In Praise of Neighbours

In Praise of Neighbours

If nothing else, the pandemic has made me much more aware and appreciative of my neighbours. As a case in point, for the last two hours I’ve been making a huge pot of chicken domada, a favourite West African dish of mine, for my lovely next-door neighbour Carol. Carol brings us scads of fruit and vegetables. Since her family is vegetarian, I substituted eggplant for the chicken, but I digress.

Domada is a peanut-based stew that is best when allowed to bubble away in a cast iron pot for an hour or two to meld the flavours. I had put the components together — a jar of natural peanut butter, ripe tomatoes (also from Carol) water, tomato paste, chili, onions and a bit of garlic, salt. Things went fairly smoothly until I went downstairs to empty the dehumidifier. Apparently, at the precise moment I left the kitchen, the idiosyncratic element on our second-hand stove decided to switch from simmer to high and bubble turned to lava. I was tipped off to this unexpected development by the shrieking of the smoke detector upstairs. I dashed up the stairs and yanked the pot off the ruby-red burner and poured the unburned portion of the domada into a large bowl, sustaining second-degree burns up to my left elbow and splashing thick, peanutty goop from the stove to the kitchen counter and all of floor in between.

The smoke detector was still screeching so I opened up both back and front doors feeling fairly comfortable dogwise since I knew the expandable gate across the porch entrance was closed and Farley, my 15-year-old pup, was watching all of this from the living room rug, his muzzle between his two front paws and his blue eyes following me with mild interest. What was left of the scorched domada was steaming in a bowl, and the pot, a layer of black peanut stew welded to the bottom, sat askew in the sink. But mercifully, after a few minutes of frantic fanning with a dishcloth, the smoke detector had stopped advising me — in both French and English — that the house was on fire.

I started filling the kitchen sink with hot soapy water, tossing in dripping, bowls, utensils and the pot. Just about then, our sweet neighbour from down the street, who is a professional singer, came to my front steps and called softly (and melodiously) through the open front door, “Excuse me. Do you own a big black dog?”

Now I’ve heard that question before, and it never turns out well. I dashed onto the porch to see that Farley had nosed the gate open and was now roaming the neighbourhood. “He was wandering across the street,” Jenny said. “I was afraid he might get hit.”

I dove back into foyer, grabbed a leash and a treat to bribe him with, and ran of the house past Jenny.

“Where did you last see him?”

“He was sort of down by Louie’s house.”

With leash in hand, I sprinted across the road and four houses down to find that Louie’s nice wife, Alice, had coaxed Farley into the backyard, where he was now wandering around, nonchalantly sniffing at the garbage can.

“I thought he might be yours,” Alice, said. “But I couldn’t read the address on his dog tag.” I was going to explain that was because Farley freaks out at the sun glinting off the polished tag so I had covered it in black marker but decided against it.

I got him on the lead, apologized profusely to Alice and Jenny, who was watching all of this from the safety of her front yard, and pulled Farley back to the house, up the stairs and through the door, which I closed securely. That’s when I noticed that there was a river of water running down the counter, across the kitchen floor and tumbling like a tiny waterfall down the basement steps. I had not only left the hot water running while I was chasing Farley, I had put the plug in the drain.

So I am not doing anything right now. Thinking about having a scotch and/or a tranquilizer after which I guess I’ll start mopping.

Oh, yeah. My wife left yesterday to visit the kids.

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Don Sawyer

Don Sawyer

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I am an educator and author. I have worked in West Africa and the Caribbean and my op-eds have appeared in most Canadian dailies. See northerned.com.