I shucked peanuts for four hours today. I can’t remember the last time I spent so much time on something so simple. I also can’t remember the last time I lived in a country that shuts down between the zahi or “hot” hours between 12 and 4 pm so perhaps there is some method to my peanut shucking madness.
One of my neighbors gave me a large sack of peanuts, a typical act of Nigerien generosity. Despite my profound love peanut butter, candied peanuts, roasted peanuts, salted peanuts, peanut curry, peanut cookies and everything else tantalizingly peanutty, I really don’t like raw peanuts. To eat the soft, pinkish nut seems traitorous to the glory of a nut that it could one day become.
Sitting on my kitchen table I eyed a large bottle of roasted peanuts I’d purchased in Maradi, the “big” city near my village. Thanks to my new habit of emotional eating and the flurry of emotions that accompany life in Niger, my huge bottle of peanuts was almost empty. It had cost me two mile, or the equivalent of a week’s worth of rice and beans, should I choose to live off such. I got excited. Not only was I going to make something unappetizing delicious, I was also going to save money! This was almost like my first development project—I was going to cost-effectively develop peanuts!
Despite the suffocating heat, I ripped open the large plastic bag and commenced shucking peanuts with a new found domesticity that made me feel like Martha Stuart, pre-jail that is. But, unfortunately, these were not your run of the mill, ball-park peanuts. Unlike their baseball game brothers, these peanuts did not crack open at the simple press of a thumb. In fact, even when I wielded my almighty garlic press, a few still remained resolutely shelled.
I told myself that this was Peace Corps, not Posh Corps. If I’d wanted an easy life I would have never agreed to come to what is quite possibly the poorest, hottest and dustiest country in the world. So I spent three and a half hours, fighting to change the nature of my peanuts. Like most nature versus mankind quarrels, mankind won but the prize wasn’t quite what was desired.
It was like I’d cut down a tropical rainforest only to find that the price of timber had plummeted. To be a bit less obtuse, roasting did not work. I put them in a skillet and turned up the gas. Then, when they started to burn I added water which left me with slightly burnt, slightly boiled peanuts that tasted a lot like their raw counterparts.
Despite the frustration, it was a rather entertaining way to spend four hours of my life. Oh la vie aux Niger…