As an ( expat ) foodie, have you ever done something so dangerous, that afterward you are stunned by the stupidity of what you have done?

I like to think of myself as a person of normal intelligence, but unfortunately there have been a few humbling occasions when this conviction was proven to be wrong. One such an event took place in Indonesia where for a couple of years I lived the happy expat life with my man and our two daughters: I was stupid in the kitchen. Very stupid. And it involved pumpkin bread, I kid you not. Let me serve up the story of what I did:

Very Expensive Pumpkin Bread

The food in Indonesia is scrumptious, and we enjoy lovely seafood and luscious tropical fruits all year around. But as every expat knows, sometimes you hanker after something you can’t buy or cook in your new expat environment.

So when the holiday season comes around, I want pumpkin bread, which is a traditional American confection I have come to adore. There are many such breads in the USA with fruits and vegetables as part of their ingredients: Applesauce bread, banana bread, zucchini bread, date bread, cranberry bread, and so on. These breads are not actually bread as we normally think of bread — the yeasty variety. They are sweet loaves and have a cake-like texture. In my native Holland we would call them koek.

My own pumpkin bread with raisins

I manage to obtain a can of pureed pumpkin from the American commissary in Jakarta. This was easier said than done since we don’t live in Jakarta, but in the provincial town of Semarang, sometimes referred to as the armpit of Java (because of the sweaty tropical weather). The canned pumpkin and my precious whole wheat flour arrived by plane, carried by my loving husband who on occasion visits the capital for business reasons and then goes shopping for me.

All the above is just a set-up to prepare you for the drama of the story to follow, and possibly as a psychological excuse for my bird-brain stupidity.

So here goes: In a joyful Christmassy mood (in spite of the tropical weather), I put together the batter for my pumpkin bread, adding the ginger, the cinnamon, the nutmeg, the cloves — spices that always put me in a holiday high. Who needs drugs, really?

I pour the finished batter in the buttered baking pan, put it in the pre-heated oven and set the timer for the requisite 1 hour baking time. So far, so good. Soon the house smells heavenly, the air fragrant with the scent of spices. About half-way through the baking time I go back to the kitchen to get an even better sniff up my nostrils and to peek through the oven window at how beautiful it’s starting to look. If you are a baker, you will know what I mean. You will know the satisfaction of creating a masterpiece.

So I go down on my haunches and look in the oven. The bread is rising energetically, but horrors of horrors, the gas flames have gone out. This cannot be!  The gas tank has only recently been replaced. I know it is not empty.

I panic. My precious pumpkin bread is going to perish, collapse from lack of heat. I grab the matches, open the door and relight the oven.

Which explodes in my face.

I’m left with no eyelashes and no eyebrows and I have burned cheeks, hands and shins.

I slam the door closed. The oven goes merrily on burning, saving my pumpkin bread.

Me? Well, I’m spending a sleepless night with ice packs on my shins and hands. The god of gas had mercy and I have no serious burns, but I sure look funny without eyebrows and eyelashes.

NOTE: The shame of it is that I grew up with gas, was lectured by my mother and the entire nation of the Netherlands about the proper way to handle gas. And still I did this utterly brainless thing. Scariest of all is the thought that if I can be this idiotic, what other dangerous things might I do in a moment of insanity?

PS: And here’s my banana bread adventure, set in Ghana.

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Have you ever been stupid in the kitchen? Do you have the guts to fess up to a brainless deed you’ve committed? No? You’ve never done anything idiotic or dangerous? I am so impressed, but I’m not sure we can be friends now.


Lions on the roadEver been in trouble traveling in a foreign country? Easy to do if you forget to use your common sense. Here we are, dumb expats on a bush road in Uganda, stopped by a drunk policeman. This is Part Two of the story. Here’s Part One.

The Expats Get Arrested

The furious police officer, gun in hand, attacks us with a barrage of words. We are trespassing! Breaking the law! Committing a crime by being in the reserve! His hostile attitude is not comforting.

We politely point out that only the back wheels of our car are in the reserve, that our window is broken and that we, being responsible people, wish to keep the road glass-free for other vehicles in this remote area. Such as the convoy of trucks from the Congo now stopped behind us.

In the meantime, the Congolese truck drivers have decided a little entertainment is welcome after spending hours on the road. They’ve leaped from their trucks and have formed a circle around us to watch the spectacle. All this even more interesting to them because it’s now clear that the cop is so drunk, he’s practically reeling. What a show!

Our officer of the law is not interested in our story. He is interested in having an audience and showing off his superiority and power, he with the gun in his hand threatening us white foreigners. With his mean little eyes, he has all the charm of a wart hog.

Wart hog

He demands to see our passports and makes a great pretense of inspecting them, then starts in again and gives us hell for breaking the law while the Congolese truck drivers stand by and watch, mesmerized.

Then we notice something else. Another African, a young, handsome man in civilian clothes, has emerged from the police car and is now standing unobtrusively near us. “Don’t say anything,” he says quietly. “Stay calm.”

The policeman looks at me, stops his tirade for a moment, his beady eyes focused on the bread knife in my hand. If we thought the man was angry before, he is now livid. He demands to know what I think I am doing with that weapon in my hand. Am I going to kill the president?

“This is a bread knife,” I point out in a tone not likely to be appreciated by the officer. “I was going to cut bread.”

“Shut up,” my mate hisses in my ear. It’s not something he tells me on a regular basis, so I freeze. Of course I should have known better than to answer the cop the way I did. The cop, sweating and swaying, is now beside himself, captured by the idea that we are out to kill the president and that it is his duty to save Uganda from the likes of us. He shouts that we’re all going to jail and waves our passports in the air with one hand and his gun with the other. The truck drivers are having a good time.

“Get in your car! Follow me!” the madman shouts at us. “I’m taking you to prison!” Our passports in hand, he staggers off to his own car, followed by the handsome young man who has said nothing at all to him. Wimp, I think. We do as we are told, kept hostage by the man’s gun and inebriated mind. The road through the reserve seems endless and empty, leading us deeper into danger and despair. No villages, no people, no other cars. I think terrifying thoughts. About perishing in an African bush jail. About never seeing my family again. About being separated from my husband.

We drive and drive and if there are wild animals by the side of the road, like these zebras, I don’t see them. All I see are visions of what lies ahead, none of them happy.

ZebrasIf they are there, I don’t see them.

Then we reach a junction, the first one we’ve come across, and the police car stops. We stop. The convoy of trucks behind us stops. Out comes the handsome man in civilian clothes, striding toward us, passports in hand.

“Please,” he says as he hands them back through the open window, “please, accept my sincere apologies for this incident. You are guests in my country and this was an appalling incident and . . . ” He goes on to apologize effusively, in perfect British English, his embarrassment acute. He tells us he has spent time in England and was treated with friendliness and respect and wishes we could have been granted the same treatment in his country, but alas.

Through all this, the plastered officer of the law does not make an appearance. It occurs to me in a flash of brilliant insight, that our hero was unable to do anything earlier because making the drunk lose face in front of his audience would have been counterproductive. Alone in the car with him, he’d obviously used his diplomatic skills successfully. Not a wimp after all. I am ashamed of myself, of my ignorance. However, I am smart enough not to hug the man in full view of a bunch of Congolese drivers, and possibly that of one drunk cop who is now prevented from saving his country from evil foreigners.

Our hero goes on to suggest we get rid of the knife. These are bad times, he says, and people are nervous about the attempted assassination of President Obote and why take risks? He then points to the left. “This road will take you to Queen Elizabeth Park,” he tells us. “Please have a wonderful time and don’t let this incident ruin your opinion of our country.”

We thank him from the bottom of our relieved little hearts and watch him climb back into the police car, which continues on the road across the intersection. We turn left, driving as fast as the car and road will allow.

I’d like to end this story by offering my thanks to all of you English people who treated our nice Ugandan with friendliness and respect while he sojourned in your country. You may well be the reason that three Americans, one Norwegian and one Dutch person did not perish in a Ugandan jail.

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So, dear reader, tell me a harrowing tale from your travels. From what dangers have you escaped? What scary confrontations with foreign officials did you survive? Go ahead, give me the shivers.