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Finding a place to come home to after traveling.
My parents moved around a lot as I was growing up, so I got to live in a lot of different places. I enjoyed moving around and seeing new things, though sometimes lately I am a little bit jealous of friends who have strong ties to a place. Still, the desire to travel never left me. I am trying to see as much of the world as I can, in order to discover where I fit into it. I am lucky enough to have a job that allows me significant freedom to travel, so I am taking advantage of that by living in different places.
When I'm at home, or anywhere else with a kitchen, I am usually working on perfecting my bread recipe or trying to figure out a substitute for baobab fruit that I can get locally.
The world is big, and we only get to be here for a little while. It's not important to agree on the big things (religion, politics) if you can agree on the really big things (kindness, human dignity).
Why I’m on Couchsurfing
HOW I PARTICIPATE IN COUCHSURFING
I joined a little while ago on the suggestion of a friend who thought it would be a good way to meet interesting people. I've been traveling for the past two years, staying with friends around the world, so I have not yet had the chance to host or surf, but I look forward to it!
We've hosted a few times here in Reykjavik, though really it's been my roommate hosting. Also met up with people through the groups.
I honestly have no idea how to fill in this section. I am interested in people and places. I am interested in maps and language. I am interested in almost everything, especially if someone who is passionate about it is talking to me about it.
Music, Movies, and Books
If would take a long time to list all of my favorite books. These three hit me the hardest recently: Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger, Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt, and Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. I also love science fiction, and recently Brandon Sanderson is my favorite author in that genre. On the non-fiction side, anything about language will grab my attention.
I used to go to the movies two or three times a week, but I spent so long living in a country without a theater that I got out of the habit. I find that I am a much more critical viewer these days when watching movies at home, but I love the experience of going to the theater so much that even a bad movie makes me happy.
One Amazing Thing I’ve Done
When I was fourteen years old I lived for a time in a small house with my mom and my three brothers, a crazy martial artist, a pipe smoker with heart trouble, an old man we had picked up by the side of the road on the drive across country, and our Danish au pair.
It was a bit of a squeeze finding room for everyone to sleep in a two bedroom house. Grandpa, which is what we called the hitchhiker, camped in the living room with me and my brothers on the first night, but after that he made an arrangement with the martial artist and they shared one of the bedrooms. He told me that they were both military men, with trained reflexes, and he was afraid of hurting one of us in a semiconscious state. Something about how he said it made it seem a little less ridiculous than it sounds, though still not entirely credible as he was in his late 80s. As for the martial artist, he had no qualms about hurting people, though you could tell he preferred to be fully conscious while doing it so that he could really savor the experience.
The other bedroom was for the pipe smoker, though eventually he would move in with his girlfriend and leave that room free for squatters to move in. I think he may have actually owned the house. That was never clear to me. It must not have been very clear to him either.
In the second week we were there I decided that I no longer wanted to sleep on the WalMart futon chair in the living room, and so I rearranged the boxes in the garage to form a small cave into which I could climb at night and have some space of my own. This was an old habit of mine – I had once created a reading nook in an old washing machine box, and when very young I would climb out of bed and sleep in the bottom drawer of my dresser.
It was only a semi-private cave, as the greater garage area was shared with our au pair, Ronnie. This worked out mostly to my advantage, because he had pictures of topless girls from Denmark, and would let me look at them. He would also relate his plans to hack into bank computers and steal enough money to buy a very fast motorcycle, on which he could commit suicide on his 30th birthday. This was a key part of his life plan, and I found it fascinating.
When you gather such a strange group of people together into a small space, it is important to find common ground. Especially when it is an El Niño year in southern California and you are stuck inside the house together for days on end. For us, the common ground was breakfast, which consisted of five pounds of potatoes fried in a liter of olive oil, and as many eggs as each person felt capable of. Somehow, over fried potatoes and eggs, it did not seem so strange to speak one day about grandpa’s gold claim in Alaska and the next about how many ways the martial artist could kill all of us without getting out of his chair.
Teach, Learn, Share
If you asked me what the most interesting and unique ingredient I got to use in Senegal was, I would be hard pressed to choose between maad and bouye (monkey bread). That says something, because I only ever used bouye in a single recipe, not counting the traditional jus de bouye.
The powdery, fibrous, off-white contents of the baobob fruit, bouye has a flavor that is not easy to describe. Slightly sour, but not in a biting way like citrus; slightly sweet; and somehow slightly dry, even when made into a juice. Like the baobob tree itself, it seems to belong to some other order of things. It’s also very healthy, with as much vitamin C as citrus and as much calcium as milk. I would not be surprised at all if it started showing up in granola bars and fruit smoothies.
I must have walked past bouye for sale in the Yoff market a dozen times before I realized what it was. It looks like some kind freeze-dried root-vegetable, or maybe a type of building material. I only made the connection between the piles in the market and the drink that I loved after one of the neighbor children gave me a piece to suck on. (This was a common event that always resulted in mixed feelings on my part. On the one hand, it was almost always something good, or at least new. On the other, it was usually pre-chewed to some extent.)
Jus de bouye has a thick, creamy consistency that made me think of sorbet very first time I tried it. Like banana, it has a texture that seems to lend itself perfectly to freezing. Unfortunately for my sorbet aspirations, I had neither an ice cream churn nor a freezer, and it took me a while to come up with a plan to overcome those limitations
1/2 kilo bouye
2 cups sugar for sorbet. 1 cup with more to taste for juice
2 litres of water, heated to 180 degrees (80C)
1 wire strainer (they sell them at the market)
1/2 kilo salt
1 ice cream maker
Or, without the ice cream maker and freezer:
4 blocks of ice from a neighbor who has a freezer
2 cheap aluminum pots that nest inside each other and 1 pot lid from the market. Bargain hard for these, the quality is terrible and they will leak in a few months.
1 big wooden spoon
1 plastic laundry bucket (preferably imprinted with a tiger or a dragon)
1 large bath towel (ditto)
1 kid from the neighborhood to send out for more salt or sugar as necessary.
The first step should be done the day before. Pour the hot water over the bouye in the first pot and add the sugar. Cover and let stand. Come back and give it a stir occasionally until it cools to room temperature, then use your wire strainer to strain out the seeds and fibers. Put the strained mixture in the fridge overnight.
The next day, take the bouye mixture out of the fridge and taste for sweetness and adjust as necessary. If you have an ice cream maker, at this point you can just pour the mixture in and turn it on. But I will continue just in case you too are trying to do this the hard way.
Run over to your neighbor’s to pick up the ice. Plan some time for this trip: it will probably involve thieboudienne, or at the very least a few rounds of tea. Return home and crush one of the blocks of ice into small pieces. This can be difficult. I did it by smashing it against the concrete wall, which worked wonderfully. Add a bit of water, the crushed ice, and one cup of salt to the second aluminum pot. This will create a slurry that cools down below the freezing point of water. Place the pot containing the bouye inside the pot containing the ice bath, and start to stir.
Remember to scrape the sides, and add more ice and salt as your slurry melts.
It took about 45 minutes of stirring, though I imagine that had something to do with the fact that it was in the mid 90s, both temperature and humidity. You want to the bouye mixture to achieve the texture of soft-serve ice-cream, and hopefully before the muscles in your arm do.
When it has frozen, crush the remaining ice and add most (but not all) of it to the salt slurry. Put the lid on your ice cream and nest the pot back into the slurry to harden. Wrap both pots with the towel and nestle the whole bundle into the laundry bucket. Cover the lid with the remaining ice and pull the towel up over it.
In one to two hours it will be hardened. In two to three it will have melted again. Enjoy!
Countries I’ve Visited
Bahamas, Belgium, Canada, Costa Rica, Gambia, Germany, Iceland, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, United Kingdom
Countries I’ve Lived In
France, Iceland, Senegal, United States