As a generality, it is quickly obvious to the visitor that extended family relations and community solidarity are a very central part of African culture. Eating from a common platter is one way in which this solidarity is expressed. It may be one of more unfamiliar things one will see in Africa but it also one of the most beautiful things one can experience here.
iNERDE has a team of cooks in Mali. They start cooking at 4 in the morning and each day at 12:30 they bring enormous bowls of food, lunch for the students and the staff. The food is dished out onto large platters while carpets are laid out in the auditorium. The students line up to wash their hands while the platters of food are brought into the auditorium and put in the middle of the carpets. The students sit on the carpets, one for each team, around the platter, and eat their lunch together. The staff sits together at tables in another part of the Parlement des Enfants and also shares their lunch.
Both the student teams and the teaching teams strengthen their bonds of solidarity during the communal meal. One feels in each of the classes just how strong those bonds are. Yes, people are people and one has their little conflicts from time to time, but there always a bond that is there, much stronger than any conflict. That is why, when there are conflicts, they pass rapidly and are just as quickly forgotten.
I work in Silicon Valley and while the “Valley” produces many wonders I often feel that most of what is done is there is not done with the intention to produce social good. The intention, mostly, is to make money. Obviously, a successful formula, but one that leaves me, personally, feeling unfulfilled. I think there is a drive in us toward social solidarity that Africans express vividly and Americans may sometimes suppress. It is not for me to decide, but I have a hope that as Africans take a larger leadership role in the world, as they advance in technology and wealth creation, that they also teach the world their culture and expression of solidarity. It is wonderful to share a platter of food with your brothers and sisters, everyone should have the chance to experience it.