I haven’t talked a lot about what I actually do in Iasi other than teach English, which is not in fact most of what I do. I am on a team of six people helping to start an English-speaking church for international students, primarily focused on students in the English-speaking program of the medical school in Iasi. They come from all over to go to school here, but mostly from Africa, the Middle East, and Malaysia. We do the usual- church on Sunday, Bible study once a week, and mentoring/discipleship with individual students, in addition to random occasional events such as ladies nights and prayer days. As it goes, most of these events involve food. Home-cooked food. Aside from the fact that students always appreciate a good meal, almost all of them come from cultures where meal preparation and sharing in a meal together are inherent to community and family. And since we are a family and a community, we cook together. A lot.
I spend many of my days buying, preparing, and eating food. Life is just calmer and slower here, and it’s not at all unusual to spend 5 hours of your day on this one task. Refrigerators, stoves, and ovens are smaller, so it takes more time (as one astute individual said, "Living in Romanian is a full time job"). Boxed brownie mixes and canned soups don’t exist, so if you’re going to make them, it will be from scratch. At first I was really annoyed that I was “wasting” so much time, but then I began to see that it’s only because of my American upbringing that I feel this way. The culture of food and its preparation is inherently a communal and celebrated event in most cultures, and because we have easily a dozen nations represented in our church, this is what they do with their time. They didn’t grow up going to the bowling alley or skate rink, eating boxed mac and cheese and frozen microwaveable meals. They grew up in much simpler and slower cultures that bond through food. And so here I am.
With all this time, and all these cultures, I have expanded my repertoire and creativity significantly and have learned a lot. A lot. I now can make dark chocolate cream cheese brownies from scratch, scalloped potatoes, sweet and sour chicken, risotto, and Indian yellow curry. In addition I have experienced a vast array of new foods from my new friends, including a Malaysian chicken curry that was so hot every pore in my body was sweating, African groundnut stew, sarmale, mamaliga, and many others. It’s great, and for the most part I have come to a peaceful appreciation of this lifestyle, even if occasionally I just crave EasyMac and boxed brownies. Considering the trade off, I think I’ll survive.