When I arrived in Glória (my Peace Corps site) Brunie had already been there a year. Kindly, she let me share her small house. We soon developed a routine of shopping at the weekly market and performing other household chores. I hated to clean and Brunie was bored with cooking, so Brunie did most of the cleaning while I usually prepared meals, although Brunie cooked occasionally.
When she first told me she was going to make ox tail soup, I was doubtful that I would like it, but it was delicious. She cooked ox tails until they were tender, then added whatever vegetables were readily available at Glória’s market: onions, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, and cabbage. We could also add rice or break spaghetti into short pieces. It was easy to make and we could let it simmer on the stove while we worked through the afternoon.
Since ox tail soup was Brunie’s specialty and she was very proud of her soup, she would buy several ox tails at the local market on Saturday if we were expecting company the next week. We served her soup with small loaves of fresh pão (each about the size of a sausage bun,) manteiga (butter), and fresh fruit for dessert.
Brunie’s two-year commitment in the Peace Crops was up about the time I was celebrating the end of my first year there. I never met anyone who loved the Peace Corps and Brazil as much as Brunie, but after two years, she was looking forward to going home to her close-knit family. However, a new group of trainees was arriving in Aracajú, so the director asked Brunie if she would stay to help with the training.
Brunie left most of her belongings in Glória and would visit occasionally through the 12-weeks of training. Twice, trainees were sent to spend a few days with us, so they could see what it was like in the field.
I will mention here that it sometimes seemed that when I had been in training, that our trainers would intentionally throw an unusual situation at a trainee, just to see how s/he would react.
I don’t remember the name of one of the trainees who visited Glória, so I will call her Becky. She, like us, was in her early twenties.
Brunie made ox tail soup for dinner the first night Becky stayed with us. We were conversing over our bowls of soup. Brunie was explaining how politics worked in small towns. Becky had stopped eating. She held her spoon in front of her, politely waiting for Brunie to end her lengthy explanation. Then Becky asked very calmly, “Do I have to eat the frog?”
Brunie & I looked at her and asked, “Frog?”
“The frog in my soup,” Becky added, holding her spoon out for us to see.
“That’s not a frog, that’s a piece of cabbage,” Brunie said.
“But it IS a frog,” Becky said.
Brunie took the spoon from our guest’s hand and lifted the green “cabbage” with her fingers. Then, she suddenly threw it on the floor, and shrieked, “It IS a frog.”
We surmised that one of the tiny frogs that hopped around everywhere, including our kitchen, must have committed unintentional suicide by hopping into the pot of soup as it simmered on the stove.
To no one’s surprise, Becky thought we had planted it there under the direction of the PC trainers or psychologists to see how she would react. We assured her we were not a party to such a prank, but if we had been, Becky had stayed calm and cool so she would have passed the psych test with flying colors ---or maybe with flying frogs.
After removing the frog, which had been well-cooked, we continued to eat our soup. However, the next day, no one seemed keen on having the leftovers, so we ordered a roasted chicken from a local bar and went there for dinner.
When we told the story about the soup to a brazilian friend, the tale was quickly passed from neighbor to neighbor. Within hours, everyone in town knew about the crazy Americans who cooked frogs in their soup.
It so happens that the Portuguese word for soup is sopa and the word for toad is sapo, so the Brazilians were soon talking about the new American delicacy called soup of toad ---SOPA DE SAPO in Portuguese.