Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Happy Holidays!

Hello and hoping you all had the best Thanksgiving! Above you can see the attempt for Thursday night, there was no turkey, but we found hamburger - so we had hamburger patties, carrots, cranberry sauce from dried cranberries, Shane's favorite - mashed potatoes and we finished it with the amazing Chocolate Loaf cake from 101 cookbooks. We worked all day and then came home and put this little dinner together, we also had a special and delicious Cabernet-Shiraz from S.A. We also got to enjoy a couple calls from our parents, so that was also very special - thanks guys!

And, it snowed, so we felt right at home. So, I mentioned before how hot and dry it has been, well we finally got some rain on Wednesday, and then on Thursday it was drizzling and cold all day but then it actually started snowing. It is supposed to be coming on to the middle of summer here so I think this was like the freak late June snows in Bozeman. We didn't really have anything to cover the tomatoes, peppers, beans, squash and the few other (cold sensitive) plants remaining in our garden that have survived all of the other bad conditions and pests that Lesotho has thrown at them so far. So, does anyone else find it ironic that the climate change summit has just started in Durban? Also, now between the drought and the snow I am praying that things turn around so that we are not extra busy with WFP emergency feeding next year. It is definitely one job that you can be thankful when you don't have business.

So, we did also enjoy visiting some other volunteers over the weekend. We had a reasonable sized Thanksgiving day feast, with chicken, squash, Stovetop stuffing sent from our homeland and many other delicious dishes. We had a great time visiting with and enjoying the culinary talents of our fellow volunteers. During our visit we also got to participate in an HIV/AIDS awareness activity hosted for the community by the PCVs that also hosted our T-day party. We got to watch MTV's "Shuga" created for the staying alive campaign. We really liked that show and it is a great way to open discussion on important topics especially for young people. They also had an anonymous question box, so the youth could ask questions on paper and then at the end we answered them all. They asked some very good questions about making choices, responsibilities, drugs, alcohol, sex, pregnancy, slang terms from the movie and many others. So, we the PCVs got the pleasure of answering these delicate questions in front of a relatively large audience of impressionable young minds - no pressure!

So, one of the reasons for the event is that World AIDS Day is this Thursday, so as PCVs in Lesotho we are encouraged to organize or help organize awareness events in our community. Shane and I have been working with some of the stakeholders in our district to organize the celebration for the whole district; however, I'm not going to talk further about this experience on the open acess forum of our blog. We are excited, but we are sure it is not going to be put together before this Thursday, stay tuned - we'll post some pictures when it happens. I am also going to read a book aloud at the local library -to help promote use of the library and reading in general, and we also will have some art projects to follow. I think in honor of World AIDS Day I am going to select a book that is themed toward HIV/AIDS related issues (as you can imagine, there are many).

So, I have just finished visiting some of the schools I have been working with and doing composting demonstrations - that has been really fun for me, hopefully also for the primary school kids. I have been continuing with some of the projects that I am working with WFP beneficiaries on, I just helped one group to make a plan to make and sell traditional beer while all of the men are at home for Christmas, so they can raise money to buy young layer chickens for their chicken project. Hopefully they will have good luck with that. Shane's supervisor is getting a visitor from S.A. that is one of his collegues and he is bringing new snakes - so that is pretty exciting!

I think that is most of our recent newsy tidbits, we are going back for a week of training, so we will be out of touch for abit, and I've been busy with work trying to get as much done before we leave as possible, because when we get back there won't be much time left before the country shuts down all productivity for a month in honor of the holiday season. We have been talking more and more about vacations which is really exciting, I know you will all enjoy photos from those exciting places! Our kitten has been getting bigger and is still really cute and fun with huge eyes, not a whole lot of tricks though it plays with its piece of twine, duct tape ball and climbs its ghetto carpet-wrapped-around-the-desk-leg-with-duct-tape scratching post. Otherwise, it sits on ours laps and looks cute, or scratches Shane, which he doesn't like. I do have a few more "you know you are a Peace Corps Volunteer when" for you, we agreed to them collectively at the party.
You know you are a Peace Corps Volunteer when:

Peeing in a bucket in front of 7 people doesn't phase you

You get extremely excited about "REAL" - Purell

You believe that regular text messaging (only after 7pm of course) constitutes and intimate relationship

You fantasize (sometimes collectively) about appliances, large and small

I think that does it for now, I'll write the continuation of the food post soon-ish, and you know I will!
As always, sending lots of love!
Shane and Carol

P.S. - Looks like the flower photos are staying, I'm so glad:-)

Monday, November 21, 2011

By One Reader's Demand: Our Food in Lesotho

Yesterday's breakfast: Cornmeal crepes with strawberry jam, toasted almonds and ghetto-homemade-from-UHT-milk-ricotta

Our anniversary pizza with: tomatoes, chard, carmelized onions, balsamic vinegar reduction and yes, chedder -we paired it with dissapointingly terrible red wine

Halloween chocolate cake - replete with scary severed fingers and glow-sticks!

Hello everyone! We hope you have all been staying warm and well "up there" in the Northern Hemisphere. It has been quite hot here, still worringly dry and windier than really any other place we've known (this includes - Great Falls). Hopefully this food post will coincide nicely with thoughts of Thanksgiving day feasting. We are going to celebrate with other volunteers, we're just not quite sure where yet. We will see what our first PC T-day looks like as we think about my mom's usual delicious feast and wonderful family, that we have accostomed to joining.

Thank you guys for voting on the little polls, I think I'll keep them coming to continue to try and let you all have a say on what you want to hear about. I will stretch this one out over two posts (I'll try to keep it to two!).  I do want to start though with talking about how and what we've been doing lately. The weekend before last was pretty busy with a few social events including a belated Halloween party with a couple of the other volunteers, this weekend we needed to just relax as Shane has had a nasty sore throat. One of the highlights was that I was able to download the This American Life podcast and we listened to it while concocting and eating a really nice breakfast and rounded all that out with our 49th game of Scrabble since being in country (wow almost 6 months now!) - it was pretty fabulous for us. We've both been enjoying our recent attempts to get up early (yes Dad - early, like in the morning) and do some yoga before work, we've been enjoying reading -Shane just finished Fast Food Nation and really liked it. I just finished Mansfield Park - after watching it on Masterpiece Theater in the states it was a really fun read. One of Shane's recent books The 4-hour Body described the creation of a T-bar that he can take to the gym, put weights on and treat like his favorite piece of excercise equiptment from the states - his kettlebell... this has been making him very happy! Please note here: Shane has a gym membership in Peace Corps. He has also been moonlighting as a pool shark, we went out last week to bid farewell to one of the friends we've made since being here - one of the doctors at Baylor Clinic. He's from Zimbabwe and is great to be around both at work and after, he's also pretty darn good at pool and swore ruthless vengence on Shane for beating him! We hope he is able to visit again soon. Shane's been getting better aquainted with some of the back story involved with his job and still putting together some of his other projects. Also, you can check out the photo page to see some of what I've been up to in the last couple weeks - including more flower pictures and adorable kitten pictures (Shane made the comment the other day that if we decide to have kids we'll have to put aside a lot of extra money every year just to develop all of the photos I'll take of it - not to mention scrapbooking them all...). A note on the kitten: its name is officially Serurubele which means butterfly in Sesotho and we don't actually know what gender it is -yet.

So... food. This is a subject that I'm sure almost all of you know is very near and dear to my heart. I'll start by saying that many of the vegetables and grains grown here are very similar to what we are used to. Field crops being: CORN, sorghum, wheat, beans, peas - haven't seen really any lentils or barley but I think there may be a few fields in the country. Vegetable crops consist mainly of cabbage family crops, especially cabbage, mustard, turnips, there is also chard, beets, carrots, potatoes, peas, beans, corn, winter squash, some tomatoes, onions, green peppers, occassionally garlic and melons. We were extremely stoked a few weeks back by the discovery of our neighboring convent having rhubarb, they said they didn't know what to do with it so they never used it... we were more than happy to help with that and we really enjoyed it ourselves! You will see strawberry plants growing around, but it is a little bit like the people don't care that much about them. There are gazillions of peach trees, quite a few apple trees, also, grapes, apricots, plums, and even a few figs and orange trees (we are very, very excited for fruit season). Not exactly the exotic African food we imagined at one time but it is great because there isn't that big of a learning curve with the garden. Actually though, even though these things grow most things that you find are imported from South Africa, especially this time of year.

So, traditional Basotho food (lijo tsa Basotho) consists of papa - the hard cornmeal porridge and moroho, which is greens - chard, mustard, cabbage, turnip tops, even wild greens... very finely chopped and sauteed in oil and salt. Sometimes they will put milk with the papa. That is what most people eat most often, people with money might also have theirs with nama (meat). Other traditional foods include samp, whole corn, mush stuff which is rehydrated and cooked for a long time that they load with MSG laden spice product until it is delicious. Beans, again with "spice." Steamed bread. Salads, which are a vegetable like peas or carrots slathered in mayonaise and salt. Also, rice is a pretty common starch to substitute for papa. They also make chakalaka which is a pretty delicious tomato based almost salsa-like thing with beans in it too. For breakfast is sorghum porridge that is very much like malt-o-meal. They also will eat eggs boiled or fried with the MSG spice stuff. The food is generally pretty good, generally plain - they don't tend to mix things together very often like I tend to do. Also they think we are crazy for not eating things like chicken feet and intestines because those are the best parts. Most often those things are cooked in a big cast iron kettle over an open wood fire (that is often in a little shed or rondavel near the house - which is killer for smoke!) I almost forgot to mention the Makoenya. Literally that translates to "fat cakes" as you all may know I think almost every culture has their own signature gob of deep fried dough - also true of Lesotho, and they are amazing! All this walking has been extremely important in my weight maintenence on account of these delicious treats.

You also find of course, that the grocery stores cater to the demands of the Basotho so, maybe you can infer that variety isn't exactly the highlight of the "grocery stores" here - they actually should just be called shops as they are extremely different from any "grocery store" that would generally come to mind using that term. So, what is generally available is a spice/boullion blends containing a lot of MSG, or curry powder, occassionally ginger, black pepper and garlic flakes. Of course there is also sugar and salt and even cayenne pepper. Grains are maize meal, sorghum meal, the samp stuff, white parboiled rice, wheat flour (yay, they have whole wheat too!) and even small boxes of expensive oatmeal. Since we aren't really eating meat our protein is pretty much limited to pinto-like beans, white beans, yellow or green dry peas, eggs, peanut butter and occasionally us PCVs celebrate the arrival of tuna at one of the shops before we go buy it all ourselves, also there is the boxed milk.

Produce of course, varies with season and we are still trying to mostly buy local but also maintain a balanced diet so we typically eat a lot of chard right now, we just had about 2 weeks of fresh greens peas, we'll pick up a few tomatoes, onions, potatoes, garlic and carrots, we have bought 2 cabbages also, before we got to site winter squash and beets were in season and we were eating those as well. For fruit, oranges have been in season in S.A. so they have been cheap and plentiful so we ate some of those but also a lot of apples and some bananas. A lot of our produce we don't get at the main grocery shops, if we don't buy them from the grower, we will find smaller shops or even street vendors that sell better produce at slightly better prices. Produce and protein as you might expect are pretty expensive things and we actually really spend a large percentage of our stipends just trying to eat a balanced diet. Suprisingly the food prices here are not that far off from what they are in the states.

I think that is definitely plenty on food for right now. I'll try to continue these thoughts next week, and in the meantime we both wish you all a great Thanksgiving, we know we are thankful for all of you and your love and support! Wishes for the best of everything as the holiday season kicks off.
Shane and Carol

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Cat in the Hat... Our newest addition!

Hello again everyone,
I don't have much time this morning to write - I'm sure that is a relief after the last really long post. However, we finally got our kitten on Saturday and we are VERY excited about it and so we thought we'd share with you. It is the most adorable tiger pattern, even having a "ring tail." On Saturday we walked to a neighboring village to get it, and at the end of the day my pedometer read 20,000 steps! Our Sesotho tutor (the very tough, 70 year old sister) came with us and picked up one of our kitten's sisters. They will be neighbors and will have very different lives. The photo above shows the result of it living in our house and recieving entirely too much attention from us - after the bath and putting on the flea collar we decided to have it try on our souvenier traditional Basotho hat. We have also been cuddling it a lot, and taking pictures of it, a photo of it napping with Shane on the first evening of its arrival will be posted sometime soon. It is adjusting rather well. Here, cats are fed cooked maize meal (papa) with milk. We put actual soil in the litterbox - wish us luck with that. The jury is still out on the name, it will likely be in Sesotho - we'll keep you posted. Have a lovely week!
Lots of Love,
Shane and Carol

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Our Peace Corps house...

Lumelang (Doo may lah ng) - or Hello everyone,
      We both hope this post finds you all as happy and healthy as can be. We are so happy that you all seem to be still reading. We've heard that the weather "up there" may really be starting to turn to winter - all the best wishes as that progresses and we sincerely wish you all of the best with your central heating! Here, it has been fluxuating between hot and cold, not quite hourly... and it is getting very dry. There is actually a growing amount of concern over the usual summer rains coming so late this year. Many creek beds have completely dried up only leaving garbage and dried algae. Even some of the community pumps in villages are drying up because the water is becoming so low. We are hauling water to our garden almost daily, and it takes several trips from the tap with both watering cans, especially as our garden is expanding to accomodate our ambitious vegetable planting. We are luckier than most that we can water by hand so conviniently. As my work takes me to schools and villages to talk about gardens, I begin to appreciate our (seemingly basic) accomodations even more.
      So, I'm sure you've all looked at all of our awesome pictures that were uploaded from training. So, now that we are reasonably caught up, maybe I can begin the blog post with one or two photos either taken very recently or that are related to the theme. So, I see from the poll that some of you actually voted (thanks!) and the majority of you voted for us to talk about the house. I'll post some more photos under "the real thing" page for you to get the full effect, but for now you can see from the above photos that we really do live in an octagon! The lower picture is the first view we got of our house when we arrived. This house is loosely based on the traditional rondavels, but this one is made from concrete blocks - it is called a Mokhoro.
      So, there are an amazing array of different syles of houses in Lesotho, and I believe you will find a PCV in every type of house (except one like the ambassador's really fancy house). There are the traditional round house made with mud, stone, stick and cow dung houses called rondavels, you will often find the roofs thatched with a special type of grass. I believe the photos will show those, there is also a square version of those same construction materials - but more commonly you may find those with a tin sheet metal (only) roof, that will be tied down with wires and weighted with stones so the very strong winds that we get here don't blow them away. There are also concrete block houses and brick houses, they are usually square but as you can see with ours, sometimes they are "roundish." Sometimes you will find a block house with a thatch roof, the combinations are endless. And though many people have a sheet metal latrine (also weighted down for the wind), not very many houses seem to be constructed with just sheet metal; however, this is common for some of the small business buildings that are often along the streets in towns.
    So, we live on a mission, the priest is our closest neighbor and our "host father" here at our site. We have even been given his last name to go by while we are here. It is actually very beautiful, at the base of a mountain, with a pond nearby and a lot of trees. The previous priest was also really interested in agriculture so there are many fruit trees and a nice garden area, an old kind of run down rain-water collection system, I even think I saw an old root cellar! There are also really nice flowers all around including a lot of nice roses, and and amaryllis that is blooming right now. There is a small community on the mission including several unmarried young women, many school children and the older nuns have a convent near our house. The community has been very welcoming to us, especially when we are out working in our garden. Many people pass us, greet us and talk to us as they are collecting their water from the communal tap that is just past where our plots are.
     We are very lucky with our housing situation - compared to many Basotho and even other PCVs; because we actually have electricity now, and running water in our house. So in our house we have one big room that is our almost-everything-room, kitchen, bedroom, dining room, office, even our yoga/excercise space, and it is actually where we take our bucket baths as well. It has a very high ceiling that is wood panel lined tin and we have a wood-tile floor. So, because many of the houses in Lesotho only have one room, we were told in training about the importance of meticulously separating the space so that Basotho don't think you take a bath in your "kitchen"which is dirty and the strategic placement of your "night bucket" so you will not be considered a totally disgusting heathen.We fortunately don't have to worry about the "night bucket" because with running water we actually have a toilet! So, that is actually our other small room, the bathroom. Our water comes from there -only. The bathroom sink sees a lot more use than most bathroom sinks, even if we decide that we want to use the actual bathtub that is there, we have to use a plastic pipe and secure it to (one of) the faucets on the sink and then run it into the tub. Also, if we want hot water, it must be heated on the stove, but WE HAVE A BATHROOM IN PEACE CORPS. I was not expecting to come to Lesotho and have the weekly chore of cleaning the bathroom, it is kind of funny to do - but I mind it a lot less here! Consider that the next time you have the toilet brush in hand (by the way ours is hot pink!). We also have a small closet, something that has actually been coveted by other volunteers. We are also very happy to have that to put miscellaneous stuff like the manure tea for our garden.
     Our kitchen is comprised of a 4-burner stove and gas oven combo - which is amazing and for that I am also very, very thankful, especially the oven - because it allows me to continue the hobby that you almost all of you know is very near and dear to me (and to Shane!). There is also a little cupboard with a table top surface, I prep food on it and we store our food/dishes in it. There is another little table that is kind of the dish station, it also has the water filter on it and we have hung our pots and pans from it underneath and we also store things under it a bit like a refrigerator. Next to that is one of the two electrical outlets that we have - it kind of blew up, so we are down to one actual outlet. Above the outlets we have hung all of the nice cards we have recieved since being here. We have a decent dining room table with really unstable chairs that get used a lot because that is really the only place to sit in the house except for our rocking chair (yay!) or the bed. As you can see we have nice big windows on our house and currently there are seedlings in long-life milk boxes and lentil sprouts sitting in the sill. The windows have deep purple curtains, they are pretty. We have a carpet on the floor that we sweep with a traditional stiff bristled grass broom. The carpet was essential because of the cold floor. We also have a desk and one of the ghetto brick and wood stacked bookshelves. We have a couple very warm blankets, we went for a duvet with an orange and brown motif. The duvet was strategic because washing an entire blanket in a basin is a real b#$*h. Next to our bed on one side we have hung all of the pictures of our family and friends (that's you guys) that we brought, on the other are the glow in the dark stars and planets that we also brought because we are fun like that. We also have a wardrobe for our clothes that we share, it also has some games and other miscellanous stuff that doesn't go in the closet. We have the small gas heater that I have mentioned before and also this funny fire place that the priest said is supposed to burn anthracite coal(???). We will probably try to figure out whatever that means sometime next winter. Finally we have the door, it is wooden and blue and it doesn't have a very tight seal with the door jam, so we put a blanket curtain up on the inside of it that we close at night when it is cold. We have also gotten several polar fleece blankets and hung them across the middle of our room to help with the heating - yay for being from MT, and it also divides the room a bit. Lastly, you will see on the photo that we have wrapped our mosqito net around our burglar bars so that we have a nice screen door - this idea was a really good one that we copied from another volunteer. I think this is long enough, so I won't talk about the garden any more right now, I'll try to post more pics on the other page for you to see what I've been describing. I'll also get on more of those "you know you're in PC when." I think that is most everything for now. It has been a good week and we just had a visit from the PC program director, that was a treat especially because he brought us a few goodies from Maseru like cheese and avocados, even a little chocolate! Tomorrow I teach a small computer class, then next week is WFP distribution and then I will participating in a postive deviance program training with WFP - this is a really interesting program that is starting here to help in the goal of combating malnutrition. So, sorry this got a bit long but I wanted to get it out there before I got even more busy. Shane has been staying busy himself, in addition to beating me at Scrabble and working with his primary project at the park he has been working with the prison to get the program going to teach life skills and also another project with the child and gender protection unit to help raise awareness of recently revised sexual assault laws. We have also been sporadically attending a really fun youth group when we have a chance on Saturdays, we're planning on going again this Satuday but - we are finally (hopefully) going to get our new kitten and we may be tempted to just stay home and play with it. We are too excited about it! Sorry that got long - don't worry you'll have a couple week break. Lots of love and good wishes to you all from Lesotho!
Carol and Shane