The long version of the birthday
Planning for Robin’s birthday really began a few weeks ago when we worked out the menu for his birthday dinner. We toyed with the idea of going out to eat, but decided that having people over for dinner and enjoying a special home cooked meal would be more fitting for us. We decided on chicken fried steak, rolls, mashed potatoes and Robin requested pineapple upside down cake for dessert. All was well. I knew that I could purchase the ingredients a few days before the event and fix everything on Saturday afternoon (except for the rolls which I started on Friday night).
Saturday morning (the birthday morning) we got up around 7:30 so that we could get to the bank around 8 and withdraw some cash before the line became unmanageable. The line was so manageable, in fact, that we were in and out in about five minutes (and Robin had no chance to start the new book that I had smuggled from the States for just this occasion 😦 ). That left us plenty of time to buy some of the best pastries in Kigali at a shop next door and enjoy a quiet breakfast.
Our goal for the morning was to drive around town and take pictures of shop signs. Robin has been noticing (and pointing out) since we arrived the phenomena of old dilapidated-seeming signs being the proud advertisement for all of the shops and businesses around town. In the States, a hand lettered and illustrated sign would only last until the shop had the money to buy something more “professional.” Here, they seem to be a bit more cherished than that.
So we had a terrific morning taking pictures, doing a bit of fabric shopping, tourist shopping, browsing in one of the few bookstores and picking up a few last-minute ingredients for dinner at Frulep. We met Caleb at Afrika Bite for the usual Saturday lunch and were treated to a rainstorm during the meal. The week before I had wished for it to rain while we sat there and drank tea so I guess I can take the credit for that lol. The rainstorm was not very much appreciated by the wedding party that was seated on the lawn at the restaurant, but thankfully the ceremony had already concluded and the guests were able to cram under the front awning to wait for the wind, at least, to settled down.
When we got home the power was out…uh-oh. I thought that I would give it a few hours to come back. Our stove and oven are electric so there was absolutely nothing I could do to get ready for the evening except pick up the house a bit. Robin went up to school for a Skype date with his parents
By 4:30 there was still no power. I was, not going to lie, pretty desperate. How was I supposed to cook a fantastic birthday dinner for Robin and four other guys without any stove, lights or refrigerator and have it ready by six o’clock?
Enter the gracious Beck family… Caleb was one of the invites to the party anyway and I knew that Jenny was going to be out of the house so I asked if we could move everything over to their house. They had electricity. No problem. Perfect…and then I realized what I had committed to doing.
Almost our entire kitchen fits in one black trunk. And that includes the five liters of fresh milk that I had just received that day and needed to put into a working refrigerator, fast. I put the trunk in the back of our roller-skate car, balanced the two pans of fitfully risen rolls on the passenger seat and floor, spent ten minutes frantically trying to find my keys and then realized that because our houseworker had the day off I had to take care of the front gate all by myself.
The gate isn’t all that complicated, but it can be tricky. Unlock the padlock, pull the pin up from its little hole in the driveway, swing both doors open, find a brick to wedge under each door, make sure they won’t swing close while I back out and then go get in the car. Back the car out into the road. Stop the car. Walk back up to the gate and do everything in reverse. Make sure that the keys to the people door in the gate are in my hand before I close the big doors. Unlock the people door. Walk out. Lock the people door. Get back in the car and head off.
By the time I arrived at the Becks it was around six thirty. I still had to fix almost the entire dinner. Plus transfer half of my rolls to a different pan because their oven is tiny and my over sized cookie pan wouldn’t fit.
I realized that I would have abandon the idea of making the cake.
I put the soundtrack to Josie and the Pussycats on my iPod (to keep me from sitting in the middle of the kitchen crying) and got to work.
Eventually the mashed potatoes had to be abandoned.
When dinner was finally ready (around 8 or so) I was exhausted. The guys had all offered to help at various points (don’t think I didn’t notice or wasn’t grateful!) but there just wasn’t enough space for more than one person and I was in the zone and couldn’t be bothered explaining myself to someone else. I had cut meat, baked rolls, breaded meat, heated corn, attempted to cook potatoes, fried meat, baked meat and, finally, made some killer gravy. Each plate had two small-ish pieces of chicken fried steak with gravy, a small pile of corn (I hadn’t though to bring two cans so it was one can shared by six people) and a roll. There were plenty of rolls and I was so tired that I didn’t even bother putting the butter on a dish…it just sat on the table in its paper wrapper. Everyone said they enjoyed the food, but there just wasn’t enough of it for me to be quite satisfied with my efforts. Maybe I’m too hard on myself.
After dinner a few other guests arrived and the birthday poker game commenced. I was too tired to play. I sat on the couch and tried to read a book, but ended up falling asleep.
We got home well after 10.
The power was still out. It didn’t come back for another 23 hours. Happy birthday Robin.