This feels like a lifetime ago, but it’s barely been four years.
On a humid September night in Chennai, India, in 2009, I remember being curled up barefeet on the couch in my hotel room, having a heart-to-heart talk with my newly-married colleague Feyi, the strong and independent woman from Lagos, Nigeria.
We were there in India as part of our International Graduate program, and within the group of around 15 colleagues, there was a certain honesty about Feyi that I instinctively felt I could trust.
That night, in what felt like a huge gush of breath, and a moment of entirety, I told her about the possibility which I’d only recently started thinking about.
A decision to re-locate and move to Argentina, a country so far from Singapore you couldn’t reach without at least two or three flight connections; a nation whose culture was as different from what I’d grown up with as black and white; a place where I had no friends nor family nor job; but the place where the person who had stolen my heart was living.
I thought about the possibility of giving up a well-paying job in a secure first-world economy, and the probability that finding a job, any job for that matter, in Argentina, would most likely be low.
I looked at my family, and knew I would miss them, even if we weren’t the most affectionate or expressive of families ever, and how the 11-hour time difference and physical distance between both countries would make it harder for us to communicate.
I knew the challenges of starting in a new country, one where you had no roots, nor social circles to call your own; one in which a different language and cultural differences would make things even harder than expected; and the food, oh dear, the food, which may be amazing and delicious but still did not carry the distinct and familiar taste of home.
I ran through all these in my mind, and in the end, I made a decision.
A decision that would take me straight out of my comfort zone, into another place, somewhere totally distinct and with contrasts so stark, into the arms of the man I love.
Now, four years later, I’ve got a temporary residence permit, I can shout and dream and think in Spanish, I know my way around the streets, as if I were born in the neighborhood I’m currently staying in, and while I even know the butcher’s name and the fact that the vegetable seller’s daughter has run away from home; or how I’ve made friends whom I can call and cry with on the phone, or friends whose houses have become so familiar, and I live with my boyfriend, it still feels like sometimes I’m on the outside looking in.
No one ever said an inter-cultural relationship was easy. They just never said that it could also be so hard sometimes, especially the part where one of you has to give up being in your own country. When the dust of initial excitement and adventure of re-locating settles, and when daily life and realities become clear, there seems to be something unsettling.
I feel a very strong need to be nearer home, and I think it’s time for a change – perhaps a change in countries, to be somewhere nearer my family and friends.
I don’t know what the next year will bring, but I’m hopeful, I’m crossing my fingers and hoping for the best.
I miss being a car-ride away from my family or closest friends; or being back at home to see my baby cousins grow up. During the few times that I pick up the phone to call my grandma, I can tell, my mandarin’s getting worse; I sometimes feel further and further away from them, and a huge, incredible wave of nostalgia envelopes me, smothering me until I choke on it and the tears start washing it away.
In the midst of homesickness, and uncertainty and wondering whether there are such things as right choices or wrong choices made right, in the midst of being torn apart and stretched thin and feeling lost, I turn to something I know I can control.
I escape to the kitchen, to its warmth in the midst of winter, and start baking.
I combine melted butter, brown sugar, vanilla extract and beaten eggs together, knowing that their fusion with form a dark brown liquid. I sift in self-raising flour, a pinch of salt and roughly chopped walnuts – and then mix them together to form a homogeneous batter.
I know that if I pour this caramel brown batter in a greased baking tray, and top it with a generous sprinkle of chocolate chips, and then push them into the waiting oven, the batter will work its magic and rise.
I know that when I finally pull out the baking tray from the hot oven, I will get warm, chewy brownies interlaced with chunks of rich walnuts and melted chocolate chips.
There is comfort in knowing it’s chemistry that you can rely on, that in the confines of a kitchen, with ingredients measured at the right quantities and following a recipe as closely as practically possible, you know what sort of results you’ll end up with, even if it’s the first time you’re testing the recipe.
So these were the cookies that I baked, that helped me stay grounded and steady.
I hope you like them too. <3
BLONDE CHOCOLATE CHIP BROWNIES (Makes 24 brownies)
Adapted from: All Recipes
1) 2 cups self-raising flour (or 2 cups all-purpose flour + 1 teaspoon baking powder + 1/4 teaspoon baking soda)
2) 1 teaspoon of salt
3) 1 cup of chopped walnuts
4) 160g of butter, melted
5) 2 cups brown sugar
6) 2 eggs
7) 2 tablespoons of vanilla extract
8) 1 cup of chocolate chips
1) Sift flour and mix with salt and chopped walnuts
2) Mix melted butter with sugar, eggs and vanilla extract until you get a homogeneous mixture
3) Pre-heat oven to 180 deg cel (350 deg farenheit)
4) Add flour mixture to butter mixture until you get a homogeneous batter
5) In a greased baking tray, pour in the batter until entire surface is covered
6) Sprinkle chocolate chips evenly on top of batter
7) Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean
8) Allow brownies to cool well (at least 15 minutes) before cutting into squares
Sift flour and mix with salt and chopped walnuts:
Mix melted butter with sugar, eggs and vanilla extract until you get a homogeneous mixture:
Add flour mixture to butter mixture until you get a homogeneous batter:
In a greased baking tray, pour in the batter until entire surface is covered, then sprinkle chocolate chips evenly on top of batter:
Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow brownies to cool well (at least 15 minutes) before cutting into squares: