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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Cooking or Baking (01/04/07)

TITLE: English in the kitchen
By Suzanne R


Crowding inside, the ladies remove their shoes, coats, scarves and gloves. They kindly present to me a box containing twelve tins of almond juice. Their excited chatter is somewhat dampened as they switch to English, but a buzz still reverberates in the air.

Today’s activity involves a group of local English teachers. ‘English in the kitchen’ is the topic. More specifically, we’re making pizza together.

The sheet of new vocabulary and a basin full of props is ready. “Zucchini … say it together … zucchini.” This part of the lesson is somewhat torturous, but we alleviate the tension with hot drinks. Lemon tea, English tea, green tea, plain coffee, vanilla coffee, hot chocolate … the women gape at the variety of choices. Perhaps they’d have preferred almond juice – I forgot to offer it. As we plod our way through the list of vocabulary, our ears are filled with rote repetition of new vocabulary and the cracking of sunflower seeds, the floor littered with sunflower seed shells.

The moment has come. For the first time in their lives, these women will make pizza. We move to the kitchen.

‘Dissolve 1 tablespoon dry yeast with 1/4 cup warm water.’ “Can we say ‘melt’ instead of ‘dissolve’?” ‘Julia’ is taking this lesson seriously, both the English and the cooking aspects. She vigorously stirs the carefully measured water and yeast together.

‘Lillian’ offers to knead the dough. Homemade noodles are the staple food here, and Lillian is well practised. “Westerners always measure everything but we don’t. Can I add more water or is that against the rules?” The many ‘rules’ related to western cooking are a standing joke in this country. Rumour has it that in Switzerland, people buy scales especially for the kitchen. The ladies are silenced for a good ten seconds when I pull the kitchen scales out of the cupboard. Then they dissolve in giggles. Not ‘melt’ in giggles … just dissolve. The dough for the pizza base ends up looking a little more like noodle dough, but it will be quite serviceable, nonetheless. They line the tray with it and bake it for twelve minutes as per ‘the rules’.

“Chop, cut and slice – what’s the difference in usage?” Julia is as keen as ever. ‘Katy’ takes the huge cleaver and chops every vegetable in the kitchen faster and finer than a machine. I won’t need to cut, chop or slice, let alone ‘dice’, another vegetable for days.

“What do you call the thing to open the can of potato paste?” Potato paste? Oh, Lillian means ‘tomato paste’ and she is looking for a can opener. They are understandably nervous of the cheese, as it is a little smelly. Julia sprinkles it sparingly. Katy helpfully stands by, pointing with long slender fingers to the many cheeseless gaps, instructing, “Here … and here … and here.”

The dishes are washed, the draining tray is admired and the word ‘draining tray’ is repeated over and over, both the object and the concept being foreign to these women. Usually, they simply put things away wet. We again sit down to the plethora of hot drink options and chat. These lovely ladies are my peers in both age and profession, the difference being that they teach English as a foreign language, while I teach it as my mother tongue. Sometimes, I am concerned that I play up my foreign identity too much and attract people to it rather than to my faith. Sadly, they are often recognized as the one and the same.

Finally, the pizza comes out of the oven, it’s fragrance filling the apartment. We all pose for a photograph – this is a momentous occasion. At the request of the teachers, we taste just a tiny strip. Each lady has one precious child who has probably spent half the morning at school dreaming about the slice of pizza promised by his or her mother.

The women happily bag their pizza, express their appreciation for the morning’s lesson, and don their coats, gloves, scarves and shoes. I wave them off, and ponder again the privilege of being a foreigner in this part of the world. It is appropriate to maximize my ‘foreignness’? Yet to neglect such an opportunity is unfathomable. These thoughts are too deep. As I sweep up the sunflower seed shells, I debate instead the options for a hot drink and finally settle on coffee.

It’s been just another morning in the life of a foreign teacher in Asia.

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Member Comments
Member Date
joe hodson01/13/07
What an awesome piece! I could see and feel everything you described. It gave me inspiration in my own writing.
Amy Michelle Wiley 01/13/07
*sings* I know who wrote this story. :-D Great job. Enjoyed spending the day with you.
Joanne Sher 01/14/07
What a lovely slice of your life! Your descriptions are so vivid. I enjoyed standing there in the kitchen with you.
darlene hight01/16/07
Loved it! I have a dear friend who is an ESL teacher it felt like I was sharing her day as well. Excellent descriptions and the setting was reflected brilliantly.
Pat Guy 01/16/07
I don't need a hint to 'know' who this is and I loved every word of it!

I could see and smell the pizza. I could her their struggle with their new vocabulary. I was there in the kitchen using the 'scales.' ;)

I'm so glad you had time to write and enter this glimpse into your life as a foriegn teacher in Asia. It's a gem. Love,Pat