Before living in Nyabihanga,
Tanzania I had never done any cooking beyond boiling water and making popcorn.
In the village I volunteered to share the cooking with the two Little Brothers
of Charles de Foucauld, Marcel and Fabian. I didn’t realize what I was in for!
Neither did the Little Brothers! The whole day was a comedy of errors. As I
look back now, I think I should have made it a fast day.
I started at 10:30 a.m. planning
to serve lunch at 1 p.m. The menu was rice with a meat-stock sauce and a salad
from our own garden. Not having had much experience with a wood fire, I decided
to cook with a charcoal stove. Unwisely I used our new pressure cooker. I
spent the first hour reading the directions so the lid wouldn’t blow off on my
first attempt. I lit the charcoal fire, using more kerosene than I should
have. I washed the rice. Then I was ready to cook. The directions said that
boiling the water and cooking the rice would take about fifteen minutes, so I
confidently expected to reach my 1 p.m. target.
I set the sauce aside and put the
pressure cooker on the charcoal fire. I waited for the steam to come up before
starting to time the rice. Fifteen minutes passed and nothing happened. I
discovered that the fire wasn’t hot enough, so I added more charcoal
and doused it with kerosene. During the next half hour I kept
fiddling with the fire, but it still wasn’t hot enough for the pressure cooker
to work properly. At 1:30 p.m. I warned the Little Brothers that lunch would be
For the next hour I continued to
work with the fire. When it finally got hot, the pressure cooker was still not
producing the necessary steam. Several times I had to put the sauce back on
the charcoal fire to keep it hot.
Around 2:30 p.m. the elderly
catechist Salvatori arrived to discuss plans for our outstation, so I dropped
everything to talk with him. When I returned to the kitchen an hour later, the
sauce was lukewarm and the fire barely smoldering. I hadn’t stirred the coals
properly so the heat didn’t spread evenly in the charcoal burner. When I told
the Little Brothers that there would be another delay, they told me not to
worry. They knew that it was important for me to succeed on my own so they
decided not to help.
For the first time I admitted to
myself that there wouldn’t be any lunch. I tried again to make the charcoal
fire hotter. Another hour passed. The coals were burning well, but the fire
still wasn’t hot enough to get the steam up. My small (very small!) consolation
was that I had reheated the sauce.
By 5 p.m. I was close to
despair. I knew that I would have to stop everything and prepare the 5:30 p.m.
Eucharist for the Christians in Nyabihanga. I told the Little Brothers that we
would skip our afternoon meal and have a big supper after the Eucharist. Then
things went from bad to worse. Since the Eucharist was in another house about
two hundred yards away, I suddenly had a vision of the charcoal fire getting out
of control and burning down the kitchen. So I threw water on the coals. This
solved the fire problem but also meant that when I returned at 6:30 p.m. I had
to start the charcoal fire again.
By 7:15 p.m. the charcoal fire
was hot, and so were the Brothers! Naturally they were hungry and a bit
impatient. I didn’t have time to think about my empty stomach. Fabian came to
my rescue. He quickly started a wood fire and cooked the rice while the sauce
remained hot on the charcoal fire. That night we ate lunch at 8 p.m.
Needless to say, I
was immediately removed from the cooking rotation.