ARTA, Djibouti — Beginning March 12, students from the Arta Culinary School began hosting the Djibouti Civil Affair Volunteer (CAV) team from Camp Lemonnier for four consecutive Saturdays for a cultural culinary exchange.
The dishes prepared are intended to be affordable and made from scratch. Most importantly, all the ingredients are easily available at local super markets so students can share their knowledge with their community.
“This project showcases interaction between our [CAV] volunteers and the culinary students,” said U.S. Navy Commander Stephen Beyer, chaplain of Camp Lemonnier Freedom Chapel. “It is not one group teaching, it is a group of people sharing and learning together.”
Sharing food is a meaningful experience and builds friendly relationships, said Beyer. Even though differing languages may present a barrier to communication, the ‘breaking of bread’ is a universal language.
“It was a unique circumstance to be representatives of the United States in a non-military situation,” said U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Christopher Radcliffe, who prepared the first meal of baked chicken and rice with caramelized onions.
He said part of the inspiration for the project stemmed from the knowledge that the Djiboutians’ prior understanding of American-style cuisine consisted only of hot dogs and hamburgers.
U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Sasha Hutchinson said she volunteered for deployment in Djibouti specifically to experience these cultural differences and learn from them.
“I wanted to learn about other cultures and their people,” she said. “Our mission is communication and that’s why the CAV does these types of activities. I wanted to be a part of that and it’s amazing.”
The Arta Culinary School opened three years ago to prepare students in three areas of restaurant service: culinary arts, reception and customer service.
Ahmed Gnnan, 18, is a first-year student studying to be a chief.
“I learned a lot here today,” she said. “I’ve never seen food like this before and it is something that I can take back and share with my family.”
Radcliffe said he was surprised to see so many males in the class. In Djiboutian culture, males do not typically set foot in the kitchen.
“One gentleman explained that he didn’t know what his kitchen looked like and the women are raised to cook from an early age,” said Radcliffe.
Ahmed Mohamoud, 18, a student studying to be a chief, said that men do not cook in his country.
“My father cooked having learned from the French military,” he said. “He passed that on to me and it is a family tradition that I want to continue.”
U.S. Navy Senior Chief Lana Tullos, a CAV volunteer, said the experience was amazing.
“Food is a common ground for everyone,” she said. “You can chit chat while sharing with one another. It is a wonderful experience and it will be long lasting for everyone.”