010: Sweet and Sticky

They said they wanted to learn how to make strawberry jam.  Sure giving cooking demonstrations and teaching food preservation was not part of her job description, not had she really received any formal training on the subject but what the hell, she thought to herself. I know how to make jam, jellies, marmalades, pickles and if they’re will and wanting to learn then why not spread some canning love? The only hiccup was the cans themselves.  At her home in Michigan she could go to Meijer, especially at the end of the growing season, and pick up boxes of glass Ball mason jars at 6$ a box. In Zambia there were no Meijers, and the only place she had seen anything that looked like a two-piece lid, self-sealing mason jar was Game in Lusaka.  For a week she meditated on the unofficial Volunteer motto; work with what you’ve got, and came up with a potential solution. 
Now she was turning off the road and was rolling into the valley towards Katoka with beer bottles, cotton rope, kerosene and a lighter packed in her saddle bag.  She liked visiting the people in Katoka; they always greeted her with immense fanfare and fed her lunch.  They were also eager to learn and well organized.  This was her second stop for the day and so she was arriving later than usual, just before noon, but she was biking slowly anyway so Daisy could keep up.  As much as she liked visiting Katoka she was hoping the visit would be quick so she could get home with enough time and energy to catch up on some of her paperwork.  The presiding purpose of this visit was to solve “the jar problem.” Don’t get caught up in anything else.
She arrived at the Group Leader’s compo
und about 30 minutes after turning off the road. She greeted and was greet with all the appropriate welcoming phrases under the sun and the traditional clap, but from enough people it sounded more like applause.  They brought out a stool for her and set it in the shade, she gathered the things from her saddle bag and sat down.  A side from the Chairman, no one spoke fluent level English in Katoka, but with the English skills they did have they were always asking her if she spoke French.  Where they learned French, Chelsi had no idea. To complicate things farther, hey were Lundas by tribe, Chilunda speakers, and although they understood Chelsi’s Kiikaonde, they did always respond with Kiikaonde vocabulary.  Chelsi usually decided it best to say as little as possible and draw pictures or just start doing things and wait for them to ask questions and use context to decipher what they were trying to ask.  So she immediately got started on her demonstration, her solution to “the jar problem.”
She fetched an empty bucket she saw sitting around and a gerry can with water. She rinsed out one of her beer bottles and set it aside. Now the people were starting to gather around. There was more of them than usual. She dipped a piece of the cotton rope in kerosene and tied it around the body of the bottle.  Holding the bottle between her legs she lit the rope on fire and let it burn for a few seconds then dropped it in the bucket of water.  If you were listening closely you could her a faint crack.
“It works better with methylated spirits, but kerosene is all I had at the house.”  She pulled the bottle from the bucket and gentle wiggled the neck off.  “If we seal the jam in with wax we don’t have to worry about lids.”
During her demonstration someone had brought out a small coffee table and set it with various serving dishes draped in lace.  A plastic Shoprite bag had been placed next beside the serving dishes. Chelsi ignored the table. Focus; primary purpose? Solve “the jar problem.” She began to repeat the demonstration.  Before she was finished Moses, a tall narrow faced middle aged man, began pressuring her to “eat the small breakfast we have made.” After she had wiggled the neck off the second bottle she used a spoon to dig in to the brown lump that she had been so beautifully presented with.  It did not look like much and she understood it to be made mostly of sweet potato, but it tasted quite good.  As was customary she shared every fourth bite with Daisy, who never wandered away when food was present.  While she was eating the group was discussing amongst themselves.  Usually it was just Moses, his shorter brother Andrew, the Group Leader, their wives, sometimes a man or two in their mid-twenties, sometimes the Chairperson, and a number of children between one and seven.  Today there was the usual, plus four women and four men in their mid-twenties.  Curious. Chelsi did not expect this kind of turn out for her demonstration. 
Daisy gobbled down a few more spoonfulls of the brown lump before Chelsi replaced the lace coving over it.  She looked at her watch, all right, I can make it home around 14 hours, “We are ready for you to teach us to make jam.”
“… what?” Chelsi had not heard Moses over her thoughts. A woman came around the other side of the coffee table and started removing items from the Shoprite bag. Damn, Chelsi thought that maybe it was a take-home bag of vegetables for her, because that happened sometimes too.
Out of the bag came two greenish lumps, probably wax, a plastic carton of strawberries, the size indicated they had been bought at Shoprite, a plastic bag of strawberries, the size indicated they had come from the their fields, 1kg bag of sugar and another plastic bag containing at least two dozen lemons. Oh dear, Chelsi was not ready to teach them to make strawberry jam.  The jam part? fine, but the wax? In the States Chelsi had always ignored the directions in her books for sealing jams with wax, she had figured, with readily available jar lids she would never have to know how.  When the people of Katoka expressed their interest in learning to make jam for the first time, Chelsi figured she would have some time between solving “the jar problem” and actually making the jam to scour the internet for instructions on how to seal jams with wax.  Even with all of the panic and regret bouncing around in her head, she could hear the voices of all the RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) she knew saying ‘even if you haven’t got a clue what you’re doing, even if something’s gone disastrously wrong, never let the villagers know it.  It will undermined you credibility.’ Simultaneously she could hear the voice Ian Holms in her head telling a young Frodo Baggins ‘you never know what you’re going to find when you step out your front door.’
So, she did the only thing she could do; she asked for more water and a pot to start cleaning, trimming and cutting the strawberries.  Like the hardworking Lunda man that he was, Moses pulled up a stool next to her and started to help.  Two of the twenty-something year old men got a notebook and pen to diligently record her every move and all of the women seated themselves on the wall of the nearby chinzanza. 
About a quarter of the way into the hour long cook time, the Chairperson rode up on his bicycle.  He was obviously older that all the rest; shorter, thinner, with wrinkling around is eyes and lips and silver hair clipped close to his head.  Chelsi guessed about 50. Chelsi referred to him as the Chairperson because she could not keep all the names straight and that is how everyone else referred to him anyhow, Chairperson of the Bumi Kajo farmers’ cooperative.   He explained to her that they were expecting a visit from the government inspector of cooperatives in two days’ time and he wanted to have a proof of concept for her for the new jam making business he wanted to start up.  “Maybe they will give us money if they like the idea.”
On the outside Chelsi was nodding her head, on the inside she was shaking it.  He was trying to put his hands, and the co-ops hands, into to many different projects, just because maybe there would be more money in it.
And so the time ticked by. In the moments when somebody was not trying to talk to her, then tell her she needed to practice her language and that Mike also learned Chilunda, she was devising a plan on how to use the wax. When the moment of truth came problems almost immediately started to arise.  The Zambians incessantly ask why we had to boil the jars first, and while trying to explain bacteria and thermodynamics in a language that did not recognize either Chelsi was trying to pour the jam into jars without a funnel causing the jam to smear all around the inside of the jar rims. It was impossible to clean it off with the paper she ripped from the sugar bag, the only available option. Second, the wax, which Chelsi had wanted to melt in a double boiler but the Zambians had insisted on placed directly on the fire, was so hot when it hit the surface of the jam it caused the sugar to burn and bubble up into it. Then, what Chelsi really had not anticipated, as the wax cooled on the surface of the jam it started to pull away from the rims of the jars. “You’ll just need to pour more wax on in,” paused, thought, looked at the two jars. “In thin layers next time, so you don’t run out of room in the jar.” Thought a little more and added, “Or, put less jam in them to save more room at the top.” Two of the twenty-something men poured more wax around the top. More sugar burned, jump in to the wax.  Chelsi cringed a little at the sound and looked at the jars.  They were starting to look like bottles of Maker’s Mark, with wax all dripping down the side. She looked at the two men, who were looking back up at her for her approval.  She took a step back so she was side by side with the Chairperson.
“Not too bad for a first time,” which was about as honest as she could be.  While he spoke over to some of the other group members and Moses took the jam into the house, Chelsi looked at her watch, 15:30 hours. Maybe I’ll have some time to think…
“While you’re here, will you help us with this grant application for a pelletization machine? So we can start producing fish feed.” Chelsi saw now the packet of crisp papers in his hands, all the lines and boxes were blank still. 
“Sure, but let’s look at it inside.  I think there is nshima waiting for us.” She started towards the house where Moses was beckoning to her.  In her head she could hear, ‘You never know what you’ll find when you step out your front door.’ 

Categories: Action, DIY | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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