Sunday, September 21, 2014

Country Cook

As you know, I taught all four sections of tenth grade last year.  Near the end of the year, my students started asking me if I was going to come for their Country Cook.  It took me a few minutes until I deciphered their Liberian English as “Country Cook,” but once I figured that out, I realized I had no idea what they were really talking about!  :)

Every year, schools in Pleebo do this (and maybe around Liberia, though I’m not sure…) until students reach the tenth grade.  As an elementary student, it is much less involved, but as a tenth grader, it is a day’s event!  The week after final exams, students will get together on campus and cook a meal together to celebrate another successful school year.  They each pay an agreed upon amount of money and a group of students from the class will head to the market to buy all the required goods. 

Every section of tenth grade did things differently, but the average price being paid by my students was around 300 LD (or around $4 US).  On Monday, I showed up, not sure what to expect, and I was so surprised by the results.  There were ten or so girls from the 10A class (the only class doing country cook that day) cooking up a storm.  They had purchased 35 kilograms of rice and 12 kilograms of beans to cook for their Country Cook.  Arriving on campus at 7 am, they prepared their wood fire and got to work cooking all that food for about 60 people. 

Country Cook is special because it typically involves meals that people don’t cook often at home (or meals prepared in a special way – i.e., plenty of meat, special beans, or more expensive rice (less starchy)).  10A had purchased a goat and slaughtered and parboiled it on Sunday to be put in their beans on Monday.  Upon arriving, Maria and Caroline laughed and set me right to work, preparing seasoning, washing peppers, and cleaning rice.  It was so much fun and such a great, relaxed environment to spend time in with my students. 

As things were wrapping up, they looked to me and said “Miss Moore, where are your containers?”  I was confused – containers?  What does that mean?  I said as much, and they explained to me that I needed to bring containers to carry my food home in.  I hadn’t expected to be fed, and I explained myself to them. They refused no as an answer, and they sent me on my way to get containers from my house.  When I returned, they made sure to dish up my soup and rice first, giving me plenty of rice and so much meat.  I tried to stop them, explaining I hadn’t paid for the meal and that the meat was plenty-oh, but they would hear none of it.  (I think they were so shocked I had wanted to help with this meal, and they wanted to make sure I enjoyed as much of it as I could.) 

The next day, I arrived on campus and walked between 10B, 10C, and 10D as they were preparing their meals.  Beans were the common denominator for all my classes, it seemed, and I asked them why.  “Beans are sweet, Miss Moore!” “Beans are plenty and not too dear (expensive) – we can eat plenty on this day!”  The responses made me laugh, and I couldn’t help but agree with them.  Beans are quite tasty, and these students can cook – I’m telling you! 

10D had bought a goat, as well, but 10C and 10B made due with plenty of chicken and fish, which was equally as tasty.  At the end of the day, it was a competition to see who would get to send Miss Moore food to take home – I ended up choosing to carry home some beans and rice from 10D, as I had taste-tested from both 10B and 10C throughout the day. 

Walking home both days, everyone knew that I was carrying my Country Cook home, and as is custom, I was asked if they could join me in eating.  I happily obliged, but no one took me up on the offer.  Instead, I carried my food straight to Regina’s house and shared my bounty with Eliyassa, Patricia, and all of the children in the yard.  Had I not had neighbors to share with, I think I would have been eating those beans for the rest of the week! 

Country Cook occurred when Sarah was travelling to Monrovia to hand in grant applications and things for our library, and I’m sad she missed out.  I am grateful it occurred during that week, as well, though.  It gave me something to do and someplace to be for two days out of what could have been a very lonely week.  And the welcoming spirit and fun atmosphere that my students gave me for those two days is something I will remember for the rest of my life. 

They not only taught me a little something about cooking Liberian dishes, but they also taught me what it is to be selfless and generous when you may not have much.  They welcomed this confused white lady in as their teacher and as their friend, and I am so incredibly grateful for the experience we shared together. 

Dishing out beans for everyone to carry home

Maria showing off 35 kilos of rice - cooked!

Fires are ready to cook

Country beans have to be beat after they are boiled

Teta can cook-oh!

Ferretha bluffing with the chicken

The ladies of 10A - hardest working women I know

Patrick getting ready to eat his papaya; Andrew preparing the pigs feet for the soup

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