OrdmanNet Home

 Return to story index
e-mail author (edward@ordman.net)
Author Info

                         The Fish heard round the world

          In 1965, by an odd sequence of events, I came into possession of the canned food from a US Army Field Passover Seder. Canned chicken soup, chocolate, canned matzoh balls (a form of dumpling) and canned gefilte fish, a form of sweetened  fish that arrived in the US with Jewish immigrants from northern Europe. It’s sort of a fish equivalent of hamburger.
       I was studying that summer in Europe, preparing for the foreign language exams for a Ph.D. degree.  Two months or so into the trip, I was studying German at the Institute for Foreign Students at the University of Munich.  I was living cheaply: this was the days of  “Europe on Five Dollars a Day” and my student budget was $5 a day for room and board, although tuition and some other expenses were on top of that. I did not eat lavishly.
        Among the inexpensive entertainments available, oddly enough, was grand opera. If you were willing to stand in line for a few hours, the left over seats they sold cheaply to students at the last minute were excellent.
       Standing in that line I met a United States soldier who was on a short temporary assignment in Munich. As we talked, he said he’d been unable to find the local synagogue.  I had located it, with great difficulty, and told the soldier where it was. He visited there, and got invited home to dinner on several Saturdays.
      When he was leaving Munich, he found he had some supplies he hadn’t needed and passed them on to me - some leftovers from the Passover dinner his Army camp had eaten two months previously. Some Jewish charity had packed a Passover dinner in cans for shipment to isolated army bases overseas.  I welcomed this taste of something resembling “home cooking” after months away from home, especially the gefilte fish.
       My parents always told me that when young one received many favors that it was hard or impossible to return at the time, but that if one kept an eye out, the chance to pass the favor along  might appear years later.  So we will now skip thirty years or so.
      I have a first cousin, Andrew Sisson, who has spent his career working for the United States Agency for International Development - AID, our foreign aid program.  I’ve always been delighted to have a family member in that field, as I feel proud that the United States makes some investment, however small, in promoting peace.  I strongly feel that we should devote more than the vanishingly small part of our budget  (under one percent)  that we do spend on nonmilitary aid.  My wife and I have in past years  visited Andy and his wife Karen (who is in the Foreign Service) in India and Malawi.  But recently, Andy has become a bit of an expert on trouble spots. They spent several years working in Kosova, for example. He is now AID Regional Director for East and Southern Africa, which includes places like Somalia, Burundi and the Sudan.
       Andy says the Kosova job wasn’t as dangerous as I sometimes  imagined it to be, but he wrote that NATO forces did find two land mines right behind the AID and embassy compounds where they lived and worked, on a dirt road where he regularly walked his dog. He adds, “That was a somewhat unsettling experience.”
      Since moving to Africa, he says he has heard shelling a mile away while at a meeting in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi. His office is in Nairobi, and his programs are understaffed right now for the very good reason that the United States has allowed staff people to leave if they wish during the present high terrorism alert. He is staying, and traveling as needed, but he does travel in an armored car. Even in wartime, quite a few AID people are still out there “in the trenches,” as it were, trying to build peace.
        I recently asked Andy what he’d done at Passover, and he reported that the Israeli Ambassador in Nairobi had organized a Passover celebration. It had to be relocated at the last minute, as Nairobi was under high alert for terrorist activities, but it did take place.
       However, Andy said, he did miss American-style gefilte fish.  Packaged gefilte fish is usually sold in the United States in jars, but a hunt through several stores did turn up one brand packaged in tin cans, and I’ve shipped a small box of canned gefilte fish to Nairobi.  I’m not sure that this odd shipment will make it through customs and the security checkpoints, but past efforts have usually worked, even if they may have puzzled the inspectors.
        I don’t recall which charity packaged that box containing the canned fish back in 1965, but I hope they will somehow know that it was appreciated.  I’ve long remembered their kindness, and finally found a chance to pass the favor along.

Edward Ordman (c) 2003

Back to Story Index