When Popcorn and Bananas Are For Dinner {Expat Life}

My first day in Somalia my two-year old daughter fell off the roof and I had to make spaghetti from tomatoes (no jar of Ragu) and beef (ground by yours truly) and noodles boiled in water that my husband drew from a cistern out front.

Once we figured out how to keep kids from falling off roofs and I figured out how to make spaghetti, that was all I did. Keep the kids safe and prepare food. The same, gross food every single day, with the occasional, even worse, cabbage soup made by a Somali woman for variety.

When Popcorn and Bananas Are For Dinner {Expat Life} - Multicultural Kid Blogs

I was studying language, studying how to wear a headscarf, studying how to walk without rolling an ankle, and felt like I was failing miserably at all of it. My husband was teaching at the University and came home hungry and was served: spaghetti. Sometimes with bone chips in the meat, often without spices, and always with too much oil and soggy noodles because I let them overcook while keeping the twins out of trouble.

We had no refrigeration (the fridge was used as a shelf) and I was so exhausted from morning market trips, language study and cultural shock, and from toddler twins, that by the time dinnertime rolled around, all I could do was slam bananas and a big bowl of oil-popped popcorn on the table and say, “Eat.”

When Popcorn and Bananas Are For Dinner {Expat Life} - Multicultural Kid Blogs

Night after night, bananas and popcorn. Sometimes a stale baguette smeared with rancid butter and overly sweet jam for dessert.

This was what we now call our ‘popcorn and bananas season.’ It lasted long enough for my husband and I to lose quite a bit of weight and the spaghetti and soup were so bad that we still gag when we talk about it.

I wanted to do better. Like all parents, expatriate parents want the best for our families. But there are times when the best that mom or dad can do is popcorn and bananas. Here is my own list of when popcorn and bananas count as nutritional, lovingly-provided, and sufficient for dinner.

  1. When moving to a new country. Especially if your village in this country has no fast food, no delivery, no restaurants, no refrigeration, no grocery stores, no canned or boxed meals, and no running water.
  2. When you have toddler twins. Or one toddler. Or an infant.
  3. When those toddler twins have miraculously survived falling from roofs and have grown into teenagers and have recently been dropped off at boarding school three countries away and all you can do is sit on the couch and cry.
  4. When you return home after driving around the country on roads that aren’t really roads and are detained by police for inadvertently taking photos of the President’s house and get two flat tires and have a broken jack.
  5. When jet lag sinks in and you can only stumble through the house, blindly swiping at food that looks vaguely familiar.
  6. When all the food in the store is labeled in a language you don’t know.
  7. When there were only three eggs in the market and the other American in the village already bought them all.
  8. When the chickens who laid those eggs are only slaughtered on Fridays and are so small you need a whole one for each member of your family and so tough you can’t even chew the meat anyway. (But chicken is not spaghetti so your family will thank you.)
  9. When you don’t know how to cook from scratch yet.
  10. When you convince yourself that popcorn and bananas is actually healthier than Kraft Mac and Cheese, McDonalds, or peanut butter and jelly on white bread anyway and that is what you used to call a meal, back in that other country that is starting to fade from memory as you try to absorb this new one.

Expat parents, we know we have the best of intentions for our families. And we also know there are times we only have the strength to summon up popcorn and bananas. That is okay. Serve it with pride and enjoy the adventure.

And don’t forget, there is hope. After a few years of revolting food and moving to a different country with more available, I learned how to cook. Nothing to boast about but nothing to complain about either. I even compiled a cookbook: Djiboutilicious.

rachel pieh jonesRachel Pieh Jones is married to Tom Jones (not the singer, though he thinks life might be more interesting as a musical) and has three children (one named, loosely, after Indiana). Raised in the Christian west saying ‘you betcha’ and eating Jell-O salads, she now lives in the Muslim east, says ‘insha Allah,’ and eats samosas. Her work has been published in the New York Times, Family Fun, and Christianity Today, and she blogs for Brain Child and Babble. Visit her website: Djibouti Jones or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

*image via Wikipedia


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Rachel writes about life at the crossroads of faith and culture. Her work is influenced by living as a foreigner in the Horn of Africa, raising three Third Culture Kids, and adventurous exploration of the natural world. She has been published in the New York Times, Runners World, the Big Roundtable, and more. Her next book will be released in October, 2019. Get all her stories and updates in the Stories from the Horn newsletter http://www.djiboutijones.com/free-djibouti-jones-updates/

13 thoughts on “When Popcorn and Bananas Are For Dinner {Expat Life}”

  1. And now Rachel makes THE best popcorn!!! She even won the award for best popcorn in a family popcorn cook-off!!!

  2. Omgoodness, what an incredible shock that must all have been! I’d say you did well to get bananas and popcorn on the table! My hubby had to eat frozen pizza for dinner for a few weeks when I had a newborn; we were lucky for stores and freezers, or we would have been in the same boat as you. Glad you have been able to move on to wider menus, and us as well!

  3. Yes, spaghetti…over and over again…using meat that is supposedly ground beef, but tastes nothing like what you’re used to. We’ve had those dinners. But when you’re hungry, anything goes…especially popcorn 🙂

    1. I once brought home meat that I thought was beef, turned out it was camel. So we had camel meatloaf. Ah well, at least it was a little variety.

  4. Oh I can so relate to this!! Happily I didn’t have to grind my own meat. I call it “survival mode” and we’ve spent lots of time there, at various points in our life.

  5. I love reading your posts. Lump in the throat honesty. How you didn’t just give up and run away I don’t know. Wonderful, entertaining and challenging writing.

  6. Yes, YEs, YESSSS!
    We call it “survival mode” too! It is not my favorite season in life, but as the phrase my mother (and probably yours too) says, “this too shall pass” – thank goodness! Great list of reasons…and a reminder as we are starting to prepare for another move. Grace to me in the kitchen during that time.

  7. What adventures!:) These are the stories you’ll tell over and over again as your kids grow up- as stressful as it is at the time! We have two sets of virtual twins, and the tantrums “in stereo” are now in the past. I believe if you can survive these challenges together as a family, you can take on anything:).

  8. Pingback: Language Learning Methods – Whatever It Takes

  9. Pingback: Learning to Cook Overseas, a Cookbook Giveaway | Djibouti Jones

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