Beyond the Kitchen

What It Means To Boil Water

at the spring

“There is a prevailing theory that we need to know much more than we do in order to feed ourselves well.  It isn’t true.  

Most of us already have water, a pot to put it in, and a way to light a fire.  

This gives us boiling water, in which we can do more good cooking than we know.”  

-Tamar Adler, An Everlasting Meal

These words from Tamar Adler’s book crept into my heart last year.  She perfectly describes the humility of boiling a pot of water to prepare a meal… any meal, from plain boiled potatoes to creamy lobster pasta.  Just boil water.  Start there.  The result will be divine, no matter what.

I’ve carried that sentiment around for the past year, sometimes (more often than not) setting aside the beautiful simplicity of boiling water for things like Chocolate Orange and Pistachio Cinnamon Rolls.

I suppose it took some time for Tamar’s words to settle into my system, but I’m thankful they did.  Today I learned what it really means to boil water from a little girl named Kevin, and her sister Christine.

getting water with kevin

Kevin is a serious little girl.  She makes you work hard for the telltale signs of childish joy that I’m used to seeing in nine year olds.  Her heart is heavy.  Her mother is mentally ill and frequently abandons her.  Stability hasn’t been a constant for her and that burden sometimes trumps her the joy inside.  It’s there though… oh, it’s in there.

what it means to boil water 1

Kevin’s sister Christine is one of my favorite kinds of people:  she’s quick to laugh and has the most beautiful smile.  She’s a natural caretaker.  You can see it in the way she glides from hut to hut sweeping up, washing up, cooking up, and adoring her husband, son, and sister.  She’s effortless, easy, and  has a graceful heart full of kindness.

I remember visiting Tracy‘s house last November for Thanksgiving.  Tracy is the spot of welcome and calm when festivities pulse around her.  I found that same peace a continent away in Christine.  That grace is universal.

How much grace do you need to boil water?  Well…. a lot.  It’s a journey that starts with an empty castor oil jug, a long walk, a mud stove, and ends in a cup of tea and cookies.  It’s more than a hike for hot water and cookies, it’s about a beautiful and loving life.

I have to tell you about this.

kevin's house 

 Boiling water starts here.  It starts here by first going away from here; a 2 kilometer walk to the nearest fresh water spring.

kevin getting water

After a good haul from home we reach the fresh spring.  It’s been built up to support the community that surrounds it.  This is the dry season, but the locals say that the rainy season, this is a rushing water source.

Kevin goes in, like she does every morning, to fill the jug.


The road back home is filled with edibles!

Castor beans are pressed for cooking oil.  The last of the corn harvest is dried in the sun.  Papayas are piling up!  Sorghum grain!

doing the dishes

Can I just tell you what this day feels like?  It’s warm enough outside to feel the sun tempting my skin with a sunburn.  The grass is just losing its morning fresh feel and starting to warm for the day.  The breeze, especially in the shade of Christine’s thatched roof house, is worth living for.  And in that… Christine washes the dishes with all the water brought back from the spring.

Christine’s kitchen is the mud hut behind her.  Inside, light shines down from the edges of the thatched roof, empty water jugs line one corner,  fire wood branches lean against another corner, a small wood-fire burner built into a third corner heats the entire room, and even though the floors are made of mud… it’s impeccably clean.

Kitchens are always my favorite room in a house.  I could sit in Christine’s doorway, hiding from the sun but heated by the stove at my back all day.


This metal bowl looks like it has met with a few bumps, stones, and flames along the way. The rim is dinged and the sides charred black.

boiling water

And just like that, care is forged.

the stove

Breakfast, lunch, and supper emerge bubbling and warm from this mud stove.  Every day a new fire. Every day a new bowl of boiling water.

It’s simple, earnest, and exactly what it should be.

tea time

I love the happy anticipation that a plate of cookies and clean empty mugs brings.

washing hands

Water for hands, naturally and of course.


‘It’s not time for cookies until I get back and pour the tea, so don’t even think about it,’ said every mom ever.

making tea

A spoonful of sugar to go around,

tea time

and warm mugs of sweet black tea for everyone.

It’s a simple snack that at its heart is about comfort and gathering.  A moment in the day to sit, be, and enjoy a little sweet.

So what does it mean to boil water?  Just everything.  It’s nourishment in the beans Christine simmers for dinner.  It’s comfort in the tea she serves every morning for breakfast.  It’s community when her cousins and mother-in-law come from across the way for a visit.  It’s an afternoon snack tradition.  It’s cleanliness.  It’s supper.  It really is everything!

christine and goat

Kevin is one of 281 children nurtured by Compassion here in Lira, Uganda.  She’s slowly emerging from under life’s burdens through the care, education, access to health care, good food, and prayer she receives at school.  Because of special gifts from Kevin’s sponsor, the family was also able to purchase a goat.  The goats provide milk (and other goats) to the family.  Nourishment they can take in.  Milk and baby goats they can sell to market.  Care for the entire family.  Not only does Compassion nurture Kevin through education and spiritual growth, Compassion also nurtures the people that care for Kevin.  Real, tangible support.  It works.  It’s really cool.

If something as simple as boiling water can mean so much, just imagine what kind of impact our combined care support will have on families around the world.

More from Uganda from Chatting at the Sky, The Nester, Jeff Goins, and Shaun Groves.

Compassion provided me a link to share with you.  I am in no way compensated for your sponsorship or donation.  I love you and I’m glad you’re here with me on this journey.