Wednesday, August 13, 2008

July posts

July 18th-A little about the weather and the food I eat: I have eaten some of the best avocados (likotapeni) here that I’ve ever tasted. They are a native fruit. So are mango and papaya but I haven’t had those yet; they are considered summer fruits. It is winter right now; winter lasts all June and July. Spring starts the end of July and runs thru the end of August. It can get pretty chilly at night during the winter season, especially if the wind blows. And does it blow. I would say the coldest night here was 40 degrees; mild by Midwest standards, but huts do not have insulation. So the heat they trap during the day leaves as soon as the sun goes down. Winter produce—at bomake (many mothers) markets—includes: avocado (which are actually yr-round), winter or bitter spinach, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, potatoes (lizambane), pumpkin (litsanga), cabbage (liklabishi), white onion (anyanisi), beets, tomatoes (litamatisi), lemons (lemane/lilamula), oranges (li-olintji), winter watermelon (lihwabha) and apples (lihhabhula). Sorry Rebecca, no exotic produce yet! It’s pretty normal to what I’m use to eating so far. There are some other interesting foods I’ve eaten that aren’t really worth ”writing home about” but I really should share w/ you their traditional foods. On Wednesday, our LCF’s (language and cultural facilitators) or teachers, taught us to make traditional Swazi food, which includes: liphalishi (maize meal, which doesn’t taste bad. I actually like it but it doesn’t have much nutritional value other than to fill the belly…and that much corn is hard for my body to process. They eat it a variety of ways: very thick w/ baked beans, onions and tomatoes; very thick w/ starchy water aka sugar water; or watered down w/ sour milk- emasi); corn bread (made by grating fresh corn, mixing w/ it maize flour and sugar then steaming in corn husks in a dutch oven—yum ; bitter spinach in peanut sauce w/ tomatoes, onions and green peppers (traditionally you chop peanuts and boil them down to butter, add the spinach then heat through. They have modernized it by using peanut butter and adding other veggies); winter watermelon (cut into to cubes, cooked down, then add maize meal and sugar, whip until thickened); and finally tripe aka stomach and small intestines of cattle, pigs or goats &/or a combo of all. I tried everything else, but could not muster enough will power or courage to try tripe. The smell of it cooking was enough. Surprisingly, it is a delicacy, eaten mostly by rural communities for special occasions. Meat, of any kind, is a treat. Guests are offered the best pieces and the largest portions. Luckily I have not been offered anything that I can’t stomach. Two other volunteers have told stories about eating chicken foot soup and ox tail. Seriously.

I got my gas stove last weekend, so I’ve been cooking for myself since. It’s really nice to control portion sizes as well as the type of food I choose to ingest. Honestly, I haven’t eaten anything to terrible. Sour porridge is not my favorite and I snuck sugar to put on top of it the 2nd time I ate it…but I’m not a very picky eater so I’m getting along better than others. The only problem I have w/ the diet is that it’s corn-based, and it hasn’t been great on my digestive system.

That same day, we split up into groups of 4 to make some of our favorite American foods or food we were craving to share w/ the Swazi PC staff. My group made Peanut Sautee, greens w/ veggies for salad and apple crisp. I brought leftover apple crisp to my family. It was only a little so they all shared a small bite. My make dished it out and b/c she liked it so much, horded the rest. She asked me to make it again; I said I would make a large batch soon. She also asked me if I knew how to make cake. She’s never eaten homemade cake. They have cake in bakeries/grocery stores here but they aren’t great. So I promised to make a cake too…chocolate w/ chocolate icing. Yum. They continually give me a hard time about how little I eat. My make said if I bake for them all the time, then I will get fat. I said I don’t want to get fat! But it is a sign of wealth, and a sign that your family is taking care of you, and that you are healthy, so I’m sure they’d be really happy to see me fattening up. Apparently female volunteers generally gain 10 -15 lbs b/c they have a harder time metabolizing the food than male volunteers, who generally lose weight. Well, I’m working really hard for that to NOT happen. Hence, one of the other reasons I’m glad I’m cooking for myself.

Sleeping w/ the dogs….and spiders….and cockroaches. There are 2 dogs (tinja) on my homestead. Every homestead has a least one dog. In Swaziland dogs are used to guard the homestead, barking ferociously when strangers enter the yard. We also have 2 cats (ema-kati). In Swaziland, a cat’s main function is to catch rodents. Dogs and cats are not pets, thus are not treated very well. Children especially will kick and beat dogs b/c they think it’s funny; breaks my heart a little. Anyway every homestead has dogs, and they bark constantly at night. They bark at each other; they bark at neighborhood dogs; they bark at the freely roaming cattle; they bark at pretty much anything that moves. And they usually bark all night. Well, the chickens and roasters cannot be outdone. Even though they crow continually throughout the day, their main crowing time is 3 am. My hut is directly across from the roast. The roasters crow to hear themselves crow; they crow to compete w/ other roasters on the homestead; they crow to complain at neighboring roasters. They just crow at anything. See a theme developing? Current volunteers have told me that you eventually get use to the barking dogs and crowing roasters and sleep through their competitions. Unfortunately, I have not gotten use to them. I generally wake at 3:30 am, listen to the competition for half an hour, and then will myself to sleep. But b/w 3:30 and 5 am, I mostly toss and turn and lucid dream of chickens crowing and dogs barking. My alarm goes off just as I’m drifting back to sleep, around 6:30 am. Considering I go to bed b/w 9 and 9:30, I would think that I’d be getting enough sleep. But since I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in a month, I think I’m just making up sleep each night for the previous night. So all that considered, it’s amazing that I get my arse outta bed at 6:30/6:45 am, and make it outta the door at 7:45 to get myself to school (escolweni) by 8am. But I do! Take into consideration that I run to a pit latrine each morning, boil water to wash my face and hands, make my bed, get dressed, make breakfast (and sometimes tea or coffee), and remember to turn of the gas tank to my stove before locking the door. Then I search the homestead, looking for my make and gogo to greet them w/ the proper morning salutations and niceties…yes I actually form sentences before 10 am! Then I meet Margaret, the closest volunteer (livoluntiya) to me at my gate and walk 10 minutes to meet my language class for school. For those who don’t know me well, this is a major accomplishment for someone who’s NOT a morning person.

Oh, and the spiders! One night last week I found a brown spider in my room the size of a half dollar. I had to think about killing it for 10 minutes. It was near the corner-where two walls meet, and I didn’t want to miss hitting it when I smacked it w/ my flats. After killing the ginormous thing, I went to the kitchen hut to ask my make if Swaziland had poisonous spiders. She laughed at me, as did everyone in the kitchen hut when I explained I had a VERY large spider in my hut. She asked me to show her the spider; she would kill it for me. I told her I killed it but wanted to make sure there were not poisonous spiders living in this country. She said no, but wanted to see it anyway. After inspecting it, she said it was not dangerous. It was just visiting my hut b/c it was curious about me. Oh hells no! No thanks to uninvited guests. Since then, I’ve only seen daddy long legs, and those don’t bother me.

July 20th- Catholic Church and Chocolate Cake: Swaziland is a very religious country. It is predominately Christian mixed w/ traditional beliefs/customs. My family belongs to the Zionist church….not the sect that is known for out of body experiences, speaking in tongues or hair pulling at their services. Their sect is a step down from that, luckily. However, they do lots of chanting, praying for their sins out loud, and asking out loud for intensions to be answered. Since my siSwati is bad I did not understand them and I said my prayers silently. That was 2 weeks ago. Last week I pretended I had to work on a project w/ fellow volunteers. I just didn’t feel comfortable going to their church again. Today I went w/ 3 other volunteers to the Catholic Church—Sacred Heart—in Nhlangano. Even though most of the mass was in siSwati (a few of the reading and the homily were in English) I still felt like I knew what was going on. You can attend a Catholic mass anywhere and follow along no matter the language. So it was nice to feel the familiar. And I think that was the main reason I went. I wanted something to feel familiar. When people ask me what religion I am, I usually say I’m a recovering Catholic or a holiday Catholic. But today at church, whether it was the familiar or the feeling of community, I was happy to be there. For the first time, in a long time, I wanted to be there and it felt okay to be there. Maybe not right, but okay. I thought about that during part of the homily that was in siSwati and I had to laugh at myself…have I come to Swaziland to find my faith and re-ignite my spirituality? I don’t know. Next week I plan to try the non-denominational church.

When I got home, I decided to make the chocolate cake my family requested a few days ago. It is very different baking a cake in a wood-burning stove. The top burnt before the middle was done. But it turned out okay…I just cut off the burnt parts and covered it w/ lots of frosting. We are eating it after supper. I’m excited! I feel like I haven’t baked in forever. Can’t wait to make bread!!!! But that will have to wait until I get to my permanent site. I don’t have the space to do it here.

Well the cake was a hit. The children loved it. My gogo said I must never return to America, but stay in Swaziland and bake every day for them. My make said she would eat her fingers, the cake was so good. And she horded that last 3 pieces. It was pretty tasty, I must say. But they want me to make it again, only LOTS more next time. But it’s not cheap to buy ingredients, which I tried to explain. Because I am from America, everyone automatically assumes I have money. I tried to explain that the only money I have here is the money Peace Corps gives me. But it does not make sense to them b/c they see all the nice things I brought with me. I explain that some things are gifts, and those other items I had to save money for a long time in order to buy. But it is still lost in translation, and in their preconceived notions of Americans. One day last week I talked about poverty in America w/ my make and one of my bhuti’s. I said some people lived on the streets, some people use cardboard to cover themselves at night, some people don’t eat anything except trash for days. And they had heard of that kind of poverty but it is foreign to them. They live in poverty daily; a different kind of poverty but poverty nonetheless, and the difference is everyone here is poor. And to them, America is only a land of wealth, endless opportunities, and material goods, of famous people who have lavish furnishings, and many modes of transportation. For perspective…any time someone hears that my American name is Jennifer, they ask me if I know Jennifer Lopez. In Swaziland, if you meet someone who has the same first name or surname as you, the two of you are forever friends, forever family, and must help the other any time they have a need or problem. Most people are disappointed when I say I know who Jennifer Lopez is, but I do not personally know her.

1 comment:

jcf said...

Oh but you ARE Jenny from the Swaz!! love reading your updates, dear! I sent you letter a while ago...hopefully it arrives any day!