Remember Leonard Cohen sang in Anthem about there being “a crack in everything and that was how the light gets in”? That would be the light and a rat in the case of my kitchen. But, in light of excremental evidence (no pun) the landlord finally accepted that he needed to close off the cracks in the ceiling. I, in turn, scoured and scrubbed the kitchen from top to bottom. Now I’m afraid to do anything related to food preparation in there in case the rat returns. Mind you, I never could do much cooking in my Lao kitchen at all and I felt a tad envious watching a video by a Cuso colleague who had a stove with gas burners in his Tanzanian kitchen.
There’s no stove in my kitchen. There’s a water boiler in which I’ve successfully boiled eggs and an electric wok in which I’ve perfected the art of omelet making. Up in the cupboard and never used, is a rice cooker and there’s an unopened packet of rice in the fridge which I bought the same day as I moved in here, 5 months ago. There’s a big cooking pot up in the cupboard too but you’d need a burner to cook with it.
My fridge is the pantry and the freezer holds the garbage until I can put it in the outdoor bins. I used to keep a few odd food items out on the kitchen table for convenience but post-Mr. Rat olive oil, salt, cinnamon and a can with rolled oats are also in the fridge along with fruit, vegetables, packets of nuts, a bag of sugar and some cookies, crackers and jam. I don’t know what that rat was after but something was calling its name.
The tap water is undrinkable. I tried boiling it once but the tea ended up tasting like mud so I use bottled water in the boiler. The carboys of water are delivered by the landlord as and when needed and one lasts about a week depending on what I am doing with the water. Four thousand kip (60 cents) will buy you 25 litres of water. All fruit and vegetables get washed at least once in bottled water before being dried or peeled. I keep a jug of water in the fridge and remember to fill a cup with water to carry into the bathroom when I need to brush my teeth.
I can get a substantial lunch on workdays either at IFA in the newly opened canteen or in a nearby restaurant. I usually opt for a rice or noodle dish in the middle of the day so that dinner at home in the evening ends up being a salad. Pre-Mr. Rat, it was in the evening or at weekends that I would make omelets but now I think that out here even airborne oil molecules lure rats indoors.
Since coming to Laos, many aspects of my life have been simplified in ways that I never imagined. A weekly grocery list consists of maybe 6 or 7 regular items which I pick up at the supermarket before heading to the market for fruit and vegetables. Bread is a rare commodity and the only dairy is the occasional piece of cheese or some yogurt. I drink my tea clear now and those cookies in the “pantry” are only eaten in the morning after I take my anti-malarial medication so as to prevent nausea.
This kitchen has imposed certain restrictions on my approach to cooking. I wonder if those effects will be long-term. I’m thinking about my kitchen in Victoria and all its stuff. It’s beginning to feel complicated.