Oatmeal Horoscope

a local boutique is occasionally stocked with oatmeal.

a local boutique is occasionally stocked with oatmeal.

Before I joined Peace Corps and moved to Senegal, I had almost no interest in oatmeal. As a college student, I tried to like oatmeal because it was cheap. As a runner, I tried to like oatmeal because it’s good for my body. But it usually left me hungry somewhere in the middle of an accounting class or a long run. So I decided that I wasn’t much of an oatmeal person.

But then I moved to sub-Saharan Africa.

Needless to say, I quickly became an oatmeal person. It’s an easy breakfast to prepare in the confines of my room. If I add fruit, it keeps my stomach happy until our 2 PM lunch. If mixed with broth, it makes a great soup for dinner. And, best of all, oatmeal tastes just like America.

Although I eat oatmeal for breakfast almost every morning, I quickly grew tired of this rather boring cereal. So I spiced it up a bit (literally, cinnamon and nutmeg).

These are a few of my favorite recipes…

The Quaker
This is the original oatmeal. Just add hot water and your breakfast is ready to go. The Quaker is for the easygoing person. You enjoy the simple joys of life, you’re a hard worker, and you don’t ask a lot of those around you. You’re best matched with a fellow Quaker.

The French Toast
Growing up, my mom always scolded me for spreading too much cinnamon and sugar on my French toast. But there’s no one here to reprimand me when I put loads of sugar in my oatmeal. If you like The French Toast, you’re a spicy person. You look for the zest in life, you’re comfortable in your own skin, and you’re not afraid to tell it like it is. Look for The Banana to make your life complete.

The Banana Oat
This is best with local bananas grown in Senegal, but sometimes I have to buy the more expensive, imported variety. The Banana Oat is for the sensible person. You think before you act, you don’t make rash decisions that end in disaster, and you deeply care for your close friends and family. Match up with The French Toast to add a little spice to your life.

The Kosam
Kosam is sour milk which is bountiful during rainy season when the cows have plenty of grass to eat. When sugar is added, it makes a delicious and refreshing drink for any time of day. If you live in the city, kosam is available year round. The Kosam is for the strong person. You’re persistent, know how to get things done, and won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. The Mango will balance out the sour in your kosam.

The Mango
Although hot season can be very unpleasant, it brings many mangoes with it. So many mangoes, in fact, that tons of mangoes rot on the side of the road because they can’t be eaten fast enough. A mango in Senegal costs about $0.25 – reason enough to pay me a visit. The Mango is for the adventurer. You don’t look before you jump, you learn through your many mistakes, and you always grab life by the horns. The Banana or The Kosam will make a great mate for you.

Most mornings start with a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of coffee (from The Mill in Lincoln, Nebraska or Allann Bros. in Albany, Oregon). Although this sounds like the start of a typical day in America, my breakfast isn’t followed by rush hour, an office, or happy hour (not necessarily in that order). You may be driving your car to work and I may be riding my bike to the market, but we both eat oatmeal for breakfast.

No one ever said this would be easy, but they didn’t say it wouldn’t include oatmeal.

Of Mice and Men

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When I joined Peace Corps, I prepared myself for a life of hardship. No electricity. No running water. No communication with friends and family. And I was sure I’d live in a hut in the middle of the bush.

Instead, I have electricity, running water, and Skype all in the comfort of a room twice the size of the one I had in America.

I felt cheated, this wasn’t hardship.

But I’ve found that the hardship that exists is of a different kind. It’s a smaller, daily hardship. It’s speaking a new language. It’s earning respect in your community. It’s learning to be patient when a meeting starts three hours late.

And it’s keeping the mice away from your oatmeal.

Since I moved into my new home about four months ago, I’ve had a little mouse problem. It began with one mouse and his (or her) droppings. Every morning, I would wipe all the surfaces in my room to remove his feces.

Just a small hardship.

Then, a lady friend came along. They climbed into my plastic bags and made a nest. In the middle of the night, I’d awake to the sound of mice rustling about in the bags and be unable to go back to sleep.

Still, only a small hardship with slightly less slumber.

Out of the nest came a small family. With more droppings and late-night plastic bag noises. They chewed through any Ziploc bag containing food. They learned how to remove the lid of my peanut butter container (don’t worry, it wasn’t Jif from America). So I bought a bucket and put all my food in it.

Not too bad because I now have a bucket to sit on.

But then they got into my oatmeal, chewing through the tin container and frolicking through fields of rolled oats. This was the last straw (or oat, if you will).

To a Peace Corps Volunteer, oatmeal is pure gold. It means you can have hot cereal in the morning. It means you can make oatmeal pancakes, oatmeal cookies, or oatmeal stout (a wonderful idea, though it hasn’t been done). It means that, when you grow tired of eating rice, you can eat oatmeal.

And, let’s be honest, oatmeal tastes like America (minus the hydrogenated oil).

So, when I saw the damage done to my oatmeal, I knew I must act quickly.

During my senior year of college, the house I lived in also had a mouse problem. As a house full of women, we didn’t see any chance of sharing our living space with mice. Our problem culminated one night as seven girls, standing on counters, tables, and chairs and armed with oven mitts, spatulas, and Tupperware, took on the mouse.

After much screaming and two unanswered phone calls to our neighbors, we trapped the mouse between a cookie sheet and bowl and released it back into the wild (or the street in front of our house). We were humane because we couldn’t bear the thought of using mouse traps or poison to solve our problem.

But, now, I’m two years older, at least a little wiser, and I’m living in Africa. So, I bought poison because my mice deserved to die a slow and painful death. My apologizes to any mice lovers reading this blog, you should probably stop reading now.

After baiting the mice with bread sprinkled with poison, I watched my oatmeal-stealing roommates come out of hiding. The bread was gone in five minutes. With some satisfaction, I went to bed knowing that, tonight, I would not be awoken by the rustling of plastic bags.

A few days later, after following our noses, my family and I found the dead mice near our cooking hut. My younger brother had to remove their rotting bodies, so I bought him a cookies for his efforts. Victory has never smelled so terrible.

Life in Senegal isn’t hard because I eat rice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It isn’t hard because I have to kill scary, bird-sized bugs. Hardship happens slowly, over time, as little, everyday stressors build up.

Because, although I have running water and electricity, the mice will still eat my oatmeal.