Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Wonderbag

The Post Office strike finally ended and my new Wonderbag finally arrived! I decided to try a beef curry recipe first. The Wonderbag is kind of like an electricity free slow cooker. You begin your dish on the stove, simmer it for a bit, and then put it in the Wonderbag to finish. In all, my curry spent about 45 minutes on the burner, then 3 1/2 hours in the Wonderbag. After I took the curry out, I put in a pot of brown basmati. I simmered the curry on the stove while the rice cooked, because the curry needed more cooking time.

Overall, I was quite pleased with the results -- and Perry was, too! Next time I'll adjust the curry's cooking time upward by a couple hours. Part of the problem, I think, stemmed from the fact that I had to cook the curry on a hotplate, because our stove is broken again. The hotplate just couldn't get the curry as hot and simmering as the stove could've. Next time I'll Wonderbag the curry for 5-6 hours. For the rice, I added a cup of brown basmati to 2 cups of boiling water with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of butter in it. I boiled the rice for 15 minutes, and put it in the Wonderbag for 1 1/2 hours. The rice came out fluffy and nicely cooked, but the grains were blown. Next time, I'll halve the boiling time.

The Wonderbag was created in South Africa and is a real fuel saver (whether electricity or firewood or gas). They're available on Amazon as a buy one, give one deal. You'll receive a Wonderbag, and one will be donated to an African family.

Making the curry is pretty straightforward: Brown stew beef dusted in seasoned flour. Sauté an onion, add some salt, pepper, garlic and ginger, then a tablespoon or two of curry & a little turmeric. I also added a teaspoon of cayenne, just because. A can of dced tomatoes and a cup and a half of stock or water go in next. Simmer for 20 minutes. Add butternut and chickpeas and simmer a while longer. I had so much butternut that I skipped the white potatoes called for in the recipe, but next time I'll definitely add them for some texture. 
Simmering the curry. Our stove is broken again, so I had to use the hotplate.
I tossed this picture in for those of you who may wonder how we do dishes without running water. The answer is camp-style!
The Wonderbag awaits the curry. As suggested, I lined the bottom with a thick towel to protect the bottom from excessive heat and to collect any spills. By the way, you can see our giant teakettle on the floor in the background, that's what we use to heat bath water. I'd never seen a tea kettle that large before South Africa!
I nestled the hot pot of curry in...
…covered it with a towel and this pillow….
…and cinched it up tight! I left the curry in for several hours, and then I cooked the rice. When I took the curry out the pot was still very hot…steaming hot. It could've easily stayed in for 2 to 3 more hours, I think.
The curry and the rice, ready to eat!
Fluffy rice with zero risk of burning in the pot! This is definitely my new go-to way to prepare rice.
Ready to eat! On the side we have chutney, greek yoghurt, and minced flat leaf parsley instead of cilantro ("Coriander is kute. Is finished, ma'am." said the clerk at Spar).
So, there you have it. Our first Wonderbag meal, which will feed us for three days, by the way!

- Elizabeth

Friday, February 28, 2014

Lunch at NJ

I'm a posting machine this week. :) With fewer duties this year, I have extra time on my hands. This is a series of photos I took to try and use for one of my MatadorU photography assignments. 

Money was found to build a new kitchen. Yay! Our new building has four solid, plastered walls, a tin roof, and unglazed windows for ventilation. Prep and cleanup is still an outdoor affair. The most commonly prepared meals are pap (corn meal porridge) and stewed chicken feet, pap and pilchards (canned sardines in tomato sauce), samp (kind of like hominy) and beans, and butternut. Sometimes we get roasted mealies -- roasted ears of field corn. In season, large cases of oranges will appear at school and get doled out. At other times, bananas will arrive.

When the lunch ladies have finished preparing the day's meal, they portion it into large, repurposed plastic buckets and place these at intervals along the walkways in front of the school's classrooms. It's served at 10AM and the learners, who are responsible for providing their own containers, crowd around the buckets and serve themselves. Sometimes several learners share a meal from one large tupperware. Silverware is generally not necessary. You pinch off a piece of pap, and dip it or use it to scoop the other dishes.

Preparing vegetables. The prepped food can be passed into the kitchen where the cooking is done. Off camera to the left is the washing station. Plastic buckets used for serving the food are piled high on the counter.
Cooking the food. Cooking is done over an open fire in large, three legged pots called galazas. Propped against the window, you can see the giant paddle used for stirring pap.
Tending the pots. From experience, I can say that stirring the stiff pap with a large wooden paddle is hard work!
Cleaning station. Behind, you can see the large pile of collected brush and firewood used to fuel the cooking fires.
Learners help themselves to pap, the staple food of this region. Pap accompanies almost every meal. Other common starches are samp, and sometimes, rice.
Pap is the foundation of any meal it's served at. A large portion of pap is served with a smaller amount of a protein or side dish, such as pilchards or tomato gravy.

So that's lunch. The English educator in my office, Mr. Nyambi, tells me there is no siSwati word for lunch, but it's kufihlula in Shangaan. Unless you're eating between 13:00 and 15:00 hours, then it's mpimavayeni.

If you're still hungry, neighborhood ladies come to the school to sell their homemade sweets and packets of extruded corn snacks that are kind of like Cheetos. My favorite sweet is emaguina or ema-fatties. These are deep fried sweet dough balls, and they're delicious. Also popular are plastic baggies filled with shaved ice and fruit juice. Kind of like a popsicle in a bag. Ema-chips (french fries) are usually available, too, greasy and delicious. I don't eat these very often!

Want to try your hand at pap? Here's a recipe:

2 cups (500ml) water
1/2 tsp (2,5ml) salt
1 cup (250ml) maize meal (or polenta)
1 Tbls (15ml) butter

* Put the water and salt in a saucepan. Bring to the boil.
* Turn to a low heat once boiling and immediately add in the butter and the maize meal (or polenta). Don't wait for the water to cool. Mix to combine.
* Adjust with extra water or maize meal to the consistency of your liking. I like it the same consistency as mashed potato. 
* Leave to cook covered on a low heat for about 30 minutes.
* Serve hot.

See more at: Fabulous Food Recipes

- Elizabeth

Storm Damage, Continued

I found the photos Perry took of some of the storm damage.

Our family's church, Sambulo Church of Zion in Africa, lost most of its roof.
What was left blew away a short time later...
This building's roof peeled back like the lid on a tin of sardines!
A closer view.
- Elizabeth

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Odds and Ends

Wow. We aren't good bloggers. Sorry about that. I'm going to try and catch you up with 2014 so far, but honestly, I don't quite know where to begin. I guess I'll start with photos of my number one science learner and Team Tiger's -- I had two science classes last year, Team Tiger and the Kaiser Chiefs -- most improved learner.

Xolani (Wise) #1!
Lifa, Team Tiger's Most Improved

Part I: School

I was pretty excited about 2014. I'd no longer have my own class, for one thing. While I very much enjoyed the teaching part of having my own class, I certainly did not enjoy the paperwork and record keeping aspects. In South Africa, each teacher is required to keep a physical portfolio, and each portfolio must contain the prescribed information in a prescribed format with prescribed components. Off the top of my head, each must have an index (TOC), a work schedule (essentially, a pacing guide), lesson plans (in the required format), assessments, memos (keys), mark lists (grading tables), and etc. Each timetable, mark list, and etc. must be signed (generally by the educator, the HOD, and the principal) and stamped -- on every single page. The actual content of the portfolio is pretty much subordinate to its appearance. As a member of the English department, Perry was actually required to gift wrap his!

Anyhow, I digress. This year was gonna be different. This year I wouldn't have to engage in all that bureaucratic BS and could just be in the classroom co-teaching with a South African educator. Doing all the good stuff. Working with a science educator to co-plan lessons, plan engaging activities, design more authentic assessments -- maybe even model a little non-corporal punishment classroom management and (my passion) cooperative group work. So far, that's not the way things are working out. I suppose all the great South African wine I drank over the long break fueled my delusion. Educators here have no (zero, nada, nil) experience with co-teaching. Co-teaching here seems to mean "Send the umlungu to the overcrowded classroom while I sit in the staff room and gab."

So, I'm trying to turn this around by working with a different educator -- my counterpart Bobet. Since we've co-taught Grassroot Soccer successfully, this seems a good arrangement. Perry's used a similar strategy, by the way, and seems happy working with the school's maths HOD now. He also helps learners of all levels with their maths assignments and really enjoys that. Rather than co-teaching science, then, I'm going to be co-teaching LO (Life Orientation) in the grade 12 classroom. I'm hopeful this'll turn things around and give me enough productive things to do. Bobet and I are, of course, also doing another Grassroot Soccer intervention with half of the new crop of grade 8s. Perry and his counterpart are doing the other half. Any future PCVs reading this: Do. Grassroot. Soccer! It's a phenomenal, free, and easy to implement program. We are both training student leaders, too, who we hope will help with GS interventions after we're gone. We want to reward these leaders with a pizza party later this year…if you'd like to contribute to this cause: Go Fund Me.

Peace Corps spends a lot of time at PST (pre-service training) and afterword hammering home the message that during PC service you'll experience your highest highs and lowest lows. And you're all like "Yeah. Yeah. I get it." But you don't get it. You just can't until you've actually experienced it. But it's totally true.

In other news, I'm trying to obtain two computers for the school and am really, really hoping we get them. These kids can't function as 21st century citizens without knowing how to operate a computer. We're also trying to get some books for the library. The library is, sadly, infested with termites, so its catalog of 100 or so copies of Lemony Snicket and a few other odd tomes are getting eaten away. Cross your fingers on that one, too.

Part II: Storms

I cannot adequately describe the intensity of the storms here. We love them! Everyone here thinks we're crazy to stand outside in the sleeting rain watching the lightning strikes. I will really miss these storms. They do wreak some havoc, though. Here's some damage from the last big one. The roof of our family's church was ripped clean away, as was the roof of a building at school, but I can't find those pics right now. :(

This is the top of a tree next to our rondovel
Here's its bottom half

- Elizabeth

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Christmas Eve, South Africa Style

Turns out, I am a pretty terrible blogger, sorry! Here's a short piece about our Christmas Eve dinner in Nelspruit, originally submitted as an assignment for my MatadorU travel writing class.

My husband and I, Peace Corps volunteers in a rural South African village, had decided to celebrate Christmas in style. One luxurious week in the mid-sized, leafy city of Nelspruit at a lovely guest house perched on a high hill overlooking town. I dreamt of hot showers, gourmet breakfasts, movies in an actual movie theater, and my favorite restaurant, Saffron. Finally, our holiday week arrived. On a hot and languid Christmas Eve, we descended from our guesthouse aerie, anticipating with relish a six course Christmas Eve dinner. Saffron is a maverick. Co-owners Steve and Vincent serve lovely Mediterranean style tapas and home-smoked meats while the others peddle braaied meats and the ubiquitous “ served with creamy sauce.”

Steve, the front-of-house owner, is at the door to greet us because we're the only oddballs expected at this hour. I requested a reservation at 6, and no self respecting South African eats this early. We enjoy Steve's undivided attention, though, because he's nice to be around. At the trailing edge of middle age, he has a kind smile and an open, friendly manner. “Merry Christmas!” he exclaims, “Would you like a kir?” A champagne bottle, dripping with icy condensation, is opened with a dull “thwock” almost before we answer. “Absolutely,” I reply. I raise my glass - the tart and fruity smell of the festive drink envelops me – and toast my husband, whose broad smile radiates contentment. The cold bubbles pop refreshingly in my mouth. It's still strange, as a northerner, to be celebrating Christmas when it's so...tropical.

South African Christmas also throws Steve a bit off balance. A relocated Britisher, he shares memories of his own English traditions as he leads us to our table. “I've brought a bit of it to this dinner,” he explains somewhat wistfully. We reach a corner table near two open windows admitting a welcome breeze as he continues. “I've insisted to chef Vincent,” he tells us conspiratorially, “that brussels sprouts be served with our Christmas quail.” I am truly joyed at this news. I haven't even seen a brussels sprout in almost two years. “I love brussels sprouts!” I blurt loudly. My slightly embarrassed husband nods his head. “So do I!” he agrees.

Our festive table is brimming with an abundance of silver and stemware, and nestled on our crisp white napkins are two sparkling silver and white Christmas crackers, a new tradition for us. The welcoming table shouts “Christmas!” as if to defy the sticky, humid weather. Steve, gently rocking on his heels with his hands clasped behind his back, is tenderly describing our meal. I drift into a reverie imagining the saffron smoked ham bruschetta topped with a quail's egg. I'm pulled back to the moment when Steve starts describing the pièce de resistance. “Vincent and I found this little farm nearby that raises quail,” he's saying. Each little quail will be swaddled with bacon and stuffed with sage dressing. Alongside will be roasted traditional vegetables, included the promised brussels sprouts. My mouth waters. I look over at my husband. His mouth waters, too. Steve, who has cultivated our happy anticipation, leaves to start our meal.

When the first course arrives, so do more diners. It's one large, ebullient group, another backdrop of the season much like a Norman Rockwell illustration, except for one small boy who truly stands out. He's a slender boy with white blond hair, wearing a thigh-length scarlet elf tunic and a triangular red cap trimmed with white ruff. Watching him, I feel as though I've been transported into a Rankin-Bass Christmas special. He's a busy elf. While Vincent's delectably smoked ham melts seductively in my mouth, Santa's little helper is climbing out the window. When the pungent salted cod with potatoes arrives, he's dashing around the corner of the building outside. As I nibble on shrimp with classic British Marie Rose sauce, he's trying to drag his nana out of her chair. “Come, nana, come!” he pleads. By the time the vaunted quail arrives, he's sitting up on the table with his new Christmas toy, a microphone. “I love you mommy,” his high piping voice rings out, “I love you daddy. I love you aunty. I love you nana. I love you!” My husband chuckles and smiles.

The small elf's Christmas sentiment echoes as I take my first bite of tender quail with sage dressing. Suddenly, it's memories I'm tasting. The rich, roast-y fragrance of the bacon wrapped quail. The earthy, sweet smell of roasted potatoes and brussels sprouts. The quintessential aroma of sage. It may not be what we're used to, but somehow South Africa has made it work. I look up at my husband. I suspect he's thinking the same.

- Elizabeth

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Going to Town?

I (Elizabeth) signed up for a travel writing course through MatadorU. Here's my first assignment, let me know what you think! I hope to add a few photos soon -- maybe I can take some when we go to mid-service training (MST) in a couple of weeks -- mini-van taxi rides are crazy!

Njabulo climbs aboard the taxi.
Going to Town?

In our remote South African farming village, Sikhwahlane, amenities are few beyond the corner tuck shop stocked mainly with racks of fluffy white bread, neatly stacked cartons of UHT milk, and expired tins of corned beef. Sooner or later, you'll have to catch a taxi to town to replenish supplies. Your first mini-van taxi ride can be a daunting and emotional experience, so here's a handy survival guide.

1) Center yourself. Pause to admire the vista as you stroll down the dusty dirt road leading to the taxi stand. Let the emerald green fields of gently waving sugar cane soothe you, ground yourself as firmly as the quiet rolling mountains in the distance. Breathe deep.

2) Practice contemplation. Find a shady spot under the concrete taxi shelter. When you spy a vehicle in the distance, raise up your index finger (you want the distance taxi). The first taxi to happen by will flash his lights at you – he's full. The next driver will raise his hand and spin his down-turned index finger, he's local. Another will stop for you, but there won't be any empty seats. You really don't want to crouch in the taxi's doorway for an hour, so decline and wander back to the shelter. Sit in contemplative silence for another forty minutes, give or take. Your taxi will come.

3) Be neighborly. Shout out a hearty “Sanbonani!” when you climb aboard. After the initial shock wears off (look, the umlungu/white person/foreigner is greeting in siSwati), you'll be rewarded with a chorus of “Yebo!” and many happy smiles. You're friends now, so go ahead, squish yourself into that tiny seat next to the large, smiling gogo, or granny. Don't get too comfortable, though. Your taxi's about to stop for a woman with a baby swaddled on her back. She'll accept the tiny doorway space you rejected earlier. She won't be able hold her baby, though, so she'll un-swaddle him and thrust him in your lap. Your newest friend will stare up at you with wide-eyed wonder – and get progressively heavier – the whole trip.

4) Remain unfazed. Grab the seat in front of you with your free hand because, as if in apology for your wait, the driver is going to “make up time in the air” like your last airline pilot did. There'll be some mild turbulence, too. Whump! You take your first pothole at 130kph. Then another. Then countless more. The tar road is, in fact, just a few patches of pavement in a landscape of, potholes. You stop wondering why the taxi's transmission sounds like it's about to fall out. Herds of cows appear in the road. Your skilled driver will somehow avoid them without diminishing his exceptional speed. Getting around the cows proves a neat trick, but soon your driver will start collecting fares and making change while soon as he reaches that twisty mountain pass.

5) Embrace the bass. Your taxi will be outfitted with a state-of-the-art multi-speaker sound system. This system will stream hip-hop music at maximum volume and full bass to a speaker directly over your head. Embrace this distraction from your very real distress – after all, your driver is making change at 130kph! Yes, (boom) your ears hurt. The throbbing bass will relentlessly vibrate your insides (boomboomboom), too. Accept it. It's a small price to pay to avoid staring at grim death beckoning you through the windshield.

6) Show gratitude. When you arrive, roll open the door and breath a sigh of relief. Unclench your knuckles, still your quavering insides, and offer your driver a heartfelt “Ngiyabonga kakhulu” (thanks much)! After you run your errands, enjoy a frosty cold beer. Some liquid courage will steel you for the trip back.

- Elizabeth

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Team Tiger's Graduation!

On 30 May, my (Elizabeth's) team graduated from the Peace Corps Skillz program! Perry's group will graduate next week. :) Before their graduation, I asked some of my team members to write down a few of their favourite things about Grassroot Soccer...what I got back was wonderful; many of them even gave me short essays. 

Learner sharing his essay
One of the girls shares...
A third learner reads for us.
One learner's writing even brought tears to my eyes. Here are some excerpts (Reprinted with permission. Edited for clarity with bracketed additions, but I tried to keep the learner's writing intact, they are trying!):

Grassroot Soccer is important to me, because it help[s] [us learn] how to play with others. And usually [you] teach me about things that are good for me and things that are not good for me. And I like playing with other kids and it make[s] me feel important to play with them. I learn[ed] about HIV and AIDS. Now I know that HIV stand[s] for Human Immune Virus and I learn[ed] how to protect myself from HIV and AIDS. I learn[ed] how to take care of someone who has HIV. Other people don't like someone who has HIV and that is not right. You have to help someone who has this disease.

I also learn[ed] how to support your friend, especially in difficulties that he/she have. You don't have to turn [your] back. But you have to help him/her.” --N.N. (girl)

I like to learn about HIV/AIDS and other things. Now I have many information about [having] HIV/AIDS or being a child at home...

I like Grassroot Soccer so much because I learn[ed]...things I did not know. I thank Mr. Motha and you Ms. Nomsa to help us. Thanks for Grassroot Soccer. I'm happy about Grassroot Soccer.” N.M. (girl)

Things that I liked about Grassroot Soccer are: In Grassroot Soccer we have learned more information about many different things [and it] taught us about different ways of preventing HIV/AIDS. The best thing that I liked the most is when you [taught]us that to best prevent HIV you must abstain, use a condom, have one faithful partner, and if you are a man you have to do circumcising. I also liked the games we were playing, like take a stand, because some people were not closing their eyes properly when we close[d] our eyes.” X.B. (boy)

In Grassroot Soccer I like to play everything [and] I like to play kilos and I like to read about HIV....I like Grassroot Soccer very much.” N.M. (girl)

I would like to say thank you for doing...Grassroot Soccer. [T]oday I know everything about HIV/AIDS, it is all because of you and Mr. Motha. [I'd] like to say to you and Mr. Motha that you are my role model[s]. I wish when I grow up to be like you two guys. [W]hen I grow up I want to be a doctor. I will help those people who have HIV/AIDS. [T]he things that I like[d] in Grassroot Soccer is that we have talk[ed] about sex, now I know that sex [doesn't] mean sexual intercourse only, it [also] means gender. And now I know everything about my friend and we do the kilos. I wish you two guys a long life. Thank you!!!!!” P.M. (girl)

In the Grassroot Soccer I like the lessons you have taught us about the spreading of HIV/AIDS. [I]t is a good lesson for people because we [did not know] how to assist people who [have] HIV but now we know. Now I can live with a person with HIV because you have taught me how to live with such a person. [Y]ou have taught us to respect other people.

Learner leading us in a kilo.
I wish we [could] have another Grassroot Soccer because you taught us to be brave and you taught us kilos.” M.M. (boy)

The things that I like[d] in Grassroot Soccer. It play the game[s] and to learn about HIV, [do] the Micro Move[s] and do do the activity [and] kilos. [I] like to play soccer, [it's] my favourite game in Grassroot Soccer. [Grassroot Soccer] gave me information about HIV, I [now know about circumcision] and I like the activity that we call take a stand.” L.M. (boy)

Learners leading us in "Fact or Nonsense?"
For graduation, the learners led a “mini-practice,” for our attendees. First, volunteers led us in some kilos: NJ kilo, Thunder kilo, and Coca-Cola kilo. Then three learners led the team (and the audience) through an activity called “Fact or Nonsense?”. After the activity, volunteers stepped to the center and read their notes and essays about Grassroot Soccer. We concluded the mini-practice with a team cheer: “Be happy!”.

Then we had all the students line up for the graduation ceremony. Mr. Motha and I thanked all the attendees and presented their graduation certificates. We also congratulated those with perfect attendance. After we handed out all the learners' certificates, I surprised Bobet with his own certificate. I think he was caught off guard, because he's looking super serious in the photo!

Presenting Bobet with his certificate.
The final surprise we had for Team Tiger was....cake! Grassroot Soccer was fun and engaging, and I recommend it to all PCVs as a secondary project. We plan to do it again next year with the new crop of grade 8s!

Proud boys.
Best friends.
- Elizabeth