I spent a couple of hours today going through the letters I wrote home from Panama when we were in Peace Corps–trying to decide if there’s a book in that mass of experiences. As I went through, I noted that, in almost every letter, there is something about food. Life in rural Panama was a nutty mix of plenty and famine, luxury and squalor. We had no electricity, and only rudimentary water, but we had fresh hot bread delivered to our door every morning. Sometimes we ate nothing but rice with a spoonful of chutney for dinner, and other times we stuffed ourselves with fresh produce and tropical fruits.
Every week, I had something to say about food:
“Last night’s dinner was actually pretty good. The rice and beans and juice they brought us tasted fine as long as you ignored the dead bugs in both. Same with the soup for lunch today and the mouse droppings.”
“Tonight our dinner was 25 cents worth of bread and a little peanut butter. After eight hours of walking I would have liked more…oh well, we won’t starve to death.”
“6:15 am–I’m sitting here enjoying a delightful warm roll that was just delivered to our door a minute ago.”
“Thanksgiving dinner didn’t quite turn out as planned—the papaya we were planning on for the bulk of our fruit salad was full of worms—but it was very good.”
“We each ate about four oranges yesterday…and the citrus season still isn’t in full swing! We’re hard pressed to eat all the citrus we’re getting now! Guess we’ll just have to suffer.”
“We stopped by a kiosko (little store) on the way home this afternoon for a Coke (warm, of course).”
We grew to love the local lentils and rice, boiled yuca lightly salted and served with a slice of tomato, and thick sweet oatmeal drink that substituted for a meal in the fields. We perfected the art of straining ants out of the coffee with our teeth. We learned how to make lasagne and pizza on our 3-rock fire. It was a culinary adventure!