Ladies, you who are preparing for the frontiers of cross-cultural ministry, our hats go off to you. Your various jobs will include the daunting task of preparing food. Everything you ever thought you knew about cooking will probably be reduced to rubble within the first few weeks in your new host country. I am sorry to be the one to inform you, but even the definitions of terms are different. I’m not talking about language learning issues here, I just mean the simple American definitions of things. There are a lot of things people will remember to say when trying to prepare you for your role in cooking overseas, but there will be a lot of hidden, new kinds of things that people will assume you know.
For example, I distinctly remember someone telling us we would need to learn to “cook from scratch”. When I heard this phrase, I foolishly thought to myself, “I know what scratch cooking is.” Ha! My concept of “scratch” was one step down from the pre-made frozen meals in the freezer section. I knew how to make a cake from the basic ingredients, but what do you do when the recipe calls for three eggs and you only have two? How do you substitute oil for butter or vice versa? I had visions of cans of cream of chicken soup being available everywhere in the world. I mean, isn’t cream of chicken soup one of those things everyone in the world knows about? And isn’t cream of chicken soup one of those essentials that all American women use to cover a multitude of errors? How could I exist in a world without it? I did not know that “scratch” meant knowing how to get those ingredients from a live chicken! What an education global working life is.
My mother said the same thing of her experience in wilderness training with Wycliffe in Texas. I think she said something like this, “Well, they did say they would give us 30 pounds of fresh meat each day to feed the team, but they forgot to mention it would still be braying when they delivered it.”
Other naive misunderstandings in my thinking included the difference between canning for fun, which I did in the States, and canning to have enough food to carry my family through the winter. We had to can every three months just so our family could have tomato-based meals. Do you realize just how many favorite American dishes have tomatoes for the base? What is a child’s world without spaghetti, pizza, lasagna, casseroles, and soup? What a challenge.
This past week, I woke up to find a semi-drowned bee in my toilet. These are just the challenges Global Work 101 classes prepare us for, right? And seven o’clock in the morning is just the time of the morning we all love to contemplate such problems as escorting half dead bees out of such peculiar places. (I’m an afternoon person myself.) Well, as you have probably guessed, I was too tired to think about this great problem, so I delegated it to my 7-year-old son who loves adventure and has no fear of bugs. He happily complied.
I then proceeded on to the kitchen to tackle breakfast. As I entered the kitchen, someone had left the light on during the night, not knowing that bees need warmth and seek it out in the cool African nights. We now had ten bees swarming around the light that shined over the stove. Alas, I needed to make breakfast and I had no idea where we had packed the fly swatters. But since I loved a challenge, making French toast while dodging swarming bees was just my style. I labored on thinking this was just the kind of thing that separated the girls from the true grit global working women.
Fearlessly, I whipped up five eggs (a very precious commodity in the area where we lived) and set the bowl down long enough to go over to slice the bread (it’s not pre-sliced) only to return to find three moths having committed suicide in the batter while I was gone. Since five eggs were too precious an item to throw away, what was a global working woman to do? It had taken me all yesterday morning in the market to find a woman who had fresh eggs (did you know that fresh eggs sink to the bottom of glass of water and not so fresh ones float? That’s a day’s worth of education all in a couple of sentences.). Determined to still have French toast, I fished out the dead moths and consoled myself with the fact that cooking things does kill all germs and proceeded to warm up my skillet.
I love my cast iron skillet. And since my cast iron skillet is black, it’s easy to disguise many hidden secrets from lack of washing, but today the black dots on the bottom of the pan were moving. Several black miniature beetles and gnats were finding their landing zone a bit toasty and were trying to gather strength for lift off. On any other morning, my reasoning faculties would have failed me and I would have ignored the bugs. Africans do eat them; they can’t be all bad. But today’s variety were of such a caliber that I was sure my ever inspecting children would be sure to discover them on their pieces of toast, so I stopped to scoop them off.
The French toast was now cooking so I turned my attention to making the instant coffee. The hot water boiled, as I reached for cups and spoons and started adding the needed ingredients. Unfortunately, upon opening the sugar bowl, I realized I had disturbed the previous night’s resting place for several different kinds of ants. A solid tap to the side of the bowl convinced the large red ones that this was no longer a safe habitat, but the tiny black ones inside the bowl evidently were so intoxicated from their night’s consumption of sugar that they were scurrying round and round the bowl, unable to find their way out. And I was too tired to catch them. Left to themselves, I had every confidence they would soon remember their way home, so I turn back, flip the French toast, and reach up into the cupboard for the honey we will use for syrup. But, the honey jar has been invaded during the night and had become the morgue for approximately fifty miniature black ants.
Now I started wondering if I had wandered into the global working twilight zone. Surely there must be something without bugs! Wondering now if I could convince the children that they are just bee parts and honestly edible, my conscience started needling me. My sense of motherhood prevailed, convincing me I should clean them out rather than answer my children’s questioning looks. Breakfast was finally served.
With breakfast successfully completed, Jessica, my 8-year-old daughter, carried the dishes back into the kitchen only to step on one of the semi-dying bees, producing much pain, crying, and of course, making us late for school.
This could only be listed as one of those victorious days in the life of a global working woman and we hadn’t even gotten out the door to school yet. Sometimes it’s just comforting to know that somebody else knows what it means to share your meal with the bugs of the earth. Several months later, we would be frying up pans of termites and the children and neighbors would be gobbling them up like candy. Is it all in the mind or is it a matter of perspective to say that cooking overseas will have its challenges? Start praying now. Many good women have gone before you and many will come after you, too. So trust God, He will give you the victory. And if you really hate bugs, remember to put that fly swatter on the top of your last box!
This article is a classic originally published in our early print magazines.