The other day I ate some sort of sea snail. I think. That’s the thing about food here; the words for fruits and vegetables and animals and ESPECIALLY sea life are usually different. People often only know the language word for these things. For all I know, there is no English word for them.
So when my cousin served me up a boiled, well, a boiled thing, she could only say, “It lives in the sea, in a shell.”
And so I looked at it, and I thought, abalone? Barnacle? Limpet? “Snail?” I ventured to ask.
“Yeah!” she responded. “Sure, a snail. Or something. You want it?”
Yes. Yes I do. Because I will try anything once, even the cow intestines, which, as I believe I have mentioned, were a mistake. But the probably-snail was pretty good. Chewy as all hell, but very salty. And who doesn’t like salt?
A few weeks ago I got a text from a health volunteer who lives on Pentecost, one of the northern islands. “Happy Worm Day!” he wrote. “Is this worm night on Tanna, too?”
You know you’re in the Peace Corps when your immediate assumption in this context is to think, “Oh, my friend is telling me about his intestinal worms. Like a totally normal person would.”
But I was wrong. “No,” he wrote back. “This is the night on Pentecost where we all go out into the sea, and catch tons of these little red worms that swim up to the surface. Then we eat them.”
This was news to me! Man Tanna has a reputation for eating anything—horses, cats, dogs, you name it—but I don’t think we have the red worms. Or if we do, no one’s offered me any.