Easy Pad Thai Recipe & Lessons on Simple Community.
Asian food is my favorite, but always seems daunting to cook. And I don't own a wok. Hosting is so fulfilling, but a hermit, like myself, always has excuses for why they can't have people for a meal. A few weeks ago I learned a valuable lesson, the hard way, about relationships and community and the importance of hosting. I am trying to step it up in the hosting department by just have people over even if I am still in my workout clothes, the chicken is overcooked and the power goes out while baking the chocolate chip cookies. I have to simplify or be paralyzed.
My cobbled-together Pad Thai is my way simplifying Asian recipes and using the ingredients I can source locally (except for the rice noodles). There aren't any Asian restaurants in our highland-desert home of Mekelle and so I am getting creative and cobbling-together in order to enjoy one of my favorite foods.
These are the lessons I am learning about community and cooking here is land called Ethiopia.
On a Sunday my husband Greg went to visit his friend Mesfin. Mesfin’s wife had just given birth to a beautiful baby girl. Greg said he would be gone for an hour.
Two hours later I called to see where he was.
I could picture those two men having a drink and laughing it up at Mesfin’s home as they celebrated the birth, me slaving in the kitchen. Two and a half hours later Greg arrived home to a grumpy wife; we were about to be apart for a week and dinner had been cooling for an hour.
Greg was so kind and gentle when he came in, “Babe, I am so sorry I am late. I know this sounds like an excuse but if you had been there, you would have encouraged me to stay.” I still sulked as I stirred the coconut tomato soup to reheat it.
A week later Mesfin’s wife died.
I watched my husband weep and pray with Mesfin. I huddled with Mesfin’s family and in-laws on cold stone steps in a dark hall at the hospital, weeping. Tears for Mesfin and his family and tears for myself for being just a wretched, selfish human. What if Greg hadn’t spent that time with Mesfin? Greg had listened to the Lord that night, sitting with Mesfin, celebrating the birth and Iam glad he didn’t listen to his nagging wife.
In that dark stairwell, as night set in deeper, my emotions ran wild. Regret, shame, fear, questions. I thought about Mesfin’s wife. Greg and I had said 10 times we wanted to have them over for dinner, but we were too busy and life was too fast for a simple meal. I had plenty of excuses; Greg and I both work full-time, I was adapting to a new city. Our plates were more than full. And how was I going to even be friends with Mesfin’s wife? She didn’t speak English. What would I even cook for them if they came over for dinner? I didn’t know how to cook Ethiopian food. I couldn’t imagine them enjoying my BBQ bean burgers or cobbled-together vegan Pad Thai.
I had made excuses and now it was too late. I couldn’t have Mesfin and his wife over for BBQ bean burgers and cobbled Pad Thai. I couldn’t try out my few Tigrinyan words to make conversation with Mefin’s wife. After almost 4 years of living in Africa, I knew there were other ways to make conversation besides using words. I had lost my chance with Mesfin’s wife.
Now I sat next to Mesfin’s sisters-in-law and mother vividly convicted with the truth that these people were my tribe. We spoke no words, just held onto each other in the dark, repressing soft sobs. This was my community here in Mekelle. These were the people the Lord had placed in my life. They didn’t speak my language or share my history or know our American culture, but these were the people that Lord had given to me in friendship.
No deep conversations about the meaning of life, or discussions about the latest vegan trends, or the hottest places to travel, but there in that hallway was the meaning of life, bearing each other burdens.
I knew that if Greg and I were in crisis, Mesfin and his family would be there for us. Mesfin would cry and pray with us. Being there for people when they need you the most has to be the ultimate definition of community,
Two weeks after Mesfin’s wife went to be with the Lord, Mesfin had us over to his house for dinner. I know we should have been having them over for dinner. We sat in his one room home on the bed while his mother and sister fed us Injera and a lamb stew cooked the Sudanese style. I held the beautiful baby, who is an Italian-Ethiopian mix. She looked like her mother. We laughed and teared up as we talked about the past and the future. I showed his sister and mother pictures of my family. They smiled and I smiled as we shared life with few words. The words that were shared were a mix of Tigrinyan from Mesfin, Arabic from Mesfin’s mom and sister, and a few English words from everyone.
Mesfin shared photos of his family and some of his wife. He paused as he looked at the picture of her and said almost to himself, “Good memories.” Mesfin talked about Job, “We take the good days from the Lord, why don’t we also take the bad days?” Truth from a man who was walking out the worst of days and learning to accept them from the Lord.
It was one of the richest nights we have had since moving to Mekelle. No trendy restaurant with a farm-to-table menu or crafted mango-ginger-cocktail by the sea. The conversation didn’t center on current events or political theory or a new band touring at the hippest dive bars. But Mesfin and his family gave us their hearts and their warmth and somehow we didn’t miss all the rest.
Cobbled-Together Pad Thai Dinner (for two):
I actually adapted this recipe from a friend that lives here in Ethiopia and works for the PeaceCorps. She calls it “jank pad-thai.” For me it’s cobbled-together. This what I make when I am tried and had a long day but don't want to eat oatmeal. This is comfort food to me and this is what I would make if Mesfin's wife could still come to dinner.