June 2006

In the continuing saga of my fiendish search for fresh fruit and vegetables, I have experienced a tiny setback. Apparently, the watermelon that we bought was actually platinum-plated, or at least you would think it ought to be given that the cafeteria charged us $61 for the privilege of taking the (not even so big) darling home with us. And that was just the watermelon…I suppose you could say that I may have gone slightly overboard with my obsessive quest to find a variety of plant life to eat here. Danny was appalled when he went to go settle up our account and found that for two small heads of endive, the aforementioned watermelon, a few sweet potatoes, some carrots and celery and cucumbers, a handful of green onions and garlic, we owed a whopping $135. Now, we have definitely spent that amound on groceries at home before, but it usually involved coffee and wine and other big-ticket items, not just a couple of measly vegetables.

So, suitably chastened, I will have to be a little more discriminating in my future shopping endeavors. Not that I’m going to stop trying to find a variety of fresh foods for us to eat, but I may need to be a little bit smarter about it. Those organic gardening books are going to be an even crueler tease than I thought.

The good news is that apparently the scary cafeteria, in an attempt to lose that informal (but widely accepted title) is going to start having a “farmer’s market” twice a week. Now, call me skeptical, but I somehow doubt that said farmer’s market is going to be on par with the markets we used to visit in arlington with stall after stall of every agricultural product one could imagine, but I’m looking forward to it nonetheless.

And I will say that, high price tag or not, when we got to sit down to our endive/pear/carrot/spring onion/almond salad the other night instead of yet another plate of carrot and celery sticks, it was worth whatever they charged for it.


After all my whining about produce this morning, I’m very happy to report that thanks to my ingenious husband we not only have zucchini and sweet potatoes in our fridge right now, we also have….drum roll please…ENDIVE and WATERMELON. A whole watermelon, just when I was thinking I was going to have to wait until next year to taste it again. How is this possible, you ask?

One of my darling spouse’s most charming and most inconvenient personality traits is making friends with pretty much everyone he meets, be they senior official or bum on the street (I’m not making that up, in college the bums in DC used to know him by name…). In this case it definitely works to my advantage, because he made friends with the guys who run the good cafeteria across the street (as opposed to the scary scary cafeteria right next to our offices), and now they let him go “grocery shopping” in their walk-in refrigerator whenever we want. So although we’re still limited to what can get here by plane, at least we can have it sans sauce. And in case you’ve forgotten your college cafeteria days, the ability to have vegetables that are not mush and not covered in either butter or sauce of some sort IS an exciting thing.

Okay, maybe not everyone gets excited about that. But I do, and I am relishing the prospect of cutting up that watermelon and enjoying it for the next several days!

I find myself on multiple occasions fantasizing about the produce section in our grocery store back home. Oh, to be able to just wander freely through such a veritable garden of eden again…

Which is not to say that there isn’t good produce here, the problem is that because of some weird hang-up about cholera we’re not allowed to buy it off the local economy. So what we get is what can be flown in from safer parts. For vegetables, that means on any given day carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes. Every now and then some celery. Let me tell you, I never thought I would treasure celery, but when you haven’t had it for weeks it’s amazing how good it tastes. Fruit is the same way — we usually have access to red delicious apples, plums, pears and the occasional kiwi. I should be greatful for what we have, especially since I’ve heard that the winters here often mean that no flights can land and we’re reduced to whatever is canned and already here for weeks on end, but I’ll admit that I’ve been fiending for berries and peaches and summer squash.

So what did I do the other night? I bought about five books on organic home gardening online. Why, you ask, in a place where we have no land in which to plant such plants, let alone time to tend them, would I torture myself this way? I’m not really sure. But the very idea of being able to walk out my back door and pick some okra or strawberries is incredibly seductive right now.

On a slightly separate note, I’ve developed a fresh appreciation for the many ways of preserving meat and fruit products as I contemplate a time six months from now when we may not have received any fresh supplies for weeks or months (last winter I think the record was eight weeks with no mail and no food deliveries — people were getting Christmas cards in February). If I actually had the equipment or know-how to make sausage or dry meat (or how to use it once it’s been dried) or preserve jellies and jams and such I would beg, borrow and steal whatever I could from the mess hall and create my own stockpiles.

Perhaps I’m starting to sound a bit fiendish. I think I’ll go enjoy a lovely dried peach and a granola bar and try to ignore the visions of summer watermelons and cherries that are dancing in my head.

On Saturday Danny got the chance to go with a few of our embassy marine guards to a local orphanage to distribute formula and diapers and such, which was an amazing experience — I was so jealous that I didn’t get to go! The orphanage he went to wasn’t one of the big government-sponsored ones, which are truly depressing in so many ways, but it was a small one run by an NGO of some sort, I believe. They basically set it up like a group foster home; one couple takes care of 10-15 kids and lives with them in a private house, so the care they receive is much more personal. Hearing the stories about the kids — many of whom are not actual orphans but were abandoned by their parents because they were born mentally handicapped — broke my heart, but knowing that there are people like that couple (who are not locals, they’re Westerners of some sort) here is really amazing. None of the older girls at the orphanage would agree to be in the picture, but it gives you a feel for the group, anyway.

I think that in my next (professional) life I’d love to do something like that — Danny and I have talked about how cool it would be to start a school or something in a different phase of our lives. We don’t feel led to do it at this point, but the idea is there and we’re definitely not ruling it out in the future.

And now after figuring out how to upload the picture and everything I’m well on my way to being late for work. Lucky for me my commute is only about 100 feet!

Despite the fact that I am still a bit nervous about putting myself (or at least some of my thoughts) out into the great wide world web, I’m taking a deep breath and jumping. The reason? I have a wonderful, loving family and many similarly wonderful friends, nearly all of whom have threatened drastic action if they don’t hear from me more often. As out here, at the veritable ends of the earth, phone contact is less than convenient most of the time, I am hoping that by starting this blog I will be able to reassure my friends and loved ones of my continued existence without having to resort to mass e-mails that clog up everyone’s inbox. This way, you are more than welcome to come and read at your leisure or not, as you desire, and I can hopefully avoid writing mass-produced impersonal e-mails telling the same story fifty times.

The title of this blog, of course, reflects our current location (or at least what it feels like at times), but also to a very well-known scripture, which I’ll include here because it’s a useful reminder to me of what I should be focusing on out here when I am frustrated with our highly circumscribed lives:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my winesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Acts 1:8
It’s true that we’re not out here as missionaries in the traditional sense, but Danny and I have been very convicted of late of the need for us to act as such in our every day lives, whatever our occupation. So I would ask all of you who read this to lift us up in that endeavor, and to keep us accountable as well by checking up on us!