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Carry on cooking

Like many people working long hours in a country where the expat has an economic advantage, I hired a cook in Kurdistan. The man’s name was Yaro but we all called him Yahoo. He was an excellent cook (and I’m hard to please) but even he made the odd blunder. And he wasn’t that great at housework. With hindsight, it seems a bit unfair that he had to do these tasks anyway, but that was the system there. When I moved on, I left my set of Sabatier knives for him and am still surprised he didn’t return them to me in the back as a parting gesture. I probably would’ve deserved it.

As is usually the case, we worked the “cook-book” system, where the cook has a petty cash float and keeps a little account book to record household expenses. I wasn’t worried that he might take a percentage – that’s normal, after all. But just to keep things under control, it was advisable to run a quick eye over the (alleged) spending before replenishing the float.

On one occasion I was surprised that I had required five packets of “pepper” in a week. Yes, I like pepper – but not that much. I demanded an explanation. “Pepper?” asked Yahoo, bewildered at first. Then he thought harder about his recent shopping trips. “Pepper? I buy toilet pepper,” he informed me indignantly. Of course – how silly of me.

The following week when apparently I had consumed two tons (sic) of tuna, I just let it go. No doubt there would be a logical explanation. However, when I saw that I had paid 5 dinar for one wenker (again sic), I had to question it. It turned out that while Yahoo cooked, it was his son, an English teacher, who cooked the books. The whole office was intrigued by my wenker purchase, but it was several weeks before I discovered it was vinegar.

If I’d ever needed proof of the man’s honesty, though, I got it when I returned home unexpectedly in the middle of the day. Yahoo was standing in the kitchen ironing beautifully clean US dollar notes. I was not a happy camper; what was he playing at? Poor old Yahoo. It turned out that I had chucked a pair of trousers into the laundry basket without checking the pockets first. Instead of the money being lost, thanks to my own carelessness, Yahoo informed me, “I wash them, so now I iron them.” Sometimes it’s just better not to ask if you don’t want to look foolish.

Have you ever come a communication cropper while living overseas? Why not comment and let us know?

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