Sunday, December 4, 2011

Making American Food for Friends

The past couple of days, I've been sharing American cuisine with friends from my community. Part of my job as a Peace Corps volunteer is to share American culture with locals, so I decided to share grilled cheese sandwiches.

Actually, I started last night with pasta. There's an orphan girl who has been living with my former host family, and I've been trying to do what I can to help with her, mainly struggling through the Dominican legal system to get her to a decent permanent home, but also occasionally keeping her occupied so she gets in less trouble (keeping her out of trouble entirely would be nice, but I like making goals that are actually possible). Anyway, she and my host nephew came over last night and I made pasta while they watched part of The Lion King in Spanish on my laptop. 

No, scratch that. I made pasta while the boy 'helped' by explaining how to make pasta, and how to open cans, and what all the things in my kitchen are for, and how to stir, and what ingredients we needed to add (when I was still living with them, he noticed my toothbrush and explained how to brush one's teeth. He loves explaining things, and sometimes even knows what he's talking about! He's among the 50% of fourth graders who know how to read, so I guess he's pretty smart). Meanwhile, the girl (who's only about a year younger but hasn't ever been in school, but who learns very quickly and is indisputably smart) searched through my things for 'gifts' she could beg from me with her puppy dog eyes. The Lion King didn't go ignored, however, because a neighbor boy of about 12 years (whom I've never really met and whose name I don't know) walked in the door with us and sat quietly watching the movie. In Dominican culture, you usually don't invite guests, they invite themselves, and you feed whoever happens to be around at mealtime, so I added some tomato soup to the pasta sauce and managed to feed four in my toolshed. Then my host sister and aunt showed up and scolded me for not saving any for them, and after chatting for a bit everyone left. It was a little chaotic, but really didn't take very long. My poor kitten could come out of hiding by the time Simba met Timon and Pumbaa. And the kids had fun and liked the food, so I'll consider it a successful night!

Scar singing on the not-so-big screen.

Cute girl with leftovers. That's my host sister on the left.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *
Given the size of my one-room home, though, I preferred tonights strategy. I picked up cheese and bread today while I was in the city for church, and I carried my supplies over to some (other) friends' house. They'd never had grilled cheese sandwiches before (honestly, they're probably too expensive), and they'd never even worked a can opener before, so I looked like quite the master chef as I whipped up some grilled cheese and tomato soup. Once again, the food was spread around to more people than I expected, but it doesn't take much food to fill the bellies of people too poor for grilled cheese. We had soup left over! And then I opened my homemade pickles, and they all got to try some of that. For sour vegetables, pickles are surprisingly popular, although there were a couple of the standard oddballs in the crowd who aren't pickle fans.

My sous-chef slicing up the finished product.

Our big pot of soup. They kept calling it 'salsa' because I told them to dip the sandwiches in it.

Some happy customers. I guess the guy on the left is sad that his is gone.

They wanted me to document their full bellies. I'm also documenting the fact that very few Dominicans believe in zippers.
Another very successful night. When people think 'Peace Corps,' I'll bet they usually think of digging latrines and building houses, but having dinner with friends is at least as important and at least as 'Peace Corps' as manual labor.

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