But everything else about Botswana in this moment reminds me more of the baked summers of my California childhood, the sweaty dust of my middle school days in Arizona, black vinyl seats in the hot sun of a closed car, the relief of icy popsicles dripping down salty chins, garden hoses and kiddie pools and the buzzing heat of a day deep in the middle of July. It is very very hot right now. Gaborone’s dam failed last year, water cuts in our neighborhood increased from three days a week to four, and it has suddenly become quite easy to understand why for so long this part of the world and its blistering desert have been inhabited by just a few. Humans have put in shiny skyscrapers and Italian restaurants and air-conditioned malls in the capital of Botswana, but despite these changes, this year at least, Gaborone seems to be losing its long war against the landscape.
My daughter’s traditional Christmas ice cream cone
In my own kitchen I choose to ignore this reality. While outside the grass shrivels and dies, and the water level drops farther and farther down the blue tiles of the pool each day, indoors I am making sourdough breadcrumbs and smelling onions sizzle and grating a little ginger to put in the mashed sweet potatoes. I brought out the prized box of Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Bread mix that I’ve been hoarding for two years since my sister sent it in a care package to Africa, blowing a layer of dust off the top and adding a cup of chocolate chips to the batter because that’s the way I eat pumpkin bread. I also want to simmer cider and cook with the flavors of orange and nutmeg and make something in the oven that requires basting. And the funny thing? I received my weekly basket of vegetables from a local farm like I always do on Tuesdays and discovered that the season for fresh fennel is spring. It turns out my stuffing recipe couldn’t have been better timed.
We’re nearing the “festive” season as it is called here; Christmas is only two months away. For the last three years in Botswana we have celebrated the holiday with a pool party and barbecue: watermelon margaritas, hamburgers, corn on the cob, cooling Greek salads, and ice cream have been the mainstays of the menu. My sausage and fennel stuffing doesn’t belong anywhere on this calendar. It is heavy, rich, and fragrant: a hearty side for a cold gray day. But old habits die hard, and 37 turns around the sun this time of year are making me hold on to fall in October, even from the other side of the world.