Monday, 11 August 2014

Half a kilo of peppers and other stories

As the result of a dyslexic moment whilst placing my online Tesco order, I have spent this weekend working my way through a glut of courgettes. Courgette tart, courgette chutney, ratatouille, courgette cake, vegetable curry; we've managed to reduce the courgette mountain to just three. 

Stephen reminded me of a similar incident some years ago involving green peppers. In 1999, relatively newly married, we lived in Albania for a year working with refugees from Kosovo. In many ways it was my most 'civilised' overseas posting to date.  We rented a brick house with a sit-down toilet and a proper shower in the middle of the city. There was a bidet! We had a four-wheel drive car and a maid to clean the house.  However, it was also difficult and challenging in many ways.  Albania was only just beginning to surface from years of isolation and extreme communism under the dictator Enver Hoxha. Though geographically in Europe, parts of the country were locked in tribal warfare, car-jackings were rife and the streets of the city were not safe.  Stephen, together with his side-kicks Edi and Callum, was frequently away from home, rebuilding schools and hospitals in neighbouring Kosovo.  There was a curfew after 9pm so we spent many evenings at home playing Scrabble, knitting and listening to the BBC World Service.  We also held dinner parties but these too posed their challenges: they had to take place early in the evening for guests to arrive home before curfew, we had only 2 small gas burners and a dodgy oven and there was limited food available.  Albanian is a difficult indo-European langauge in a branch by itself, with no relationship to other languages and therefore no familiar words.  I attempted to learn some words in order to shop for food and other essential items and soon learned the phrase 'half a kilo' (gjsime kilogrami) as this seemed about the right amount of most foodstuffs.  Except for peppers.  

Have you ever seen just how many peppers there are in half a kg?  They're very light.  Half a kg fills three large carrier bags.  I could see my mistake as soon as I'd placed my order at the market.  The stallholder raised her eyebrows, then shrugged her shoulders and proceeded to borrow peppers and plastic bags from a neighbouring stall as she soon ran out.  However, I didn't know how to say 'no, stop, I've made a mistake', so I walked home carrying my three bags and we ate peppers six hundred different ways for the next few weeks.  

So, please do ask me if you need any ideas for a glut of peppers.  Or courgettes.  I'm an old pro.

Other stories for other posts include: Stephen's ride in the Albanian Foreign Minister's helicopter; Jean and D's (my in-laws) epic tour of Europe culminating in a four-day visit to see us in Albania; knitted hats (yes, believe me, that's a story); bread and culture shock (yes, that's a story too); Eleanor and Ian in the pyramid and nightclubbing in Elbasan.
With Eli, our fearsome Albanian landlady and cleaner
with a donated ambulance in Albania
Out of a field visit during one of the training sessions
with my lovely project team

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