When you live in a foreign country for more than just a summer vacation, you naturally have to get accustomed to eating the local cuisine. Carl and Pat Templin enjoyed some delicious Nile perch during their stay in Ethiopia. They ate bananas, papayas, mangos, corn and the occasional crocodile, and Pat would sometimes even cook crocodile tail.
But during their decade of living and working in an Anuak village in southwest Ethiopia, the Templins drew the line at rat.
It wasn't a common food - in fact, not even a delicacy. It was just something the children of the village did for fun in the morning. The kids would sometimes place a piece of corn as bait under a heavy dried circle of mud attached to a string, and when the rat reached for the corn, down would come the crushing weight. Or sometimes they'd build a device like a Chinese finger trap: The rat would enter to get some corn and then couldn't get out. The kids roasted their catch until the fur singed off and the meat was tender enough to eat.
This wasn't typical Anuak cuisine. But neither was the national cuisine that the Templins ate on their rare trips to Addis Ababa, or even to Gambella, the nearest place they could call a city, about 25 miles away.
Stanford University is 3,400 miles and a few thousand dollars in airfare from southwest Ethiopia. But the metaphoric distance between the two is immeasurable.
One is an enclave of education and the privilege that comes with it. The other is a place where people spend their hours and days doing things outdoors by hand that Westerners do indoors in minutes with a machine (or better yet, they hire someone to do it for them).
But twice in the past few years, teams of engineers in a program at Stanford have developed affordable products that make the lives of Ethiopians -and especially the women who cook the family meal -much easier.
It happened at Stanford's Institute of Design (the "d-school") in a course called Design for Extreme Affordability. In 2008, a team of graduate students discovered that a piece of metal could lengthen the longevity and durability of the most important item in an Ethiopian woman's cooking repertoire. And a year later, another team took some of the tears out of making Ethiopian spices.
ęCopyright 2010 by Harry Kloman