This was our kitchen in Chimoio, the place where I would spend the bulk of my time during the 9 months I lived in that crazy shared house. It was dirty and constantly in a state of disarray despite the fact that we had a maid, but I loved it despite the chaos. Cooking was somewhat of an escape for me, a chance to be away from my housemates and have some quiet moments to mull over the day's events and my general feelings about being in Mozambique. At times it felt like being in the kitchen was the only thing that kept me sane...
One day as I sauteed portabella mushrooms for an omlette (an exciting once-a-year find at Shoprite), I contemplated death.
It was the day after one of the scariest car rides of my life. I had felt completely out of control careening down a dirt road on the side of a cliff with one of our housemates driving. I suspected he was drunk and on pills. I pleaded with him to stop the Land Cruiser, to let me drive. He refused, and I cried in the front seat while trying to hold on to the door handle. There was no seat belt. At that moment I was certain we would have an accident. My mind went wild imagining the possibilities...the vehicle toppling head over tail into the banana plantation below, or perhaps slamming into a tree on the side of the road. I was anticipating the possibility that I could die out there on the dirt road from Chimoio to Espungabera. In the end, we made it with only one minor incident where we went off the road into a cane field. I never got in a car again with this particular person driving.
Cooking the mushrooms gave me a chance to decompress, to re-live and then recover from the trauma of being at the mercy of a vengeful, dangerous driver. The emotions were so strong that I started to cry. A few tears splashed into the pan with the mushrooms, sizzling briefly. As we later sat down to eat, I imagined for a moment that my tears might have an intoxicating effect on my housemates, like Tita's powerful cooking in "Like Water for Chocolate", bringing everyone at the table to silence as they accepted the concept of impermanence.
Now that Rico and I live in Maputo, cooking still is my favorite time to contemplate my life, as if chopping tomatoes, adding a touch to curry to a soup, and struggling to peel the tough outer layer of manioc root were the catalysts for introspection. Being in the kitchen now, however, is no longer an escape; rather is all about the joy of inventing new flavors, experimenting with ingredients and sharing healthy food with the person I love.