Perhaps the most amusing experience yet: The Cooking Dinner for My Host Family Experience.
In an effort to achieve the Peace Corps goal of “culture exchange” I offered to cook for my host family last night. They eagerly accepted and what ensued was three hours of mayhem with a hilarious finale.
After braving the local supermarket in torrential downpours I sloshed home at 4:00 equipped to make eggplant parmesan, spaghetti and salad. Since the Botswana diet is loaded with carbs and scant on veggies I thought this peek into my vegetarian diet would be a nice change. (‘Change’, I found, is relative—as is, ‘nice’)
To start, Idnil and I hefted a dusty stove into the kitchen that had “baking capacities”. We then spent a frantic half hour attempting to light the oven without burning ourselves or exploding the appliance. When the oven was finally on we spent more time learning that you could not use the burners at the same time as the oven and that closing the door with too much “zest” would blow out the oven fire.
I finally began slicing eggplant. I pined for a peeler.
Pasta sauce was successful (thanks to expensive herbs I bought with Anel and Hael) but breadcrumbs were more of a challenge. After an hour of drying and crunching up enough crumbs for half the eggplant I gave up and threw the slices into the oven to bake.
While dealing with oven-chaos and bread-crumbing Pel had taken the liberty of squeezing up my evenly-grated cheese and Naillil had become fixated on eating the left-over eggplant skins. By this time Baby Ame had also begun screaming for food and would continue to do so for the full three hours of My Cooking Extravaganza.
After re-lighting the oven ten times, wrestling Pel for the cheese and struggling to keep everything warm while heating the pasta --- I finally finished. At 7:30 we all sat down to eggplant, pasta and salad.
The meal began.
All family members launched hungrily into the food. Idnil and Naillil immediately began raving and praising me and, to everyone’s relief, Baby Ame finally stopped crying. Pel threw a piece of spaghetti on the floor and stepped on it before generously placing it on her sister’s plate. My mother took one bite and asked in boisterous, broken English “will this food make me poop?”
While this amused me, the great finale came when all of my family began chattering something in Setswana and appeared to make a collective decision regarding the meal. In mere seconds I watched painfully as the pasta, salad and eggplant were mixed together into one giant heap and lathered in ketchup and mayonnaise. (!!!) Although I had seen this technique used with the family’s rice and veggie meals, somehow the practice over my precious Italian dinner seemed sacrilege.
Nevertheless, I sat back to watch and appreciate yet another moment of cultural madness.