Posts Tagged With: and lunch and breakfast”

099: Nearest Neighbor

Chelsi lugged her bike through the doorway and off the step of the porch; the rusted chain grinded against the crank.  Outside, Chelsi gently hoisted the bike’s pink frame onto her dish rack.  The rotting rack shook under the weight, but Chelsi figured, just this one last time.  The chain and gears needed oil, this Chelsi knew, but she had already packed at the bottom of her bag, in anticipation of the move she was to make in a matter of weeks.  Using a rag though, she wiped away dirt from crank and cassette, wrapped the rag around the chain and turned the crank.  The chain slipped though the rag leaving streaks of brown and black.

If only, Chelsi thought. If only I had a nearest neighbor my whole service.  I would have been out here cleaning the bike every other day.  Through her mind pasted the fantasies she had created and collected over the years about what it would have been like; to be able to hop on the bike and in 15 minutes be with another volunteer.  I could have had a partner for Camp TREE, an ally in getting my house fixed, a friend to care for Daisy.  I could have helped them plant trees around their house, build an oven, formulate feed for their ducks.  She shook the images out of her head.  There’s no sense in thinking about how things could have been, when to today we could know how they actually are.

Chelsi lifted the bike back onto the ground after checking the pressure in the tires.  “Daisy! Baby Girl, get up, get up, get up.”  There was a faint thud, thud before the dog appeared in the door way.  She stretched, front feet first, then back. She topped it off with a yawn.  “We’re going to go for a ride today,” Chelsi said walking towards her at the door.

In the house Chelsi grabbed her white plastic helmet, and blue chitenge bag, complete with water bottle and emergency snack.  The process of preparing for a visit to her nearest neighbor felt natural, even though it was her first time.  And the last time, the dark thought floated through the back of her mind.  Lilly, her near neighbor was only here for two days; not even a volunteers yet. A mere trainee.  At the end of the weekend she would go back to Lusaka to finish training.  She wouldn’t return until after Chelsi moved out; site visit they call it.  Chelsi only vaguely remembered her site visit; the three days she spent sitting in the dilapidated shack, Mike a called a shed with a bed.  She shuttered strapping her helmet to her head, and starting towards the road.

Daisy bounded up the path and on to the gravel.  She looked left, then right, then back at Chelsi.  Chelsi pointed to the right and Daisy trotted away.  Mounting the bike, Chelsi set off after her.

Biking down the road Chelsi wasn’t concerned that meeting would be awkward.  She didn’t think about what she would say, or should say.  She didn’t worry that Lilly would rebuff her unarranged arrival.  As a friend of the neighboring village Chelsi was even certain that lunch would be served upon her arrival by Lilly’s host family.  It’ll probably be the last time I eat nshima here.

Chelsi knew, that even though her and Lilly had never met, they were already friends; they were compatriots, Peace Corps volunteers.  Chelsi would do whatever necessary to help out her neighbors and fellows; to brighten their day or support them when the going got rough.  And she was sure, shortly, if not already, Lilly would feel the same pull.

Daisy’s long legs loped around the last curve to the left.  She knew the way.  Lilly’s host family was a good friend of Chelsi’s and she had made many visits to the house in the past.  On the bike, Chelsi swerved around the well to the path that went round a fallen tree to the main compound.  The children had screeched with excitement when they saw Daisy run up, so that the adults knew Chelsi was close behind and had a few moments to prepare themselves accordingly.

“Aaah, Ba Chelsi. Welcome,” Kenny said reaching to take her bike away before she had even dismounted.

“Thank you, thank you,” Chelsi looked past all of the excitement to the volunteer compound that was set off to the back.  “I’ve come to see Lilly.  She made it okay?” Chelsi asked as Kenny walk back to his seat in the shade, after having leaned her bike against the wall of the house.

“Yes, yes, yes. She is there!”

Chelsi peaked around some trees, and sure enough she saw a woman in a chair in the small chinzanza at the front of the volunteer house.  Chelsi could see that the commotion of here arrival to the compound had caught her attention.  Chelsi waved. Lilly waved back. “Naiya,” Chelsi called and started in her direction.

Categories: Adventure, Drama, Health & Fitness | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

081: Albert the Turkey

​“Just let me do it this year,” Chelsi had responded to Hannah and Sami’s email about preparing for Thanksgiving 2016.  “I just need you to make sure that the turkey arrives on Monday, alive and well.  DO NOT let them put it under the bus!”  What Chelsi had realized was that she just needed to make her instructions simple and clear. She was taking it upon herself to organize the meat course for this year, and rightly so, she thought, remembering last year’s ‘meat leader’ Paul, who had taken on the position out of some poorly placed sense of manly duty.  

“The entire time we were cutting up the pig last year he kept complaining that he was about to vomit.” Chelsi tried to explain to anyone who would listen.  

“So then what else do you need?” Hannah and Sami had responded after accepting her bid for the position.  

“Charcoal… Just charcoal. I’ll talk to Neal about what else he needs for the pig.” Slightly against her better judgement, Chelsi had delegated the task of cooking the pig to her nearest neighbor Neal.  She had been swayed by his genuine passion for the project and her confidence in her ability manage and rectify his inevitable failure. 

“He wants to put the pig in a pit, doesn’t he?” 

“Yeah…”

“Do you think that’s a good idea? Do you think it’ll work?”

“He’s very confident it’ll work, I think there’s about a fifty-fifty chance.  But this year I can guarantee that the turkey will be good and next year Neal will likely be the one leading the meat, so it’s better that he gets all of his wackiest ideas out of him now.”

When the day before Thanksgiving came, all preparations commenced.  A proverbial grave was dug, a funeral pyre lit inside and when the sun began to sink low on the horizon the pig, wrapped lovingly in banana leaves and chicken wire was buried in the pit. At that time, Chelsi could have sworn that she had seen a matching graving spring up just beside, all of your hopes and dreams, the headstone had read.  But Chelsi had walked away with confidence in her own project; dressing the turkey, Thanksgiving’s real star, she thought to herself. 

With some patience and agility the bird, who had been free to roam the expansive yard of the provincial office it’s last few days of life, was caught.  Though a larger crowd than Chelsi had expected showed up to watch the bird bleed out, it died well with little commotion. “Which is what you want,” she had instructed her friend and assistant Oliver.  “Next we’ll dip it in the water I’ve been heating on the brazier and we’ll feather it.”

The cleaning and cutting went smoothly, and nine plump piece of meat where dropped into brine and stored in the fridge till the next morning.  
“What time to you think we should unbury the pig?” Neal asked Chelsi Thanksgiving morning around the breakfast table.

Chelsi shrugged, “What’s your confidence level like that it’s finished?”

Neal paused for a moment in quiet reflection, “97%. I am 97% sure that in like an hour it will be perfectly done.”

“Alright then, I’ll meat you out there with a shovel.” Chelsi laughed, “get it? I’ll MEAT you out there?”

Chelsi passed the next hour rinsing, drying and rubbing her bird with barbeque spices and setting the fire on the brazier.  And when the time came she meandered out to the front yard.  

Neal and Oliver where on their hands and knees brushing aside the dirt over the pig.  “It doesn’t really feel warm…” Neal said with a strong strain of concern in his voice.  When the pig was finally uncovered and hoisted out the outlook was not promising.

“This, this little spot here is the only part that cooked.” Neal said, deflated but with rising inflections of worrying and haste in his voice.  

“So what do you want to do now?” Chelsi ask, feeling genuinely sorry that the scheme hadn’t been successful.  

“I don’t know… I don’t know, do you think it’s still safe to eat?”

Chelsi looked it over; it smells, but not unlike any piece of meat, the color’s fine, the flesh still has integrity. “I think its fine.  I got the grill going. Why don’t we just put it up there, cover it and see what happens.”

When Chelsi looked up, she could see Neal’s face covered in full blown panic.  A thousand reasons of doubt exploded from his mouth.  

“Since there is not much more we can do,” Chelsi tried to retain all of her cool, calm and collectedness, “let’s put on the grill and see what happens.”

With the effort Chelsi, Neal and Oliver managed to situate the pig on the grill and Chelsi was able to return her focus to the turkey.

For the last time, she removed the piece from the refrigerator, rinsed them then patted them dry.  She placed a grate over her fire and laid out the pieces as far from the fire as she could.  She checked her watch, about 4 hours till dinner, perfect.   

With the remaining time Chelsi bathed and dressed, and periodically turned her pieces on the fire.  She enjoyed the parade of fanciful dishes passing by; green bean casserole, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, sweet potato casserole, cranberry sauce, freshly baked diner rolls, pies, cakes, cookies. Everything one would expect for a Thanksgiving feast.  

“And how’s the pig coming?” Chelsi asked Neal as the dinner hour approached. 

“I think it’s going to be okay.  It looks good, it smells fine.” And Chelsi couldn’t help but notice that the color in Neal’s face was looking better as well.  “Oliver and I are going to take it off the grill and remove all of the edible pieces.”

“Great, I think the turkey is done too.  I’m going to grab someone to help me pull it apart and plate it.”

After removing it from the brazier and setting it to rest, the meat pulled away perfectly from the bones of the bird. 

“Oh my goodness,” Chelsi’s friend Allison cried, “this has to be one of the best turkey’s I’ve ever tasted.”

“Thank you!” Chelsi said blushing.  
When the dinner table was complete, all the volunteers gathered around and shared what they were thankful for.  For Chelsi, it was finding family so far away from home.  

Categories: Adventure, DIY, Drama, Food & Recipes, Horror, Nature | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

048: Fuko Feast

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Fuko, A Giant African Mole

“Ba Joseph, Right?” Chelsi double checked with the new acquaintance standing in front of her.
“Yes.  You know when I first heard that you had come I thought, Ahh but this isn’t for me.  Especially fish farming.  But I think what is was, is that I just didn’t have the time.  Now I’m thinking I am ready.”
“That is absolutely fantastic!” This was the way Chelsi wished it happened more often.  The she is just out weeding her garden and people just walk up her path and say that they are ready to learn.  “We can get started right now. I didn’t have any plans this morning.”
The tall man’s face twisted up a bit.  “Or, you can come tomorrow.  But while you’re here you should at least come see the example pond.  It’s just there.” Chelsi pointed into the bush at his back. “I’ll show you.”
“Okay, but I think I’ll also come back with my notebook on Friday.” Chelsi was listening but started walking away.
“Friday’s fine.  Hold on I’m just going to get my shoes.”
When she returned and the two turned up the path, Daisy came running up to them, furiously investigating the new comer with her nose.  “I’m afraid of dogs.” What Zambian isn’t afraid of dogs?
“Well you’re doing great, cause I couldn’t tell. And you don’t have to worry about Daisy.  This is my dog.  She just excited, but she won’t hurt you.  She’ll come with us to the pond.”  It had been some weeks since Chelsi had been to visit the ponds, and the grass on the path to the trees was so over grown, standing six feet tall, she had to guide her student walking backwards through it.  Once they reached the tree line the grass subsided and they could walk comfortable side by side.  Daisy went running on up ahead.
They chatted a bit. Joseph explained how he stayed in town but had his farm just past her house. Chelsi told him about Peace Corps and the role of volunteers in the community.  When suddenly, Daisy came bounding out of the bush, a big fuzzy ball in her mouth.  She set it down on the path to better sniff at it.
“We eat that!” Joseph exclaimed pointing and running towards Daisy.  The animal twitching on the ground was a shape Chelsi couldn’t really describe; Fat and stout? More like a Zambian cucumber though, with fur. “Just wait.” Joseph stomped on the critters head till it quit moving.  Then Chelsi picked it up.  The body was still warm in her hand.
“It’s a giant mole,” Daisy jumped, futilely trying to reclaim her prize.  “Good girl Daisy,” Chelsi patted her on the head. 
“Yes, it is a mole.  In kiikaonde we call it Fuko.” The two continued on to see the fish pond

After making plans to meet again and Joseph left, Chelsi commenced with the business of preparing the meat.  She cut the hide from around the hindlegs and started to peel it from the layers of fat and meat.  I always knew all the practice butchering would pay off.  Between this and the poor dove from last month.  She knew most volunteers would have handed the catch off to their host family’s to prepare, settling for a bit or two of the finished dish.  There can’t be more than a handful of bit to this thing either, she thought as struggling the hide over the substantial head.  The meat was a dark red, and smells a bit like a swamp. There was still a lot of excitement in her for tasting it, but she didn’t have high hopes.
After the intestines where unpacked and the suspicious innards where divided up among her animals, she dropped the naked mole into a brine. She was expecting another volunteer, Craig, for dinner today, but that was still some hours away.  A brine is probably the best way to keep it.
When all was done and cleaned up, she hoped on her bike to meet up with a farmer for an afternoon gardening lesson.

By the time Chelsi and Daisy returned to the house their shadows were long under the sun, and Craig sat on the bench of her front porch. 
“Alright! You made it, I thought maybe you’d let yourself in.” Chelsi let her bicycle roll to a stop. 
“We just got here a few minutes ago.  Oh and when I go here, that white cat is yours?”
“Yeah, it’s annoying as hell though.”
“Well it was sitting on your bird house.” Chelsi’s heart sank and the commotion level sky rocketed when Daisy discovered the little ball of black fuzz Craig was cradling in his lap. 
“Oh, I’m going to kill the thing,” Chelsi shouted over the barking and hissing. “It’s been eyeing my birds all week.” She ditched her bike and walk around to the side of her house. She could tell something had disturbed the flock.  They all sat stark still on the roof of her house.  Seven, yes the whole flock.  She inspected a little closer under the bird house.  Delicate white eggshells speckled the ground. Chelsi walked back over to Craig.  “You’ve got to take him with you when you go.  I can’t have him here anymore.”  She grabbed her white cat, meowing, off the bench and the dog, barking and locked them in the house.
“Well, this little guy hasn’t shown any interest in birds.”  He held up a tiny black kitten. It looked at her frightened; blue eyes ringed in yellow. Poppy had prettier eyes.
“Thanks man.” She took the seat next to him.  “We’ve got a special dinner tonight.  Daisy caught a giant mole this morning.  I know how you like your meet chewy.”

After they had settled in and the animals had become acquainted with each other, Chelsi set Craig to chopping vegetable while she set up the stove.  “So apparently I did this wrong. Or not wrong, but non-traditional.”
“What do you mean?” Craig briefly looked up from his potatoes.
“Well, when I was talking to Kennie’s wife at our gardening lesson today I was telling her about it. And apparently, you’re supposed to prepare a fuko like a pig; where you sear the outside, scrape off the hair then butterfly it open and roast it.” And this made sense to Chelsi, there was a lot of fat between the skin and the meat. “I didn’t know, so I did what I’d do with any fuzzy animal and skinned it.  But I bet the skin will make a great puppet when it’s done!”  Always look for the bright side.
“I think I probably doesn’t matter that much,” Craig confessed.
“Yeah, and we can’t really roast anything anyway.” The stove hot, she plopped on pot of water. “So we’re just going to boil it.”

With a little cooking and fragrant herbs, the swampy smell disappeared. 
“This is delicious.” Craig said pulling the meat off one of the hind legs.
“I know! And it’s not even chewy.  Who would have guessed that dirt and roots, and whatever else moles eat, would make you so tender.”
The two ate to their satisfaction, then divided the remained among their animals.  Stomachs full they settle back in their chairs to enjoy each other’s company.  

Categories: Action, Adventure, Food & Recipes, Horror, Nature | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

028: Least of Weevils

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Homemade complete animal feed

It’s like a metallic-y lemon smell, Chelsi thought popping open the repurposed milk tin storing dried beans. There was a crisp crunch when she pressed a weevil into the metal wall with her finger.  More and more and more began to crawl up the walls. For as long as she could remember, the word weevil had been a part of her vocabulary. But for what reason she didn’t know; for up until she began living in Zambia she would have been able to describe them.
“Like tiny beetles, with round bodies, pointed heads, long antenna.” She fished one out of the tin on the tip of her finger. A hard top shell clicked open and soft wings fluttered out.  “Like crushing a peppercorn,” she said to the empty kitchen bring her index finger and thumb together; weevil in between.  
There was nothing dangerous about them, but the idea of eating beans with such an infestation reviled her.  In nearly every bean at least one hole was bore, the home of the little beetle.  Most of the beans sported four, five or even six holes, more weevil then bean at that point.  And though there were few thing Chelsi could not stomach, there was something about the smell of the weevils, almost tangy, that left the beans unpalatable.
“But wasting them totally would be such a shame.”  She emptied the entire tin in to a large pot, filled it with water and set it on the large burner on the electric stove in the Prov house.  “But perhaps I’ll be able to make it in to animal feed.”
She remembered back to the fourth grade, visiting at a friend’s house.  Her friend’s family stored all their breakfast cereals in air-tight tuber-ware containers. 
“Why do you do that?” she had inquired.
“My dad says it’s the only way to keep the weevils out.”
At the time she did not know what a weevil was, but just the name gave the indication that she should shutter.  Over the years she forgot about the little beasts.  Something about the sterilization and quality standards of the American food supply; they were not a part of everyday life.  She had to laugh a little now though when she thought about the idealized conversations she had with friends about pesticide-free, organic food.  This is what pesticide-free means.
When the beans were soft she drained off the water and mashed them by squeezing them between her fingers.  She wondered all the while if hand cream makers knew how soft mashed beans made your skin feel. What was now a paste was spread on several cookie sheets and left out in the sun to dry.
Back in the house she laid out the rest of her ingredients: Five parts starch, she hoisted an old bag of corn flour, or roller meal, the table, one part fat, she placed a green cellophane bag full on pounded peanut next to the roller meal, one part wood ash, she had always seen this list on ingredients for animal foods but never understood until a gardener explained that the wood ash was a dense source of minerals.  Then three parts protein, the beans where just finishing up drying in the sun. 
As she started measuring out her ingredients in to a large plastic bin she came across a couple black, fuzzy caterpillar looking things in the roller meal.  I guess its good I’m using this up too.
To get what was otherwise a powder to stick together in pellet form she had been told to use cassava flour as a binder.  That was it, there were no other instructions, but she had eaten cassava nshima before; when cooked down the stuff is like puttie.
“If I cook it down, then mix the powder in when it’s sticky, when it dries it will stick together?” she filled a small pot with water and boiled it on the stove.  Slowly she whisked in the cassava flour to avoid lumps.  It was long before the whisk became stuck in a paste.  Bubbles on the surface grew, and grew, and grew, be releasing a long hiss. “That’s probably good,” she reasoned.
The paste burned her fingers when she tried to scoop it out on to the cookie sheet. But she felt the pressure to rush.  The cooler the paste became the hard it became to manipulate.  She was worried the feed mix would not adhere properly. 
She poured some of the pre-mixed powder over the gelatinous mush. What now? She thought poking it with her finger.  Poking it again and again, the powder began to penetrate the mush.  She poured on more powder, poked it some more.  Now squishing it between her hands, covered in the grey colored feed powder, it reminded her of a sea anemone; the shape and squishable consistence.
Adding more and more powder, she began to knead the mixture like bread, until it could not take and more.  What did not happen that she was expecting was for the mixture to crumble on its own in to little pellets.  Wishful thinking. So, she pounded it down, about a quarter of an inch thick, then used a fork to break it up in to little pieces; pellet size.  It took about fifteen minutes to finish the first mound of mush. But it was finally complete she should the cookie sheet out and took it outside to set in the sun.
It looks pretty good, she thought to herself.  Certainly better then trash. She wondered if her dog would eat it, but figure at the very least maybe she could feed it to the doves when she finally moved home and acquired them.  Sometimes I really wish it had a pig.

Categories: DIY, Food & Recipes, Nature | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

022: Just a small garden

Chelsi was excited, it was the first official day, of her first official workshop. She smiled at the small group of woman standing beside her with her hoe was in her hand.  The small space felt like a blank canvas that she would get to paint with brightly colored vegetables, and flowers. She had always wanted a garden.  In fact, the opportunity to learn about gardening was one of the prevailing reasons she had joined Peace Corps.  All of her previous attempts had failed miserably. There had been the year she tried to grow some vegetables in her parents backyard and ended up with only one eggplant, and the year she tried container gardening and dragged a couple of tomato plants all over the country.  That attempt produced just three tomatoes all summer. But this time I’m ready. I’m going to be just here to take care of it and people are going to come and help because they also want to learn about gardening.  And there are no vegetables in the village…
At IST, in-service training, the Peace Corps permagardener, Peter, had come and giving a two day workshop on how to dig climate resilient gardens using village available materials as a way to improve mother and child nutrition, or MABU, the mother and baby unit, as he often referred to it. 
“If dug properly and managed well, you will only have to water this garden two to three times a week. Instead of everyday, twice a day. And the most meaningful difference,” he continued, “is now, because we’re water less often we can dig our gardens closer to the house.”
Chelsi had spent most of community entry erecting fence beside her compound. When people asked what it would be for they laughed when she said a garden.  ‘But where will the water come from?’
“So where is the water going to come from,” Peter had asked rhetorically.”Many Sub-Saharan Africa countries get just as much, if not more rain then places like London. But we think of Sub-Saharan Africa as being dry and London as being wet because of the pattern in which the rain falls.  London receives its meter and a half of rain in little bits over the course of weeks or months.  Arid Ethiopia, where I do most of my work, gets its meter and a half of rain in a couple of half an hour rain events that happen all within six weeks. So what we need to do is create a micro climate of our gardens that catches and stores that rain for use during the dry season.  Otherwise if you’re going to be able to have a garden at all it will likely have to be far, far away from the house near water and where it’s harder to manage.”
Chelsi thought about this, and it was true.  Chelsi’s host mother in the village, her Bamaama, had her garden near a borehole, a four hour walk away.  Because of the distance, managing it well was difficult.  Some villagers who gardened in the wetlands just a short walk from the house.  There the water was less than a foot or two under in mostly place but the soil, though it was black and looked nice was heavy and even over log with water making it labors to form in to rows of mounds which is the traditional method. 
“I have picked this spot here,” she told the Bamaamas, “because it is just next to this ant hill which will funnel lots of rain into our garden.  So when you’re looking for a place by your homes to put a garden look for someplace on a gentle slope, near an anthill or an iron roofed house.” Chelsi repeated her instructions one more time, using interpretive hand motions and the kiikaonde gardening vocabulary she had been studying up on. 
After, Chelsi led the group of women moved into the fenced in space. “So what we want to do first is create a small wall or berm, direct water in to half meter by half meter holes which we will dig around the outside. To improve the walls so that we can still use them for cultivating we are going to do what in English we call double digging.”  Again, this was followed by interpretive hand motions and kiikaonde gardening vocabulary.  And then she dug her hoe into the ground. “To start double digging we will first dig just a little bit, in a little section.  We just want to loosen up the top layer of soil, down to where the ground becomes hard and compacted again.”  The women’s eyes widened as Chelsi started digging in the dirt.  She would be told later by one of her younger gardening students that she had never seen a white person dig in the dirt before.
The women took turns loosening up the dirt, removing wads of roots and adding wood ash, bits of charcoal and manure to the loosened dirt.  As they dug Chelsi did her best to explain how the garden worked.
“When water, from the rain, is directed into the holes it sits and is able to sink deep in to the soil where it will be stored until dry season, May, June, July, August, September… Then as the soil in our garden dries out in the sun the water will be drawn up into our beds; which will be soft and sponge like because of the double digging.”  Chelsi looked around, some of the women were nodding their heads.
“But all this digging, it’s very difficult. And when do we add the fertilizer?” asked a women in a bright yellow tank top.
“To start, if we dig good, next year no digging. But we must not be on the beds or berms.”  Speaking kiikaonde was not too difficult if she was convening thoughts from her own mind where she had time to prepare, but answering questions were like pop quizzes that pushed her languages skills. “No fertilizer, because we put charcoal, manure and wood ash and dig all, we put fertilizer, no.  After we will, can learn about making compost.” While speaking her gaze had wandered towards the sky as if her eyes could turn about and look for the right words in her mind. She looked back at the women now. “Putting charcoal, wood ash and manure, like fertilizer.” She added for good measure.
The women were smiling and giggling.  Remember, they are not laughing at you, they are laughing because they’re happy. And right now you are making them happy.  Chelsi reminded herself of this often. 
It took the better part of the morning for the group to finish up the front berm and dig out two of the water catching holes. Now many of the women were sitting off in the shade, or leaning on their hoes. In training she was told not to keep her gardening students any more than two hours, so as not wear them out.  “When you are making your gardens at your homes they do not have to be this big.”  Chelsi opened her arms, it was the first time her 6 by 7 meter fenced in plot was feeling big. “4 by 4 meters is a good size to start.” I’ll do another berm this afternoon, Chelsi thought, maybe another group of people will come. “But this is all for today.  You’ll all done a wonderful job.  The garden is looking very nice so far. I will let you know when we start digging beds, or if you would like some help getting your gardens started, let me know and I’ll be happy to come.”
The group thanked her, and started to make their way out of the gate. 

Categories: DIY, Gardening, Teaching | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

019: Eat Like This

Her computer sat dark in the corner of the small office, Chelsi hastily glanced at it. She had promised Marissa it wouldn’t be a distraction but she couldn’t help it weighing on her mind.  Her employment in Washington DC that summer was dependent and just 20 minutes before the start of her Peace Corps interview, while brushing up on some info she was hoping to impress Marissa, the recruitment officer, with the screen had frozen and gone dark.  ‘At least it hadn’t happen two hours before while I was studying for my last final’ she had thought. But the whole thing still left her rattled, and distracted. 
“Is there anything you are unwilling to eat or are you willing to amend you diet to adjust to the foods available in your host country?” a small blond woman asked from behind a computer.
“Ummmm….” Chelsi’s mind raced; ‘is there anything I’m unwilling to eat?’ Images of the diversity of foods that she served up for herself flashed through her mind.  “Can you give me an example?” Marissa was sitting beside the blond woman, instructing her how to conduct interviews. And though she wasn’t the official interviewer, her presence commanded attention.
“For example, some perspective volunteers are strict vegetarians and would like to continue.  And though it’s possible continue your vegetarianism as a volunteers there are some countries where eating meat is a dietary staple or to refuse meat when it’s offered is an offence. Would you be able to adjust your diet? Or is there anything you just will not eat?”
‘Oh,’ Chelsi thought, she thought about rabbit haggis, one of her favorite foods. Boiled liver, lungs and heart, mixed with par-boil oat-grouts and warm spices, gently tucked and tided into the stomach before being poached… “Blood? I have a hard time eating blood.”
Marissa let out a laugh.  “You can put the response in like this.” She took the computer mouse from the blond woman.  It seemed reasonable to Chelsi, she knew there were tribe in east Africa who drank cow blood; she wasn’t totally thrilled about the prospects of going to Africa anyway. 
“How about food variety? Would you tire of eating monotonous foods?” The blond woman read straight from the computer screen.
“For instance,” Marissa began to clarify, “there are some place where people might eat nothing but boiled yams, three times a day, every day. How do you think this would affect your morale or your ability to complete your Service?”
Before coming in to the interview Chelsi had worried about her background knowledge of International Development and the history of Peace Corps and what she knew about the countries she was interested in serving and how her experience was relevant.  But this? “I think I’d be able to adjust.” Food and drink where some of her greatest loves on earth; ‘but what am I supposed to say?’ she wondered. ‘I don’t want to be passed up because I’m perceived to be unwilling to eat boiled yams every day.’
Marissa continued, “Because some people, once they’re in country, they find it to be an added stress to be separated from their favorite foods, comfort foods. And though it might not be the sole reason a person chooses to terminate early, it can be a significant contributing factor.”  Chelsi remembered now reading deep in one of the Peace Corps manuals about volunteers who left early. One such volunteer, leaving the South Pacific, sited that the salt not pouring easily from the shaker was a contributing factor in his decision to leave early.  
People had told her, ‘the application for Peace Corps is really self-selecting’. She was starting to understand what that meant.  She nodded as Marissa spoke and the blond woman put her response into the computer.  Chelsi used to moments to let her thoughts wonder to the tasks that would still be left for her after her interview. Almost as if it were a cue, her phone, tucked in to the deep pocket of her backpack began to ring.  Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment and her blood began to boil. She knew who it was and who it wasn’t. Outwardly, she tried to keep up the appearance of being focused; as she had promised. 
“How do you feel about missing out on big life events happening here at home?”
“27 months is a long time. There will be weddings and births and maybe even deaths, which you will likely not be able to partake in while serving as a volunteer.  Do you think these events will affect your ability to complete your service?”

Zambia is not known for its food and for good reason.  She peered in to the serving bowls that where being offered; a bowl leaves covered in salt, a bowl fry swimming in oil, and large pot full of corn flour boiled and beaten until stiff. 
“Sit, sit, sit. You must stay for nshima,” David insisted.  David, a man of about thirty, was her newest fish farmer and being just a ten minute bike ride from her house she visited him and his family frequently.  She really like his grandmother, she reminded her of Ba Eness back in Chongwe, obviously old, but still feisty. 
She understood the sentiment of offering her food, it was time for the meal in the evening and she was hungry but the potential for food-borne illness and hypertension or that another family will not have their fill always made her hesitate.  David’s mother brought out a stool for her, though everyone else was seated on the ground, and told one of the children to fetch water so she could ‘wash’ her hands.  She never really got a choice in the matter.  She sat and a basin of water appear beside her.  Around the food still sat Grandma, Sister and a few children, none of them more than three.  David, continued pasted her to join his father, brother and older sons on the other side of the house under the chinzanza
Nshima! Tujanga! Tujanga!” Grandma exclaimed with a smile. “Muja?”  David and his family were Luvale by tribe, not native kiikaonde speakers and Grandma was the greatest evidence of this, but Chelsi thought the two of them stumbling through kiikaonde together was always great fun. 
Ngyuka, Bamaama. Ngja nshima.” She rinsed her hands in the water basin.  But are my hands really cleaner? Was the rhetorical question she was always asking herself. Her hands went from being covered with dirt, to being covered with water straight from the well and she would now use them to put food into her mouth that other hands, some cleaned, others uncleaned, had touched.  She inwardly sighed, trying to imagine it as a way to increase the diversity of the microflora in her gut.
Grandma’s cheeks were rosy, wrinkles falling from them and rounding her chin.  Her eyes were big and sparkled as she smiled.  She was clearly the source of the Kiombo Family look.  Chelsi was starting to find that she could identify some people by family without knowing how they were.  “Muteeka nshima?”
Ee mwane. Nteeka nshima mu nzubo. Natemwa kubiika na cassava.” Chelsi reached out and pinched off piece of nshima about the size of jaw breaker. 
Muyuka byepi?”
Chelsi laughed, “Ee mwane,” and showed off her skill.  She used her finger to push the stiff porage against her palm while rolling it with her thumb forming a smooth ball.  She pushed the ball to the edge of her fingers and used her thumb to make a depression in the ball.  Grandma watched intently.  It wasn’t until recently that Chelsi had realized that though Chelsi was eating nshima with just one hand as she had been told during training, she had developed a different technique from her Zambian hosts.  She contributed it to early on, spending so much time focusing on not making a mess, she wasn’t watching how other be people were going about eating without making a mess. 
She balanced the red-blood cell like shape on her thumb and ringfinger and dipped it into the boil of sautéed leaves, Chinese cabbage leaves she guessed by their look.  She reached around some leaves with her middle and index finger and held them against the nshima. She popped the whole thing into her mouth. 
Kawama!”
Twasanta,” she replied chewing. 

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