026: Almost like home

It only took five months, but at least it’s finally happening, Chelsi thought to herself as she flipped on the kitchen light switch.  It was her house in the village, although ‘house’ is an over statement. More like a toolshed with a bed.  Even Mike, before he left off handedly stated, ‘Yeah, I don’t really live in it, I just use it to store stuff.’ But now, after five months of negotiations, her house was going to be brought closer to the housing standards set down by Peace Corps.  Until the work was completed, Chelsi was to stay at the prov house with all her things. Except Daisy, I really wish my darling Daisy could be here.  Rainy season was to arrive any day now and she hated the thought of Daisy sleeping out in the rain. 
The prov house is a transit house with volunteers filtering in and out, travelling from Provence to Provence or just to stay a few days to make a dent in never ending amounts of paperwork. There was always someone else home, even it was just the PC Volunteer Leader (PCVL)/house manager who lived at the house.  But tonight, tonight was rare, for even the PCVL was gone for meeting in the capital leaving the whole house to Chelsi.
“Whatever I want,” she declared to the empty room.  She removed a bottle of Unlabeled White wine from the fridge and poured herself a glass. She plugged her phone into the kitchen speaker, “bee du bee de dep, you’re listening to Radiolab,” it sang out.
It’s almost like any other Saturday night in the States, she thought. Podcasts, a bottle of wine, and now what to make…  Any other Saturday night in the States she would have been canning; blueberry marmalade, green tomato relish, pickled cantaloupe.  But here, it would have to be something simpler, and cooks quickly, just in case we lose the power.
Chelsi stretched for the mixing bowl on the top shelf and ran her hand over the inside. You could never tell if a dish was clean just by looking at it.  Sure you might not see leftovers still clinging to the sides or even the red tint that indicates dust but when you try and put the cup, plate, bowl down you might just find you hand stuck to it.  The mixing bowl, which Chelsi had washed multiple times over the few days, passed inspection. 
Wet ingredients first. She cracked a couple of eggs into the bowl, then diligently rinsed out the shells and set them aside to dry; to be crushed and added to the garden for minerals. She beat the eggs till they there all one color.  Oil, which in Zambia most people just refer to as Saladi, a former brand name for vegetable oil, or by volunteers just as spice, for being the only food flavor additive/enhancer used by Zambians with the exception of salt. Milk, long life milk, the kind in the hermetically sealed boxes was really the only way to go.  Fresh milk went sour just a few hours after opening even if it’s kept in the refrigerator. 
Chelsi inspected a second bowl.  Mix the dry ingredients separately. The prov house was usually stocked with some basic staples: flour, sugar, rice.  But the quality was incredibly variable.  This time around a rat had chewed the plastic lid of the flour bucket.  Chelsi pull the bucket out from under the cabinet and removed the remainder of the lid. Bits of green plastic formed a new kind of cover for the flour.  Using a spoon, Chelsi scraped to the side the top layer.  She was reluctant to remove it entirely, there’s still a lot of good flour mixed in there, she reasoned. Maybe as we use it we can just pick it out, and you know, we shouldn’t waste; starving children in Africa and all. She did remove some of the ‘improved’ portion and added it the dry ingredients bowl.  Baking powder’s in the box, salt in the bag. What else? She moved over to turn on the oven.  Zambia, like the rest of the world operates on the metric system, but thankfully the oven doesn’t, Chelsi thought.  A little less confusing and a little more like home. 
Cocoa powder and sugar were added to the bowl in the final step before whisking it up. Best practices also told Chelsi that she should butter the baking pan before mixing the wet and dry ingredients together.  The prov house kitchen was covered in an amalgam of pots, pans, dishware and wooden spoons; most of which are never used.  After browsing the door less cabinets for the proper pan she got down on her knees to look through the cupboard.  A slight stench seeped from behind the door.  Never had she seen the other volunteers look through the pot and pan cupboard but how bad can it be?
The open door belched out a rancid scent.  Chelsi held her breath and shuffled around some plastic plate, cookies sheets, a large pot,
“Nope, no, definitely not.” She cried slamming the cupboard door closed.
But it was too late; the experience was already burned on her memory.  She emptied her wine glass and refilled it. 
She knew what she had found, even without a complete view or previous experience to compare it too.  She had certainly never smelt anything like it before in her life.  Like death. What she had smelt and seen was death and decay.  The bald, still well formed tail was pointed right at her.  Toughs of gray fur were strewn about the putrefied body.
In her mind, she balled up the memory and pushed it to the back.  Another deep breathe or two and she turned her attention back to the cabinets.
“This will work just fine.” She took down a long glass pan and washed off its sticky coating.  After drying it with a Prov house dish towel, also called a pillow case, she rubbed it down with butter. 
The smell of the mixed wet and dry ingredients reminded her of America.  She poured the batter into the prepared pan, scoured the mixing bowl, then popped the mixing spoon into her mouth.  The oven being electric, has the potential to produce nicely finished baked goods, but the electricity in Solwezi is unreliable do to a country-wide electricity shortage.
“I just need 35 minutes, please,” She prayed to the load-shedding gods.
35 minutes later, with the lights still on, she removed the finished cake the oven.

Categories: DIY, Food & Recipes, Horror | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “026: Almost like home

  1. Sandy

    Yay a cake in Africa! Glad you had access to some electricity! Daisy will be ok. She will find a dry place to sleep. Love to you and Daisy. Xo


  2. Jean Thomas

    I’m glad you got a taste of home!


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