Sunday, August 15, 2004

Just plain green beans

Who knew green beans could be so tough? Or at least to convey the concept across cultures, with a slight language barrier. As I was telling my colleague last night, giving her advice on how to teach the cooks a certain meal: if you want a vegetable side dish, you will have to stick around and actually do it in front of them. There is no way—I have been wholly unsuccessful in my numerous attempts—to explain through words that we want to cook the green beans and eat them. That’s it. On the side of the plate, by themselves, in addition to the main dish. They think I am positively out of my mind.

There has been a different result each time I have tried to ask for green beans, and I always find the result after they leave so I can’t see their faces, but from the evidence of the state of the beans themselves— sometimes cooked but without dinner, sometimes uncooked, sometimes cooked but left in the kitchen— it is clear that they leave highly in doubt that they understood me correctly, that I really could want just green beans, plain.

In case you’re wondering, green beans is really the only fresh vegetable they have around here, so the confusion is centered around green beans, but I’m sure the problem would come up for any other vegetable as well. Green beans has simply become a symbol.

Monday, August 02, 2004


I’ve been cooking a lot lately. It’s a nice break from routine (of activities and cuisine), and the appreciation I get makes it really fun. I’m gaining quite a reputation. The other expats get really tired of chicken and rice, especially rice*. I find this hard to understand, because I love chicken dishes over rice, can’t get enough of ‘em. The funny part is, God in his infinite (and quirky) grace has also given me an appreciation of all the oil and chicken skin that comes with the chicken and rice. I get teased about it now, after I shared this one day--– mmm, chicken skin. But for the sake of the others who are getting a little skinny, I am now cooking with our cooks Maria and Idalia every once in a while and showing them some stuff like baked chicken, mashed potatoes, etc. And I made spaghetti tonight, after a miscommunication with Maria about who was cooking dinner I guess. After we went five rounds on green beans throughout the day, I got home and looked for dinner and found only the green beans, prepared exactly the way I asked. Oh, well. A blessing in disguise, because I was really missing some good old Dad’'s spaghetti.

*Basic recipe for a rural Mozambican meal:
  • Chicken (the same very pathetic-looking chicken that was pooping in the yard this morning)
  • Lots of Oil
  • Trace elements of vegetables (ie, a carrot chunk here and there, some slivers of green peppers)
  • Served over rice**
**Rice is served to Westerners, but the locals prefer xima (“sheema”), a stiff maize-meal porridge. If anything could push me towards going on the Atkins diet, this would be it.


The weather last week was quite warm and sunny, and I was even pulling back blankets at night. (With the cold of June and July I was sleeping with 3 thicknesses of that fuzzy college-logo type of blanket, which is all they sell in Mozambique.) We went to the beach for the weekend, and it was gorgeous. I was beginning to wonder whether winter was over. But this weekend started out cold and cloudy, and we just broke out into a storm. The other expats went off this morning to help build a house in a village about an hour away. I could not contain an evil cackle as it just occurred to me that because I had to stay and work, I’m the only one who’s dry.