(Mis)Adventures in the kitchen and other food-related episodes
While it could be argued that it’s just because I have nothing better to do in my house, I have decided to battle the ants. They’re just plain annoying. I was sitting in the living room, which in ant measurements is about 200 miles from the kitchen, and found one swimming in the yogurt I left on the coffee table while reading.
Let me be clear about these ants—they are cunning. They’re nearly transparent and are the size of the tip of a pen, which makes them hard to see running around, until you realize that the counter looks like it’s moving because it’s swarmed. The thing is, I can’t just exterminate them with my ant spray, because—well, it’s poison, and I don’t need to be spraying poison all over my counters and dishes. I sprayed some toilet paper with ant spray, and ran it along the sides of my cupboards, where they tend to run (and jump!), and waited to see them keel over in droves. No such luck. It looked like I hadn’t even treated the area; they just keep on running like normal.
As a result, the only safe space in my kitchen is the refrigerator (for the moment). My roommate laughed, “Ici, il faut partager avec les fourmis!" (Here, you have to share [your meal] with the ants!) I wish I had a Raid Ant Motel right now. The battle is on.
Otherwise, I have been eating odd things here and there. Plain yogurt with honey is my typical breakfast, along with an extra-strong cup of Nescafe. Yesterday, my supervisor at my second office (I have two offices) took me out to lunch for my first day of work. We went to a tiny café where you could order a plate of food a la carte. In Burundi, there are few lunch buffets; in Rwanda, they are omnipresent. (This is because the government limited the amount of time government workers are allowed to take lunch, and buffets were the fastest solution). In Burundi, government workers have a 2-hour “pause” for lunch, from 12 to 2. (The work day is from 7:30 am to 3:30 pm, although technically, if you take a 2 hour lunch, you should stay until 5:30.)
So today at the little local restaurant, I ordered some white rice, fresh beans (not the rehydrated ones) and some lingalinga, which is a spinach-looking vegetable dish that I ordered purely because I wanted to say the word. They also had ubugari, which is Kirundi for ugali, the starchy accompaniment to many meals in East Africa. (In West Africa, they call it fufu.) The ubugari here is made either with cassava, which comes out in a gray, glutinous domed mass, or with wheat. The little hole-in-the-wall was so popular that we shared our table with two strangers, one of whom literally slept on the table while waiting for his wheat ubugari to come. It was grainy, and looked like wheat dough. He pulled at it with his hand, squeezed it deep into his fist, and alternated eating it with spooning peas into his mouth.
Otherwise, I’m eating lots of fresh tropical fruit, which is fabulous. My pineapple sweetened in the fridge, and both mangoes I have eaten were so pulpy that when you cut through them, they sounded like they were frozen. I’ve already grown tired of bananas, and can barely bring myself to eat the ones I bought. Not even the ants want them.
Yesterday, when I lost my water (it also disappeared tonight—let’s hope for the sake of my colleagues that there’s water for my morning shower), the Rwandese girls who live downstairs invited me to watch Burundi’s version of MTV and share peas and rice with them, even though there was barely enough to feed two people. It was really generous, and serves as one more example of how the Rwandese do invite muzungus to their homes, contrary to popular belief!