Sunday, January 20, 2008

Meet My Housemate

We eat together. We walk together. We shop in the market. We cook. We watch movies and we practice each other’s language.

I have a housemate, and I’m very grateful that I do. Twenty-nine year old Veronica, was born in Tanzania and is a nurse officer and a great guide. She calmly explains the answers to all my questions and listens with a learner’s avid desire to know more as we dissect movies for points of cultural similarities and differences. So far we’ve watched films about Africa and about the South in the U.S. so we’ve each gotten to be the “expert” for the other.

Yesterday we walked for two and half hours. The only road in Karatu that is paved is the main road that takes the many tourists and their safari companies to the big attraction in these parts Ngorogoro Crater. Otherwise the roads are dust and dirt, packed and red, with holes and ridges in them that the drivers of the jeeps and SUVs just know how to navigate. Seriously, no one I know would think they could make it down these roads if they encountered one in the states. And yet, these guys do it. I’m amazed every time.

On foot, it’s like hiking a mountain path. And the “hills” that we’re climbing to get home after taking a walk to the market will definitely be my substitute for the gym! But the reward? Wow! When you see the vistas they take your breath away. Rolling hills, covered in green with the occasional tree spotting the horizon and multicolored bougainvilla everywhere. Plus plots of rich earth in neat squares and cows, goats and donkeys grazing here and there. Put some strings behind this as a score and you’ve got every movie scene of Africa you’ve ever seen. But as I stand to take my photos, I know that nothing will capture this beauty and so I take an extra moment to say a word of thanks and ask that somehow it remain in my memory.

The main road here is lined with much like what I remembered businesses in Ethiopia to be. Small shops made of mud brick or brightly painted concrete blocks with tin roofs or roadside stands of wood, planks and scrap metal selling all that is needed for city life. Each shop has its thing – beauty supplies, pots and pans, rubber boots, the butcher, the drug store, a gas station, etc. Restaurants are interesting in that “fast food” is a case like you’d see in a bakery in the U.S. with the food already prepared and which they will wrap in a newspaper for you to take out. Samosas, doughnuts, and a boiled egg covered in meat and deep fried seem to be the burgers and tacos of the people. I haven’t tried it yet but will. Having discovered that food is much like what I’ve known in the South – stews, thoroughly cooked greens and beans, and something similar to grits – I’m not in any way threatened or mesmerized by the fare.

In fact, I’ve enjoyed most my time here thus far cooking with Veronica. The kitchen is small and the kitchen tools are few – one pot (now two after our trip to the market yesterday), a sauté pan, one large spoon, one spatula, a knife and a potato peeler. But you’d be amazed at what we come up with. Ratatouille anyone? Omelets with hash browns?

Like most of the stews here, she and I are mixing together in the same house taking on a bit of each other’s flavor and the result is quite satisfying.

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