Tuesday, August 23, 2011

You Call it Food, We Call it Dijo!

The SA food (in Sepedi, it’s called dijo) has been pretty good.  Certainly, no one in our group is complaining about going hungry.  The main staple here is pap.  Pap is to South Africa as pasta is to Italy.  Basically, pap is made from finely crushed corn meal which is mixed vigorously with boiling water (there’s actually a bit more to it than that as the water has to be just so-so, the cornmeal added in at a certain time, stirred in a certain manner, etc.). A specially designed whisk-like instrument is used for this as it is necessary to get out all of the lumps.  The final product is like very dense mashed potatoes, but tastes more like grits.  The locals here eat it most every night.  A few of the PCVs have indicated a certain fondness for it.  I, on the other hand, will be stocking up on rice and bread and pasta for my daily carbs.  When I do eat pap I limit my serving to a half a cup or so, whereas the standard serving is more like 2+ cups.  Pap shows up as a side dish on lots of menus, even at fast food places like KFC (KFCs are quite popular here!).  

Pap being cooked ... about half way done.

 Veggies include spinach (more like Swiss chard), carrots, potatoes, onions, cabbage, tomatoes, and pumpkin. The pumpkin is similar to butternut squash and is pretty good cut up and cooked with a bit of butter and a little bit of sugar.  Most meals are a variation of the above items.  Chicken is the most common meat, although beef does show up from time to time in the form of chunky pieces (with bones) like we would typically use in making stew.  Chickens are cut into pieces a little differently than in the USA, so I’m often unaware of what part I’m eating unless it’s the chicken leg (hard to confuse that one).  What are widely available are chicken feet and chicken necks.  Many PCVs have had chicken feet several times, but I haven’t and I’m not rushing to have that experience.  From what I’ve heard, there’s virtually no meat on the feet … no surprise there.  

One of the best meals I’ve had was chicken livers which were cooked in a dark brown gravy with mushrooms.  I can understand if it would not be everyone’s favorite, but I came here already liking chicken livers so I thought it was a pretty awesome dish.

Some of the more unusual things I have tried are
1) chakalaka … This side dish is a mixture of baked beans with sauted shredded carrots, onions and tomatoes with a little curry added (pretty good).
2) shopa (sp?) … This sandwich is available for only a dollar or two at many local tuck shops.  They take a quarter or more of a loaf of unsliced bread, hull at a portion of the bread and fill the hole with a slice of cheese, achar (think of it as a tangy relish), mystery meat (it’s bright pink and no one really knows what it is but my best guess is something like bologna), and French fries (yep, you read correctly … French fries!!!) and then the bread earlier removed is placed back on top. Very filling!  I’ve had it once just to have it.  Many of the younger PCVs are runner/joggers and they don’t seem to mind the carb-overload a couple of times a week.
3) Homemade scones and “fatty cakes” … the scones do NOT rival the ones from Alon’s Bakery back in Atlanta, but considering where we are, they are pretty darn good.  The fatty cakes are much like large, fried doughnut holes.  Some local women are often selling both items outside the gates of one of the places where we attend classes. The pastries come 5 in a bag and cost only 5 Rand (~75 cents).  It’s probably just as well that I’ve only recently discovered these. Some PCVs host mothers make the fatty cakes for them several mornings a week.  I subtly queried our host mother about them and she said she doesn’t make them because they are so unhealthy.  She right, but nonetheless, I’ll see if I can find the recipe somewhere for those times when something unhealthy is just what I want!

The grocery stores in our current shopping town towns are well stocked and we can find most things we want/need.  The bakeries at the grocery stores are good, too.  The Pic’n Pay bakery bakes fresh loaves of bread daily and the price is only 50-60 cents a loaf.  The pastry items such as doughnuts are good, too, when fresh.  (Can you tell I have a thing for pastries???) A weekly treat is to get a couple of croissants to have with Nutella. Can’t complain about roughing it too much!  Stores also carry a large variety of cookies and candy.  Given the British influence in SA, Cadbury’s has the larger market on the candy shelf, but there is a surprising number of American sweets, too (e.g., Snickers and Oreos). What I find most limiting are the selections of meat (if you don’t count chicken parts!). Lunch meat, ham, pork loins, turkey, and a variety of beef cuts just aren’t to be found.  I haven’t ventured into some of the local butcher shops, so maybe after I move to our permanent site in a few weeks, making friends with the local butcher may become a priority … or else become a part-time vegetarian!

Clotheslines … Now and Then

I’m guessing that many people of my generation and older remembers hanging the laundry outside to dry on the clothesline when we were kids.  My family got a clothes dryer when I was around 10 years old, so it’s been almost 50 years since I’ve hung clothes outside to dry.  Just like riding a bicycle, it can all come back pretty fast.  The first couple of weeks in SA, our host family took care of laundry, so we’d arrive home from class to a stack of freshly washed and dried clothes … lucky us!!  Most recently, however, I have assumed responsibility of doing our own laundry.  Note that it’s me doing this, not John.  In SA culture, it is not acceptable for a married man to be involved in doing any part of the laundry.  A man would lose respect and the wife would be considered to be a bad and domineering woman.  I don’t mind doing the laundry, but John does find it a bit frustrating as it is a rather long and laborious chore and he wants to be able to help.  (We have since learned that it’s somewhat “okay” for a man to wash his own clothes, so now we somewhat split the chore and each do our own. Yeah!) 

 Notice how close the pit toilet is on the left... convenient, no???

Last week, washing clothes was actually done in a machine. However, since running water is generally not available between the hours of 9am and 10pm (another subject I’ll write about later), we have to add buckets of water to the machine at the beginning of the wash and rinse cycles.  Fortunately, John was “allowed” to help with this part.  Having to add water to the machine is only a small nuisance compared to washing everything by hand, which I have done a few times now.  Just imagine washing bed sheets and/or jeans by hand … ugh!

While hanging laundry, I have flashbacks about doing this at home in Alabama when I was young and at a time when I could barely reach the clothesline.  Hanging sheets was particularly cumbersome and would often require some assistance.  And of course, we always had to keep our eyes on the weather.  An unexpected rain shower would result in everyone dropping whatever we were doing to run out and gather the laundry before it got soaked.  This is not a problem here in SA for now.  Have seen rain only once and for only 5 minutes or so since we arrived about 7 weeks ago. The end of this month marks the beginning of the rainy season which will complicate doing laundry amongst other things.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What I know about Roosters

Roosters crow all day and all night … just in case you didn’t know that already!!!!!!

American cartoons have done a great disservice by suggesting that roosters crow only at the break of dawn.  So not true.  Granted, the crowing activity probably peaks around dawn, but roosters seem to have no problem doing a bit of a shout out at 11pm, 1am, 1:30am, 2am, and so forth. (BTW, it’s about 4pm right now, and I can hear at least 3-4 roosters crowing away!)  Additionally, roosters will wander around everywhere to crow.  At the first home where we were staying, the family rooster seemed to prefer a spot just outside our bedroom window.  When he got tired of this spot, he would move to a spot just outside our bedroom door.  Only when he was totally convinced that I was awake and up, would he move to the front gate.  Okay, he probably wasn’t truly targeting me, but as this seemed to happen morning after morning, it was easy to convince myself that the rooster had a certain morning motivation to serve as my personal alarm clock.  This would have been okay if I could have controlled the timing and could have found the “off” button.

(This rooster really does have two legs/feet.  Don't ask me why he's standing on just one!)

When we were moved to another house, I was delighted to note that this family has only chickens and no rooster, although there are still plenty of roosters in the neighborhood to provide a certain and familiar cacophony each morning and throughout the day and night.  However, in the last few days 1-2 roosters have shown up around the yard and act as if they belong here.  The host family seems unconcerned and I am too as long as the roosters do not figure out which bedroom window is mine!  I have since learned that one of the roosters does belong to the family.  As long as he stays away from my bedroom window, he can stay!

Chickens, on the other hand, provide lots of entertainment for watching, especially if they have a lot of little peeps.  One of the hens currently has 11 peeps which never stray more than a few inches away from momma hen.  If she is still for just a few seconds, they will burrow under her body or 2-3 will climb on her back.  Many PCVs are talking about getting hens after we move to our permanent sites.  For me, not sure I will want to do that … maybe!  Just like with any other “pets”, there is a certain amount of responsibility in taking care of them.

Jubilee Mall … Oh, Joyful Day!

Soon after we arrived at our training site, we were told that there is a shopping mall located in a neighboring town, accessible by taxi/kombi (more about kombi’s in another entry).  It costs 11R (rand) each way … this amounts to about $3.00 round trip.  I don’t think any of us were prepared for this big, bright new mall, as we were probably expecting some kind of open air market.  Jubilee Mall has a couple of large supermarkets, a food court with KFC (KFC is everywhere!!!), a small pizza place where the pizzas taste amazingly like those at Pizza Hut, an internet cafĂ©, and at least 30-40 different shops, mostly clothing, cellular phone stores, Kodak, pharmacy, furniture, and variety.  Jubilee Mall opened just this past spring, so it is new and clean and widely popular.  We have been going to Jubilee Mall on the average of once a week. When we are there it almost feels as though we could be at any mall in America.  We are fortunate that is it somewhat nearby (roughly a 30-minute ride away from home) as locally there are only very teeny, tiny shops locally known as tuck shops, which sell only a small handful of very basic food items … bread, milk and a few canned items.  We feel a little spoiled to have Jubilee Mall nearby.

When talking with current PC volunteers (as opposed to us trainees), I am always curious as to where their site is located as well as the location of their “shopping town”, a term which becomes just as important as where you live.  For some volunteers, the shopping town might be as far as 1-2 hours away or more. I guess this is something we would just have to get used to, but could be a hassle when you really needed something.  Just today, John had to go to Jubilee Mall to get some medicine for me as I have been suffering for several days with a bad cold and perhaps viral sinus infection.  Essentially, there is nowhere locally where he could get any medication, so he had to travel to Jubilee Mall.  The whole journey took about 2.5 hours round trip (after factoring in both shopping and wait times for the taxis), something that could have been accomplished in less than 10-15 minutes back home.  Nonetheless, I’m glad Jubilee Mall is somewhat nearby … relatively speaking!  (Also glad to have a husband that could go get the medicine for me.  Thanks, John!)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Loo ... without a view!

A couple of years ago, John and I traveled to New Zealand and hiked the Milford Trek on the southern island.  At one point, the trail took us over a high mountain pass where there was a pit toilet perched near the edge of the pass with its doorway facing back down the valley.  The scenery is breath-taking and that particular toilet is known as the “loo with a view”.  Hikers line up to use the toilet and take a picture of the view while seated on the toilet (yep, I did that, too).  I think of that particular toilet/loo often as I see the many outdoor toilets that dot the yards all around our neighborhood in SA. Unfortunately, none of the ones I’ve come across here in SA thus far have a view worthy of discussion.  Having used various ones at friends, neighbors, and schools here in our village, I am happy to say that the outdoor toilets at both of the houses where we have stayed have been among the best.  This is based on size of structure, cleanliness, toilet seat, and odor.

In our current house, there is actually an indoor toilet, but since running water is not available during the day, we use the outdoor toilet during the day hours and the indoor toilet at night when supposedly the water is “on.”  One nice thing about having only an outdoor toilet (staying positive and looking for the good in things is important here!) is when I would go outside at night to visit the loo, I was always in awe of the big sky, which has been clear and bright and filled with a billion stars!

While on the topic of toilets, it is true that PCVs can commonly be seen during or between classes with a roll of toilet paper under the arm or a wad of toilet paper in their pocket.  I read somewhere before we left the states, that this was one of the identifiers of a PCV… how true! One learns quickly that toilet paper may not be available at any toilet (particularly at the schools we visit), so being “prepared” is for most of us a one-trial-learning-experience.  I never leave home without some toilet paper in my pocket!