Last weekend I had an enjoyable exercise in following one's impulses: two little words I blurted out set into motion a series of events that, in fact, continue to unfold. I don't mean to be oblique, but I am rather tickled by how the week has gone, and it can all be traced to one moment. Last Saturday night, we headed down with some friends to Fisherman's Wharf on the Kaohsiung harbor. Docked there at the moment is the MV Doulos, which sails to ports all over the world to provide books, medical assistance, and, when possible, a message of faith. The crew of 350 are all volunteers, from the captain on down, and crewmembers commit to a one- to two-year assignment on the boat. Over the years, more than 19 million people have come aboard to buy books and tour the vessel; she was built two years after the Titanic, and was first used as a cargo ship (she carried onions) but was later converted to a cruise ship. She has been running as a ministry since the '70s.
So this is how my two little words came into play. Before boarding the ship, we all decided to find some dinner at the restaurants along the wharf. Nora and I stopped at the first place we came to, a quiche and coffee shop, but the others wandered farther on looking for something else (something more manly, perhaps). At any rate, as Nora and I were eating, a performance began near our table, songs and dances from the drama department of the Doulos. We finished up and made our way over to the stage to watch them. Nora loved the dancing; the audience loved Nora (at one point, all the women squatting down in the front row had their cameras trained on her -- she is such a fascination to them). At the end of the show the members introduced themselves. The crew is made up of people from all over the world, and this group of about ten represented North America, South America, Europe, Asia and Central America. This last one, a woman from Trinidad, had already gotten my attention by using some American Sign Language in her music performance; now she stood on the stage and said where she was from, waiting for some recognition from the audience. People had clapped for France and Sweden and Canada, but no one seemed to have any idea where Trinidad was. She was playing up her disappointment, but still, I felt moved to say something. I called out, "Go, Trinidad!" She smiled, I smiled, the Chinese ladies around me giggled, and that seemed to be the end of it. Nora wanted to see the dancers, though, so we walked over to where the troupe was putting away their gear. The woman from Trinidad, Roopa, came up to me, so excited that I had even heard of her tiny island. She offered to give us a tour of the boat, so I rounded up everybody and we made our way up the gangplank. We did not get far, however, as tours were supposed to end at 8:00 and it was already past. But Roopa extended the offer if we were to come again.
I wasn't sure when we might make it back, but as the days passed I kept thinking about Roopa, about how far away from home she is. (Yes, I'm far from home, too, but I get to go back every summer, and people come to see us here, and the time seems to go quickly. She lives in a room that's smaller than your average walk-in closet. She shares it with three roommates.) I got online and Googled "food of Trinidad." I soon discovered the national treasure that is doubles, a fried bread filled with curried chickpeas. I found a recipe for it; I found I had all the ingredients. I knew we would go back.
Friday was a half day for the kids, and Tim was free in the afternoon, so after lunch I started making doubles [see my recipe here]. Everything went together easily, the house smelled fantastic (cumin and curry and onions, oh my!), and before long I had a bag with ten baras (fried bread rounds) and a little Chinese lunchbox full of channa (the curried beans). Tim came home and we piled into the van, back to the wharf to deliver the goods. I had sampled the doubles, and thought they were great, but I had no idea how close to real they were. Once on board, I handed the bags to Roopa, who asked what was inside. I told her to take a peek and see if it looked familiar. She poked around in the bag of bara and looked up at me with big, big eyes. "Doubles? You brought me doubles?" I smiled. She smiled, and then she started to cry a little. I did, too. How can you not? She was so happy to have a taste of home, and I was so happy to provide it. I feel a real kindredness with her, for whatever reason, and am still searching for ways to make her time here a little more comfortable. Monday is her day off, so I am picking her up at 1:00 for her first and only outing in Kaohsiung (the ship sails Tuesday for Taichung). I haven't decided yet how we'll spend the day, but doubles might factor into it. She did say they were very good.