It is good to have my cook Tieta back! She is a helpful quiet lady. Like so many Mozambican women, her life hasn’t been easy but she doesn’t complain and has always a smile to offer. Because of her return from holidays, I found myself remembering all the people previously cooking for us here. Our first cook was an old man called Mario. He was more than 70 and we used to call him “senhor Mario”, a way of showing our respect for his old age. We just looked at him as an old man who could cook. One day we discovered that he had a 5 years old son. It was quite a surprise, but not unusual for an African man. I can’t remember why he stopped working for us, but I guess he started to feel tired and decided to live with one of his eldest sons.
After Mario I remember a Zambezian man called Vieira. He was a very good cook but we had to send him away because of his drinking habits. Emilio came next. He still is the best cook we had until now. Well, at least he knew how to do all kind of pastries – something that is very appealing to me. He cooked for us during a period when we received a lot, and some of our old friends can still remember, from time to time, a couple of “banquets” he prepared. Unfortunately he was not very honest, so we had to get rid of him.
After a series of men cooking, we decided to change for women. They seemed more friendly and patient towards the children. The first woman to cook for us was Juliet. She was an average cook, very humble, patient and faithful. While working for us she produced 6 children, each one of a different father. At the end, she was spending more time discussing urgent matters with the 6 fathers than cooking for us.
In between cooks, we had our nanny Maria doing the kitchen work. Maria was already old when she came to help us with the boys. She was a special lady indeed! It is enough to tell that she was the first wife of an important “régulo”, a local king. She was separated from him and lived with one of her sons, not far from our own house. As she was an active lady, she decided to work and help me raising my boys. Before her I had a nanny called Fina (means thin), who was a very fat nice lady. She left because she was too busy with curandeiros (witchdoctors) trying to solve her infertility problem.
Maria helped for a couple of mouths, until Juliet returned again to disappear once and for good. It is not easy for me to have a new face in my house! To tell you the truth, it is quite traumatizing. I accepted a young lady called Rosa for a short period, but she stayed with us for almost 10 years. I still remember the day I interviewed her. She was so week with famine that she trembled like a young tree under strong wind. Her husband had expelled her and took her only daughter with him. She used to cry a lot remembering her little girl. I am not going to tell a lot about Rosa, because her story is big enough for another post. One day she was called to work in a local hotel, but before leaving she brought her aunt Tieta to replace her. Tieta has been with us for almost five years now.
I could remember many sad and funny episodes involving cooks. The funniest of them all occurred with people working for my parents. One of them was a young and strong cook from the island I’ve been talking recently. He used to prepare us decadent breakfasts and delicious orange juices. One of his strong abilities was croquettes, a small meat cake that children liked very much. One day my mother entered unexpectedly in the kitchen (the colonial kitchen was usually detached from the main building) and found him using his belly as cutting board. He dusted flour in it and rolled the croquettes up and down. How disgusting this is!!! My mother talked with him, trying to make him see that he couldn’t do that, but she always suspected that when she wasn’t around the belly was automatically active.
Later we had another curious cook. At that time we were around 8 and we lived in Europe. My mother liked to have people cooking for us because she didn’t like to cook and also because we were very picky with food. That lady cook was really good and we liked very much her soups and her small chicken “empadas”, or chicken pies if you like. She was very patient giving soup to my vegetarian sister, a job that used to start at noon and end around teatime. One day she started to disappear for long periods, returning afterwards as if nothing happened. My mother usually listened to her excuses but one day decided to investigate. At the end, my mother discovered that during her absences our cook was in a mental hospital receiving treatment for schizophrenia. After so many years, I still remember my mother dismay when she learned the truth!