Chef helps doc­tors feel at home on Zanz­ibar mis­sion

China Daily (Canada) - - PEOPLE - By PAN ZHONGMING panzhong­ming@chi­

An old Chi­nese say­ing goes like this: Even a clever housewife can­not cook a meal with­out rice. But some­times, that’s not ex­actly true.

Just ask Gu Pinggen, chef for one of the med­i­cal teams dis­patched from China’s Jiangsu prov­ince to pro­vide ser­vices in Zanz­ibar, a semi­au­tonomous ar­chi­pel­ago that’s part of Tan­za­nia. The Jiangsu group, the 26th dis­patched from the prov­ince, has one team in Zanz­ibar’s main is­land and an­other in Pemba Is­land, where Gu is sta­tioned.

Be­fore ar­riv­ing in Pemba, Gu had been a chef for nearly 30 years at Wuxi No 2 Peo­ple’s Hos­pi­tal.

Wuxi is a pros­per­ous city in East China be­tween the pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal of Nan­jing and Shang­hai. It’s known as a city of “fish and rice”, and peo­ple there en­joy many kinds of veg­eta­bles and meats.

The team in­cludes six doc­tors from Wuxi No 2 Peo­ple’s Hos­pi­tal, one doc­tor from Wuxi No 4 Peo­ple’s Hos­pi­tal and one doc­tor from Wuxi Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal.

When the med­i­cal team ar­rived in Zanz­ibar in June 2015, they dis­cov­ered an un­fa­mil­iar en­vi­ron­ment. While Zanz­ibar is an al­lur­ing in­ter­na­tional tourist des­ti­na­tion with beau­ti­ful beaches, Gu says what he could find in the lo­cal mar­ket was mainly lim­ited to toma­toes, pota­toes and onions, in ad­di­tion to some beef and fish.

“As all the mem­bers are from Wuxi, they love to eat veg­eta­bles with green leaves,” he said.

Gu re­al­ized if the food didn’t agree with the team, it would be dif­fi­cult for them to stay on and pro­vide med­i­cal ser­vices for the lo­cal peo­ple.

Gu had, in fact, pre­pared for his as­sign­ment in Zanz­ibar. He took with him sev­eral books on cook­ing dif­fer­ent cuisines. He went to visit restau­rants to learn how to pro­duce bean curd be­fore go­ing to Zanz­ibar. He had done re­search on the in­ter­net.

But the lim­ited selec­tion avail­able still sur­prised him.

Grad­u­ally, an idea came to his mind, to grow veg­eta­bles in un­oc­cu­pied ar­eas of their com­plex. With the help of other team mem­bers, they planted Chi­nese veg­eta­bles to bring a greater sense of fa­mil­iar­ity to their diet.

He grew bean sprouts and even tried their hand at pro­duc­ing bean curd.

As a re­sult, the va­ri­ety of veg­eta­bles on their ta­ble in­creased and the team felt more at home on the is­land.

Gu says he also tries to use dif­fer­ent ways to pre­pare meals. “I can­not stir-fry shred­ded beef ev­ery day,” he says. “I try my best to bring in more va­ri­ety.” He slices and minces beef for dif­fer­ent meals.

While most of the fish eaten in Wuxi is from lakes and rivers in the area, Zanz­ibar’s lo­ca­tion in the In­dian Ocean means an abun­dance of seafood. Gu says he searched the web, then prac­ticed some meth­ods for pre­par­ing saltwater dishes. Af­ter sev­eral tries, tasty seafood was served to the team.

“When the meal is ready, I wait for the doc­tors to come back from the hos­pi­tal,” Gu says. “My hap­pi­est time is when I see the dishes are fin­ished with­out any left­overs.”

Gu’s spe­cialty in China was desserts, which makes it easy for him to pre­pare dif­fer­ent cakes for break­fast so the team doesn’t get tired of the same old thing.

“I am not a doc­tor. I can­not pro­vide any med­i­cal ser­vice to the lo­cal peo­ple,” he says. “But I ded­i­cate my time and en­ergy to the prepa­ra­tion for meals for my doc­tor col­leagues.”

It is, Gu says, his con­tri­bu­tion to the wel­fare of the lo­cal peo­ple.


A Chi­nese med­i­cal worker

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