Yebo - Joey and the Deltones

In a way, this song kind of represents me at my best. It is a snapshot of me at my most idealistic, dreamy, and hopeful.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Ngilamba njalo

I have peanut butter permanently stuck to the roof of my mouth.

Now, if the above statement were accurate, I would probably be the happiest half italian/irish boy in South Africa. (see picture for visual aid) I realize that may not be saying much, but the point remains - it would make me very happy. The rough translation of the title of this entry is "I'm always hungry." I'm not quite sure the reason for this, but it certainly is true. Everyday is a new opportunity to find ways to fill my belly in satisfying ways... the variety of which I must say is not very wide. I've come to rely on some very basic food groups...

1- Peanut butter
2- Bread
3- Apples
4- Cornflakes
5- Grilled Cheese
6- Dark Chocolate (a rarity for sure, but I include it because I love it so)

That's about it. My dinner's vary slightly because most nites my host mother cooks - usually chicken or a delicious potato and baked bean type stew accompanied by the South Africa staple dish, pap. (pronounced "pop") A little info on pap... It looks like mashed potatoes, but clumps together and has the texture of extremely dense couscous. It is also very very filling, and is usually eaten in large quantities to convince the body that it is indeed getting enough food. This may or may not be the case, but it does leave one feeling full. But as I mentioned before, I am always hungry here, and the time between dinners is approximately 24 hours (1 day for those of you doing the math) and with so much time in between big meals, I am always trying to pin down my craving so as to satisfy (temporarily) my hunger.

In the beginning of my time here, my cravings have ranged from Turkey Hill's Tin Roof Sundae ice cream with chocolate syrup (lots of it), to buffalo chicken wings, to homemade meatballs and sauce. Actually, those are the only 3 things I craved. I have since managed to direct my cravings (most of the time) to the above mentioned 6 food groups. Mainly because that's all I have to work with for most of the day.

Some here consider me very fortunate because my family owns not only a grilled cheese sandwich maker, but also has in the fridge, a large block of cheddar-type cheese. I don't really know what type of cheese it is, but it is cheese. I think. It's really good when melted. At lunch time at our training, many will venture out to the closest shop and buy for 25 cents each (in rand - very cheap) "fat cakes". Fat cakes are fried dough type creations. They are about the size of a lemon, and are served plain. This doesn't work for my taste buds, so when I splurge the 25 cents to have one, I use all my mind power to imagine that is is dripping with maple syrup and powdered sugar, and I am happy.

I have come to appreciate the boneless chicken breasts that are served in the US at all the major food stores, because eating chicken is definitely a project here, and all of us foreigners (well, maybe just myself) must learn to re-enjoy the process off sucking all the meat off the bone and getting our fingers all sticky and slimy with chicken grease.

Which brings me with no appropriate transition to our first experience in a restaurant in town. After I posted my last entry, I went with a few friends to a restaurant next door called "Spur". Spur is a Native American themed South African family restaurant. Kind of like a Friendly's if Friendly's had a giant Native American statue at the entrance to the restaurant and a menu telling of the legend of the giant burger which weighed over 6000 lbs and took an entire forest burning to cook it. To make a long story short, it took over 2 hours to get our food. The first hour to even be recognized that we were in the restaurant. And the food was just ok. We saw the manager running in and out of the restaurant multiple times, always returning with a big hunk of meat under his arm, which may have added to the lengthy process.

One final note on the topic of food here - I have been fortunate because I have been asked to cook only twice so far for my family. Others here have had to cook much more frequently with not many food stuffs to work with. My two dinners were success stories though. The first dinner was chicken with pasta. The pasta sauce was a Tomato and Onion mix with carrots, and that's really it. It was pretty easy and very much enjoyed by the family. The second dinner was scrambled eggs with cheese, baked beans mixed with fruit chutney and mayo, plain bread, and sour pap. I made the eggs very cheesy - almost too delicious I would say, because my 9 year old sister ate about 1/3rd of the eggs while they were still in the pan waiting to be served.

Pako has been instrumental in helping me prepare dinners - showing me where things are, then hiding them on me while my back is turned, she does most of the slicing and dicing of vegetables, gets out all of the flavouring and spices whether I want to use them or not, and she is great at laughing at me and overriding all of my decisions and actions made in the kitchen. Half pound of pasta. NO. Pound and a half of pasta. Add Salt. NO. Add other curry and acha. Add veggies to boiling water. NO. Add veggies to cold water. One sandwich each for lunch. NO. Two sandwiches each. Four eggs. NO. Six eggs.

It's been a lot of fun - especially when we make grilled cheese for school the next day and we "accidentally" add too much cheese to the bread and it starts melting out the sides and cooking all over the surface and when we open the grilled cheese maker we have to scrape off and eat the cooked cheese which is ridiculously delicious and we fight over the biggest pieces and the brownest pieces.

The only thing that would make it more delicious would be if I had peanut butter permanently stuck to the roof of my mouth.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

South African Mornings - a quick note

It's only 6:14 am here - I woke up extremely early this morn. Actually, that's a lie. I'm sorry to start out my first entry in Africa with a lie. It just happened. The truth is, I wake up this early every morning, which might be more surprising if I didn't tel you that I go to bed by 8:30 every nite. The days are long days here - full of language lessons, HIV/AIIDS information, cultural sessions, and learning about how CBO's (community based organizations) and other related organizations operate in South Africa. That's the short version. The long version is longer and not nearly as interesting.

I'm able to compose this entry because I have access to my laptop at my homestay - which I haven't used much up to this point, except to show my family some pictures of back home. So now, whenever I do get to the internet, I will have written this up already, and will simply cut and paste on the computers at some internet cafe, thanks to a super idea by my brotha Dizzy, who got me a nice little flash drive which I expect will come in super handy throughout my time here.

By the way Nathan/Dizzy/Promise/SBG, your damn songs were stuck in my head for the entire first week and a half in South Africa, and for any of you reading this who hasn't heard the music, do it. - check back often for new songs, and marvel and the excellent photos of the artist. There Diz. Now you have to put up all your best songs because you now have a wider audience.

Back to South Africa. My homestay situation is great. I'm living in the Northwest Province near the Botswana border. My family is wonderful. Dineo (host mom), Titus (host dad) and their three daughters (my sisters) Pako, 9, Thato, 4, and Thumelo 9 months. Mom, Pops, and Pako all speak English, Thato and Thumelo, not so much - as should be expected by a 4 year old and 9 month old. Everyone here speaks Setswana, which is tough, because I'm not learning Setswana officially anymore. More on that in a sec. My family has the only 2 story house around, and it's a very nice house with an orchard on the property where Titus grows oranges, lemons, peaches, apples, guava, grapes and more according to the season. He grows a few different types of oranges - my favourite of which he called a minala - which is the size of a small grapefruit, extremely dense, and deliciously juicy to the point that if you bite into a slice and you're lucky, you can shoot a stream of orange juice about 4 feet away, completely unintentionally - I've done it twice already. Just ask the people I accidentally squirted. My room is on the second floor here, and one of the walls is all windows and faces east. So while I wake up in the dark, after about 15 minutes, the sun rises and paints a beautiful picture right in front of my eyes that even Bob Ross would envy.

I want to take you all back to kindergarten for a moment, and recall the times when we all read short stories about Old MacDonald and Charlotte's Web and other books about life on the farm. Books such as this usually reference a rooster cock-a-doodle-dooing just as the sun rises, giving the call for all to wake up. I'd like to take this opportunity to slander all the children's books authors who ever put that stupid idea in our heads because as anyone currently in the general presence of roosters, including all of us here can attest to, the roosters around here cock-a-doodle-doo whenever they cock-a-doodle-damn-well-please. Which means AT ALL HOURS OF THE NITE. I've become very upset with the roosters here, and so when I come across one during the day that is cock-a-doodle-dooing, I yell something like, "SHUT UP! YOU'RE 6 HOURS LATE! IT'S ALREADY DAYTIME! ARE YOU FREAKING BLIND?!? I JUST ATE YOUR COUSIN FOR DINNER LAST NITE!" or something to that effect. I think they get the point because they walk away like chickens.

The language situation is a bit tough at the moment. The reason for this is that the area we are in is a dominant Setswana speaking area. I know the basic greetings and a few side comments and questions in Setswana. But for my permanent site placement, I will be speaking Zulu, and therefore have daily lessons in the Zulu language. No one here speaks Zulu, and everyone expects me (and other volunteers here) to learn Setswana. It doesn't bother me very much, but it would make the learning process go much faster if I was living in an area where I had the chance to use the language I'm learning everyday. Such is not the case, and I am over it by now. I am very excited to be learning Zulu.

I will find out about my site placement most likely in about 4 weeks. I expect to be placed either in Mpumalanga or Kwa-Zulu Natal, which would make sense since me and a few other volunteers are learning Zulu, and Zulu is spoken predominantly in the afforementioned provinces.

I don't expect to have regular access to the information super-highway for a while yet. But when things are up and running here, I will be sure to give you a full account of happenings. That includes bath time, which is an experience that words will never do justice describing, but I will try, and I won't even include any graphic details. Trust me, it's for the best.

Don't forget to be awesome. Be back in a few weeks...

P.S. - If all my picture uploads have been successful, you will see that I was the most recent winner in the local Elvis Costello Look-A-Like Contest. In fact, I was the only entry, because no one here knows who the hell Elvis Costello is. It was an easy victory. One which I savour.