"You shall find out how salt is the taste of another man's bread, and how hard is the way up and down another man's stairs." - Dante Alighieri
Living with other families is strange. I always knew it was hard to live with other people (roommates, boyfriends, etc) but another family is a whole different story. You really get a chance to see just how thoroughly different other people are from you. Their eating habits, laundry routine, the way they say good morning/goodnight/I love you — everything is alien to the way you conceive as home.
You know that smell of another persons’ house? That strangeness that you know is their particular aroma and it fascinates yet concerns you? Every experience is like that smell.
That said, I truly enjoy the place I am now. I live on a under a thatched roof on a wallless platform that contains only a bed, mosquito net, and a shelf. Yet I don’t have the choice to play music in the workspace, and I miss it. I don’t have the freedom to twerk all over the damn place, and I miss that too. Nor is there a suitable location to practice yoga (except the beach, which is not all that bad, obviously).
I am learning; maybe not as much about bread making as I might have imagined a live-in apprenticeship at a bakery would teach me, but about work itself and being part of a small, local business. I am learning about bread-making too, though this type is childlike, occurring slowly through observation and by mirroring the work of the skilled hands around me. It's humbling, tactile and pure.
When my hands first touched the dough they were foolish, clumsily gumming their way through spongy masses of gluten. I couldn’t keep the dough from sticking to every part of my hand — like having the hand of a gecko — as I pulled pieces away to weigh each individual loaf. And attempting to pull correct weights was a process in itself. It is important to consider that for an imperial system-trained mind to suddenly work in the metric system feels impossible; trying to change the brain from cooking by volume to cooking by weight is a drastic shift.
However, it is beginning to work even if I still can’t wrap my brain around it logically. At first, when I pulled a piece that was the correct weight, I knew it was a fluke, whereas for the others around me it was expertise. Now I'm beginning to understand the difference between the various doughs of bleached and whole grain. They rise at different rates, require different approaches with your hands, and have drastically different weights by volume.
I’ve learned too that whole grain bread has very little whole grain flour in it (or at least here); the ratio of white to wheat is somewhere around 4:1. Not so whole after all. And I question the health and sustainability of bread as a food in a region where it can’t be grown effectively. I desire to challenge this system... Yet the question is: am I here to change the world or only to witness it?
I know that right now I’m in a place where I have to observe, to see how things work with as little judgment as I can muster. Then one day when I am in a place to influence, I can do so with more understanding. Not just of food itself, but of how everyday people interact with and are affected by it.