Monday, October 22, 2007

Tomato Jonesin’

I’ve been dyin’ over here. Tomatoes, man. I got it bad. And there are none in the city. You got that? A city of over a million, and its out of tomatoes. None in any of the large Western style super markets, none in the local Liberian open air markets, none on the street. And hey, I need tomatoes. They are necessary for my sense of culinary wholeness.

See, I’m a sandwich guy. I love them. Easy to make, sandwiches are a complete and balanced meal in one hand. You got your grains in the bread, you got your meat for protein, you got your dairy with cheese, and you got your vegetables—onions or cucumber maybe. But what is a sandwich without a cool slice o’ tomato? It’s a honkin’ disappointment, that’s what it is, a letdown. A sandwich without tomato is a promise unfulfilled, a dream unrealized. And in Liberia, a sandwich made right—with tomato—tastes like home to me.

Ok, so for almost two months, the Capital city of Liberia has been sans tomato. Tomatoes do not grow well here, so they have to be shipped in. Usually whoever does the shipping keeps the city stocked with a steady supply. It’s the same for all Western produce. Apples, pears, carrots, good onions all get shipped in, so when they are gone, they’re gone for everybody all at once. Some produce, like apples and tomatoes, are more abundant than others. We see good lettuce maybe twice a year. Plums the same. I can’t remember ever seeing a peach. But right now, Monrovia seems out of everything.

We’ve seen two or three week dry spells before for but this is ridiculous. Until today, I hadn’t seen a tomato since early September. And I’ve been looking. In fact for over a week I’ve been driving in every day because I’m conducting this two week seminar for Liberia’s counselors (which I’ll tell you about later.) Not only that, but because the government is working on the pothole-filled roads in town, it takes me an hour and a half to drive the twelve miles. So I get a long look at all the markets along the way.

Today I got lucky. Driving in, as I broke through a traffic jam, I glanced to my right at a little produce stand we often visit. Like everywhere else, the produce was green or yellow: grapefruit, pineapples, bananas, papayas, or butter pears (avocado). Same old thing. And then I saw a hint of red in a box. I thought: “Is it? Could it be? It is!” It was a box of tomatoes. But I couldn’t stop. Traffic was too heavy and I was already past. I felt panic. “Where did they get them? Why do none of the other markets have them? The only tomatoes in town, and I just passed them! How long can they possibly last?” During our lunch break, I needed to rush to the bank which took me back past the same stand. Again I was unable to stop because I had to get back to the workshop. The tomatoes were still there, but the box was half empty. Other tomato junkies were beating me to the goods. Probably some were hogging more than their fair share. Not good.

By the time the workshop ended for the day, I knew only one purpose. After answering a few post workshop questions from the participants, I excused myself and bolted to the Cruiser. The traffic was a bit lighter, although the potholes were just as treacherous. After a few jolting minutes, I could make out the market. And even from down the road, I could still see the glorious red glint of ripe Romas beckoning me hither. I pulled into the parking area, jumped out of the Cruiser, and there she was: the Tomato Lady. She was charging premium prices for her stash, but in my state, I would have given her my wallet. I bought nine Romas for $5.00, and I should have bought more. I know I may not see them again for a while.

This afternoon, I had an egg salad and tomato sandwich. Later, I’ll snack on a cheese, potato green and tomato—or maybe just tomato and mayo. For breakfast, maybe a grilled cheese and salami sandwich—with tomato. The Romas might make it to Tuesday night, but they might not. Until then, I’m good.

I’ll worry about Wednesday Wednesday.