Chapter 23 – Feeding Hungry Campers
By Norm and Betty
How do you feed up to 70 hungry men for a week back in the African bush … especially when preparing the national dish. The local women were not accustomed to making the “injerra with wat”. Injerra and wat was the food of the ruling people group, that of Haile Selassie, but it slowly became acceptable city food. (Mmmmm…….. we always looked forward to going to an Ethiopian restaurant in Addis Ababa when possible!!)
The Arsi people ate corn pancakes, yoghurt and butter. They also enjoyed goat meat when they could afford it. It was a healthy diet. But we would need to prepare the national food for the conference guests coming from other parts of the country.
Betty was up for the challenge, so she acquired two new English cookbooks on the making of injerra and wat, teaching herself to prepare the ingredients for it. The cookbooks had been written by embassy people, and others living in Addis Ababa. Injerra is the large pancake-like crepe and wat is the multi-spiced sauce that accompanies it. Some sauce is very hot and spicy, made with peppers and up to sixteen different spices that are prepared from scratch, mixed together and called “Beriberi”.
First, she purchased the individual raw spices for the beriberi; i.e pieces of ginger root, the cinnamon bark and very, very hot small red peppers. Then, with Borema’s helpful sisters, she dried all the spices spread out on straw mats in the sun. When ready the sisters chopped them as finely as they could and then ground them between two special stones.
We made the wat sauce from meat, beans or lentils. Everybody’s favourite seemed to be the sauce made with chicken. The other kind of wat is often prepared with vegetables and is less spicy; it incorporates garlic and tumeric. We were taught to eat the food with only our right hand, break off a piece of injerra and use it to engulf a bit of the wat. Yum! Cathy and Jeff loved this tangy dish and, needless to say, became very deft with their right hands! In future days our family get-togethers would usually centre around “injerra b’wat”.
Injerra is a large round grey-coloured crepe. Making them required some specialized equipment. So I constructed an “injerra bate” (injerra house). Inside the tin building I built an altar-like platform from cement blocks with two fire boxes. There was an opening over the flame on which was placed a “mitad”, a flat clay plate about twenty-four inches across.
Teff flour was milled from the very tiny seeds of the teff grass, a nourishing grain grown mostly in Ethiopia. Betty and the sisters would mix the teff with water and a bit of yeast; then let it sit for several days, mixing it now and again, until it had just the right amount of fermentation.
The Arsi ladies had a treasured hollow and spouted gourd. It was used to spread the batter on the hot mitad by one of the cooks. She poured it in a wide circular motion from the outer perimeter of the mitad until it reached the center. Just like a pancake on steroids, the injerra bubbled into a sponge-like thin crepe. It was then taken off the hot mitad, ready to be carefully stacked on top of the injerra already cooked.
Supper: When the conference schedule eventually began, this national dish was served at the supper hour.
Breakfast was buns and sweet spiced tea. The big, ough and delicious buns were available in the towns on the highway ten miles away over the tricky road with its four unreliable bridges. Someone would drive out and get a few hundred in gunny sacks every couple of days during a busy conference.
Lunch was a creative experience for Betty. She wracked her brain for ideas and we prayed about it. Then we realized the Ethiopian hotel at the highway turn-off served a bare spaghetti with a little tomato sauce sprinkled over it. The problem was to make enough spaghetti for up to or more than seventy men! We had two large metal pots in which we boiled the spaghetti noodles. To drain the noodles, I built a shallow wooden box with screen on the bottom, but it was too difficult to manoeuver and dangerous in case of scalding, so Betty came up with the idea of letting the spaghetti cook for half of the time, then let it sit and absorb all the water. It worked! She and her helpers added oil, chopped onions, beriberi (hot chili spice) and tomato paste. Everybody loved it!
For another lunch meal we served macaroni. Mac/cheese without the cheese! Not only is our kind of cheese imported and expensive, the Ethiopians do not seem to like it … “too salty|”. We cooked the macaroni noodles in the same way as the spaghetti noodles, then added oil, garlic, yellow tumeric and lots of minced onion all fried together first. It was also a hit for the hungry men!
These lunch meals were served on alternate days and were cooked with a lot of experimentation and laughter. Betty was really blessed to have those three lovely sisters of Borema to help. They had incredibly good attitudes.
But Betty had much more to do than spend her day making this food. There were other aspects of being a hostess; there were sick people coming to the clinic that needed her care; and during most camps our children were home from school. We endeavoured to bring in a lady cook from out of the area, but this didn’t work out well. It required special housing. It could be a lonely place. And it required a great measure of trust in her honesty about camp supplies and her relationships with the local Arsi people. So we told the groups coming in for a conference that they would need to bring their own cook to make the wat, and this worked out very well. Betty always had the ingredients for making the wat ready for the cook’s arrival. Several times another missionary nurse also came to assist Betty with the clinic. One time a guest doctor sewed up a lip on a little boy. In spite of all the busyness God took care of us!
At one point we had a one-week retreat scheduled for 70 young men, the potential leaders of the Word of Life (SIM-related) Churches from all over Ethiopia. Our cooking facilities in the kitchen of the big lodge were still somewhat inadequate, but Betty’s organisational skills made it all come together.
Anticipating the arrival of these 70 young men, we bought a heifer ahead of time. But wouldn’t you know it, half-way through the conference we ran out of meat. So we had one of the young local men buy a large goat … and we carried on.
During that conference there was significant unrest in the country. Paul Balisky and Howie Brant were the teachers. They passionately taught these young men about God and His desires for them and his people during this unrest. Later many of these young men suffered terribly during the upcoming revolution. But God saw them through and today, the Word of Life church is strong and making an impact world-wide. We were thankful that we could have a part in providing them with a conference that, to a great degree, prepared them for an uncertain future.