CAMP BONDSTEEL, KOSOVO
Story by Capt. Nadine Wiley De Moura
The smell of sweet sauce and spicy aromas permeate from what is known as “Admin alley” every Saturday at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo.
Sgt. John Gotia, a Financial Management Specialist organic to the 374th Finance Battalion, supports the U.S.-led Kosovo Force Regional Command East in it’s 27th rotation and channels his resiliency amidst the challenges of being deployed during the COVID-19 pandemic by connecting with his cultural community and cooking.
Gotia procures his vegetables from a garden he maintains outside of his office to make Asian cuisine and shares his culinary spirit with multiple Soldiers in the brigade.
“I enjoy gardening as it reminds me of home and helps the time pass by and be creative with our ingredients,” said Gotia. “Cooking Asian food is my norm and a communal event with family and friends as well as seeing other people enjoy our food.”
Gotia and several other Soldiers who share an Asian cultural background gather every Saturday to make traditional dishes.
“We gravitate towards this because it gives us a sense of closeness and being home and being able to share our cultural needs,” said Cpl. Minh Li, a KFOR Regional Command East Soldier organic to the Oregon National Guard. “It is very communal. When we are cooking everyone pitches in and is in tune with helping out.”
The group formed when the base cafeteria eat-in option and leave were cancelled as part of force protective measures during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When the DFAC closed and the vacation plan came to an end, we had to resort to something to do and occupy our minds and at same time use what we had to cook,” said Gotia.
Gotia, who landscapes at home, quickly referred back to his gardening skills and collected tomato seeds, cucumber seeds, and popcorn kernels from meals and began nourishing a small garden outside of his office.
He began connecting with other people on post who had an Asian background or knowledge of Asian cooking.
Soon a group formed, and not only cooked but shared their meals with Soldiers across the installation.
“It is very Asian culture, when you have friends you are close to and care for you share food,” said Li, who credits Gotia with bringing the Asian community on the installation together.
Food is the universal language of care, said Li, who is of Vietnamese descent and shared with others in the group about life in Vietnam and her mother’s cooking.
Soldiers from all cultural backgrounds stop in to learn how to make the cuisine and share in the cultural experience every Saturday.
Gotia and his team often make Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese and Filipino dishes.
Gotia has a physical therapy and nursing degree and is looking into becoming an officer and securing a fulltime job in finance.
The team competed and won a food competition event earlier in the deployment. Gotia said his joy comes from sharing his food and culture with others.
“The competition was an opportunity to cook and have people outside of our group enjoy and taste it,” said Gotia. “It is nice to know a lot of people appreciate when me and Cpl. Li cook –everyone likes it.”