When I arrived in Glória, my Peace Corps site, Brunie had already been there a year. Kindly, she let me share her small house with her. At first the plan was that I would stay until I got settled in the town, then move to my own house, but I ended up staying with her until she left the following year. We soon got into a routine of shopping at the weekly market and performing other household chores. I hated to clean and Brunie was bored with cooking, so Brunie did most of the cleaning while I usually prepared meals, although Brunie cooked occasionally. There were some things I liked that Brunie didn’t like, so I would cook them when she was in the capital city, or she would cook something she liked (a sheep’s head) that I wouldn’t touch when I prepared fish or liver.
When she first told me she was going to make ox tail soup, I was doubtful that I would like it, but it was delicious. She cooked the ox tail until it was tender, then added whatever vegetables were readily available at Glória’s market: onions, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, and cabbage. We could also add rice or break dried spaghetti into short pieces. It was easy to make and we could let it simmer on the stove while we worked through the afternoon. Since ox tail soup was Brunie’s specialty and she was very proud of her soup, she would buy an ox tail or two at the local market on Saturday if we were expecting company the next week. We served her soup with small loaves of fresh pão (each about the size of a sausage bun,) manteiga (butter), and fresh fruit for dessert.
We didn’t receive many visitors, but occasionally the Peace Corps director would visit from the capital city. The Peace Corps doctor visited from Salvador when we were due for our routine booster vaccine to prevent hepatitis, about every six months. Somehow it seemed slightly obscene for him to ask us to pull down our drawers in our own home, rather than a doctor’s office.
The doctor had grown up in Africa. I think his parents were working with a medical relief agency there. When he joined the Peace Corps, he noted on his application that he spoke Swahili, thinking the PC would surely send him back to Africa. However, he had been sent to Brazil. He remarked that he could now speak two of the most useless languages on earth. Of course, there were millions of Portuguese speakers around the world, but Portuguese was the official language of only a few countries.
My friend Barney, a Volunteer from my training group, visited once. Brunie’s friends from her group, Linda and Henry, had visited her. A nurse from Brunie’s group, Helen, stopped in for lunch every Tuesday when she assisted the doctor from her PC site when he saw patients at the medical center in Glória. But that was about it for visitors.
Brunie’s two-year commitment in the Peace Crops was up about the time I was celebrating the end of my first year there. I never met anyone who loved the Peace Corps and Brazil as much as Brunie, but after two years, she was looking forward to going home to her close-knit family. However, a new group of trainees was arriving in Aracajú, so the director asked Brunie if she would stay to help with the training. She left most of her belongings in Glória and would visit occasionally through the 12-weeks of training. Twice, trainees were sent to spend a few days with us, so they could see what it was like in the field.
A young married couple, Carroll and Cary visited Glória. They were both very tall and very blond, a curiosity to the locals. The Brazilians thought it was funny that his first name was the same as mine, although spelled differently. Carroll especially liked Glória because, even though the city sat 10 degrees south of the equator, it was on a plateau in the path of cooling breezes most of the time. In the dry summer months, the area was desert-like, hot and dry during the day, but cool at night. I don’t remember ever sleeping without at least a light blanket. Cary told me Carroll often went outdoors in shirt sleeves in the middle of winter at home in New England, so the tropical climate in the capital was uncomfortable to him.
For another few days, another trainee joined us in Glória. I don’t remember her name, so I will call her Becky. She, like us, was in her early twenties.
(In a a previous post about PEACE CORPS TRAINING, I mentioned that it sometimes seemed that trainers would intentionally throw an unusual situation at a trainee, just to see how s/he would react.)
Brunie made ox tail soup for dinner the first night Becky stayed with us. We were conversing over our bowls of soup. Brunie was explaining how politics worked in small towns. Becky had stopped eating. She held her spoon in front of her, politely waiting for Brunie to end her rather lengthy explanation. Then Becky asked very calmly, “Do I have to eat the frog?”
Brunie & I looked at her and asked, “Frog?”
“The frog in my soup,” Becky added, holding her spoon out for us to see.
“That’s not a frog, that’s a piece of cabbage,” Brunie said.
“But it IS a frog,” Becky said.
Brunie took the spoon from our guest’s hand and lifted the green “cabbage” with her fingers. Then, she suddenly threw it on the floor, and shrieked, “It IS a frog.”
We surmised that one of the tiny frogs that hopped around everywhere, including our kitchen, must have committed unintentional suicide by hopping into the pot of soup as it simmered on the stove. To no one’s surprise, Becky thought we had planted it there under the direction of the PC psychologist to see how she would react. We assured her we were not a party to such a prank, but if we had been, Becky had stayed calm and cool so she would have passed the psych test with flying colors ---or maybe with flying frogs.
After removing the frog, which had been well-cooked, we all continued to eat our soup. However, the next day, no one seemed keen on having the leftovers, so we ordered a roasted chicken from a local bar and went there for dinner.
When we told the story about the soup to a neighbor, the tale was quickly passed from neighbor to neighbor. Within hours, everyone in town knew about the crazy Americans who cooked frogs in their soup. It so happens that the Portuguese word for soup is sopa and the word for toad is sapo, so the Brazilians were soon talking about the new American delicacy called soup of toad ---SOPA DE SAPO in Portuguese. Yum.
(©2009, C.J. Peiffer)