There are some days when it feels like I live in the backwater of the middle of nowhere.
And there are others when I feel like Carlisle, Pennsylvania, sits at the intersection of everywhere.
In her native Rwanda, she’s a successful business woman who spends her working hours supplying the country’s aquaculture industry (mostly farmed tilapia) with necessary equipment. But here, she’s taken a year off to become a domestic goddess. She shakes with a deep belly laugh at the thought, raises her hands to the sky and spreads the laughter throughout the room.
But she is, nonetheless, steeled for the transformation.
Josephine considers it her duty to pursue the historically domestic arts of cooking, cleaning and carting children around, while her husband, Didas, pursues his master’s degree as an International Fellow the US Army War College here, and her three children navigate Carlisle’s elementary, middle and high school systems.
About four days after she landed in this country, she landed in her kitchen. Eyes wide, looking in terror at the natural gas range in the corner, she confessed that she was one of those girls who learned only a few traditional, regional dishes as part of her formal kitchen education (one of which is a nut sauce and sweet potatoes which she is bring to dinner on Sunday!). But grew up leaving the day-to-day cooking to others.
In Rwanda, she has help, lots of help. Here, she has only the modern conveniences (self-cleaning oven, power cycle on the dishwasher, and OxiClean) that make the less glamorous parts of being household deity require a little less godly elbow grease.
And she has me.
She is so eager to learn how to cook for her family. And I find that when I try to teach about any food-related topic, I pick up more information than I exude. That combination has led us to our Thursday afternoon cooking lessons.
So far we’ve conquered simply sautéing thin protein (pork or chicken) in a hot pan and finishing it with some kind of pan sauce (chicken broth, white wine and herbs, a can of chopped tomatoes); breaded and baked chicken drumsticks that work for both dinner or packed school lunches; and, a basic roasted chicken courtesy of Mark Bittman of the New York Times, who espouses using in a very hot cast iron skillet to ensure that the dark meat cooks in the same time frame as the breasts.
And our kitchen girl talk centers on things like the struggles of being a big wage earner and then the effect on not having that cash flow on the ego. And we’ve philosophized about how living just one year in a strange country is not really living at all but merely vacationing with a schedule. And we’ve strategized about accommodating school drop-off duties with random required doctor’s visits. But it’s food, really, that’s facilitates the union of minds and hearts here.
This week we’re working with savory pumpkin dishes. Josephine misses that combination from home, and I am running some more formal cooking classes on that topic next week.
So if we can keep from laughing long enough to jot down a few thoughts, we’ll keep you posted on our progress.