable. No way anybody could refuse this great honor, because obviously goats aren’t cooked every day. And then we realized that nobody else in the village was eating. The precious meat was just for the visitors. At that point, we all became suddenly full, declining offers of second helpings because we realized the villagers would dine on the leftovers. After speeches (which our guide translated), exhibitions of native dancing, and much waving and hugging, we finally climbed back on the bus. Nobody said much on the way back to the hotel, but I think we were all humbled by the generosity of those poor people.

And fried plantains, rice, spinach and goat meat were a far finer meal than any steak the hotel could’ve served us.

= = = = =

Thank you, Sheila. And for any readers interested in learning more about People-to-People’s amazing programs, just follow the link above.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal (though likely without goats)!

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