The hot and humid, tropical evening felt like a steam bath. I was trying to make pizza to lift the spirits of my five children. We were homesick for America and American food. After three weeks of trying to cook Filipino style, I had a rebellious group of kids on my hands. They no longer thought rice was a treat. At this point in our cultural adjustment, mashed potatoes seemed like a delicacy.
With perspiration dripping from my forehead, I proceeded to roll out the pizza dough. Then, I saw them; a long row of ants crawling over the counter. A few had even managed to invade my dough. Being the dauntless woman that I am, I wiped the ants off of the counter and picked out others who were stuck in my dough. I kept repeating, “I can handle this. I can handle this.”
Next came the pizza sauce. I opened a can of tomato sauce, planning to add the Italian seasonings I brought from home. My heart sank. The tomato sauce I had purchased from the market looked more like our tomato soup…more pink than red. I could imagine my children turning up their noses at this pale version of pizza sauce. I wistfully repeated, “I can handle this. I can handle this.”
The next ingredient was sausage. This was an unknown because I did not know what kind of meat it was. Since I could not speak the local language and felt intimidated at the open market, I bought whatever meat looked like sausage. I managed to figure out that one-half kilo is about one pound. Aha! The sausage was one of my successes. It was seasoned and a good facsimile of its Italian counterpart.
The cheese presented a challenge that almost undid me. The chunk before me was the local version of Velveeta.™ Have you ever tried to grate processed cheese? It takes an extraordinarily patient woman to even attempt such a feat. For the children’s sake, I gave it a try. In the end, I did my best to cover the pizza with globs of soft cheese…albeit unevenly.
Just as I was putting the pizza in the oven (with no temperature controls other than off and on), I felt something furry run over my foot. Oh, no, it couldn’t be. But, it was…a rat! I frantically stuck the pizza in the oven and grabbed a broom. Where that rat came from and where it went, I do not know. But, it was gone as fast as it had come. I could feel my heart racing. Heat exhaustion took over. I asked myself, why did we come here and why did we need to subject our family to such inconveniences?
And that’s exactly what they were…simply inconveniences. While ants and rats might make my skin crawl, they did not endanger me. I suffered from a “martyr’s mood.” Back to the basics: we came to the Philippines to be God’s servants. Was I only willing to serve if I could have all the comforts of home? Daily, I prayed God would help me see this place through different eyes.
My prayers were answered in the form of a twenty-year career global worker. She said, “Oh, I have never stopped hating the ants. Every time I go to the States on furlough and return, I have to learn to live with insects again.” What a relief. A woman who did not think I was a “spiritual pansy” just because I did not like ants running around in my kitchen.
This dear global working woman gave me some tips on ant life. When the children drop food on the floor, just leave it there. By the next morning, the ants will have carried it away; a novel way to clean a floor. To keep ants off a table, place each table leg in a small can of water or oil. Viola! No more ants on the table. Ant buttons from the States are useless on tough tropical ants. Plastic bags offer no protection. Voracious ants chew right through them. The safest place for bread and sugary foods is in the refrigerator.
With this new advice and encouragement, my whole attitude changed. Although I never did like to live with ants, I found I could. Even more amazing, I learned to live with cockroaches, too. When I saw one of these monsters, I calmly smashed it with my slipper. Lizards became my friends as they ate the insects and did not harm us. This American housewife was slowly meeting the challenges of living in another culture.
God changed my perspective when I thought my perspective could not be changed. I learned that the inconveniences I was dealing with were just “small stuff.” Now, I can truly say, “I can handle this.” Oh, by the way, the pizza turned out looking different but tasting great, and the rat never appeared again.
View the original print magazine where this article was first published.