simple tasks

It’s hard to explain to family and friends back home how exhausting life in Benin can be at times. It’s not just Benin — life in any foreign country, and especially a developing one. It’s interesting. It’s rewarding. But still, even seemingly simple tasks can be exhausting, especially at the end of a long work week. Here’s an example.

In the U.S., when we make homemade pizza, it goes a little something like this:

  1. Go to Trader Joe’s to buy ready to bake pizza dough, shredded cheese, canned pizza sauce, veggies, and meat toppings.
  2. At home, chop veggies and assemble pizza.
  3. Bake your pizza.
  4. Enjoy your pizza.
  5. Throw all dishes in the dishwasher.

In Benin, however:

  1. There’s no ready to bake dough here, so make pizza dough by hand.
  2. Exit house en route to grocery store. This is a step in and of itself because exiting your house involves many layers of locks and navigating a massive gate to which there is of course no automatic opener.
  3. On the way to the grocery store, stay alert and drive defensively. Expect to nearly be hit multiple times by vehicles whose drivers don’t seem to be following any logic — at least not logic that you can understand.
  4. When you get to the grocery store, be creative about parking. Any sidewalk or median will do.
  5. At the grocery store, buy a block of mozzarella cheese (for which you might pay as much as $20/pound). Search in vain for bacon.
  6. Go to another grocery store to look for bacon.
  7. And another.
  8. And another.
  9. And another.
  10. Finally find and buy bacon.
  11. Go to the fruit and vegetable market to find veggies. Somehow decide which of the dozen women tugging on your arm, begging you to come to her stand, gets to earn you business that day. Negotiate price and quantity in French.
  12. Come home and shred mozzarella cheese.
  13. Soak vegetables in water and bleach for 15 minutes to disinfect. Rinse with distilled water.
  14. Chop your veggies, fry your bacon, and assemble pizza. (Fortunately we have some canned pizza sauce for the U.S. so that saves a step.)
  15. Bake your pizza in the oven.
  16. When the power fritzes and your oven turns off, cross your fingers that the generator kicks on quickly. When it does, reset the oven and hope for the best.
  17. Enjoy your homemade pizza.
  18. Wash and dry all dishes by hand.

Preparing this one meal took half a day. An exhausting half-day. And yet we’re actually very lucky to be in a place where we can find vegetables and are allowed to move freely in public.

Still, next time we want pizza we’ll probably just go out.

Like father, like son.
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5 Responses to simple tasks

  1. uncle jerry says:

    what a wonderful narrative. i hope you are saving all of this so you can one day write a book. love you all—unc. jerry

  2. Natasha says:

    Hi, I’m a new FSO EFM (and getting used to all the acronyms!) and just started following your blog. Wow, talk about complicated homemade pizza. I actually JUST attempted to make homemade pizza for the first time ever on Monday. It was good, and we are still in the U.S., but I thought to myself, “It would just be easier to order pizza!” Probably not as healthy though.

  3. Dani says:

    ah yes, this reminds me of making lasagna in Chengdu. Step 1: Go buy imported milk at $10 a gallon to avoid melamine poisoning Step 2: make ricotta with said milk Step 3: make sauce…and so forth Ironically the import store did have a choice of not one but two different kinds of lasagna noodles though I could never quite understand why given the above steps required to make the dish…

  4. Kelly says:

    It’s funny but someday, when you’re living in a place like Paris, you’ll probably actually miss how special those pizzas (or turkeys, or tacos) were. Pretty sure I won Ari’s heart over with seven layer bars in Gz that required – you guessed it – about seven different stops, including the lady who literally shelled the walntus in front of me.

    Ah, nostalgia……….:)

  5. Anne says:

    I love this!! I make a lot of pizza at post so I can relate, although instead of 18 steps, ours has 15, because we don’t have that many grocery stores to shop at. 🙂

    Have you found a pizza dough recipe that you love? I’ve tried so many and none that I’m very pleased with.

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