Saturday, July 26, 2008

Aunty Chris

Scott says the difference between African food and American food is the amount of love that goes into African food – the time that goes into preparing it and the tedious detail that each ingredient is given to make it taste just right. Although, we are spoiled here in Sierra Leone. We have Auntie Christiana – or fondly known as Aunty Chris – as our personal cook for our two months here. Not only does this woman love to cook, she is a professional – trained in culinary school. And, she’s very used to cooking for Americans. She even owns an American cookbook. She’s simply amazing – her ability in a kitchen (without an oven, mind you) is hard for us prim and proper Americans to understand. Scott explains the whole situation as “camping all the time.”

I sit outside in the kitchen area now as the wind blows softly through and watch Aunty Chris make spaghetti sauce. Chickens peck by along with a rooster here and there as young boys bring water they’ve pumped from the nearby well – their bulging muscles showing the work they’ve done. Aunty Chris sits on a crate outside the kitchen, which is a separate room behind the house we’re staying in. She cuts the carrots and green beans, she checks on the black-eyes beans she’s prepared and sets a cover on the cake she has baked as a surprise for us tonight. How she makes a cake without an oven is still a mystery to us, yet we’re delighted to taste it and will shower her with compliments tonight. Nancy is Aunty Chris’ helper – we tease the 15-year-old that she’s in a one-student culinary school. Nancy takes direction from Auntie and grinds the garlic, cuts open the tomato paste cans and mashes the onions, which I had the privilege of peeling a few minutes ago. Aunty Chris turns to the half-cooked chicken she’s boiled and begins to coat each one in egg and then bread crumbs and spices. She dabs spots on the chicken that the egg didn’t get to – just to be sure the entire chicken leg will fry.

She looks up and smiles – her teeth shiny white and a sort of genuine laughter in her eyes. The cloth holding her hair back matches the dress she wears – beige with a black design. In the background are the gardens of the COTN homes, beyond that the Sierra Leone bush – tall palm trees peeking out -- and past that are the rolling mountains, faint in the distance. I take my turn at mashing the onions and tomatoes in the mortar and pistil, only stopping when they are a slushy mix. She will add it to the spaghetti sauce in a moment. Aunty Chris is happy to be here – she considers all of the children at the COTN homes here hers since she was the first house mother when COTN set up shop in 1997. Cooking for us is just an excuse to visit them all – she gives the young boys a hard time when they say they are finished filling the barrels of water and she knows there are more to fill. She laughs at them. She greets one here and chats with one there – the Krio language rolling off her tongue like an instrument. And all the while, she cooks – for us. She lets me taste the sauce she’s combined together now over the charcoal stove. She motions for me to run my finger over the wooden spoon to taste. I obey and am delighted with the mixture on my tongue. She looks, waiting for my agreement that it’s good. And it is, I say, it is.

1 comment:

Allie Clark said...

Auntie Chris is greatly missed. Love to her and ya'll!