Sunday, October 28, 2012
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
In Namibia, resources seem to come in windfalls. A goat is slaughtered and must be cooked, dried or sold before the meat spoils. Ripe eembe (berries) drop from the tree in the strong winds that precede thunderstorms and must be gathered before the rain arrives. Paychecks are issued at the end of the month and spent within a week or two. Ombidi (wild spinach-like greens) sprout in the fields and must be collected and dried into cow pie-looking patties before disappearing from the earth as quickly as it arrived. Rain falls in torrents that cause temporary floods, and then not a drop falls from the cloudless sky for the remaining nine months. When it floods, the fish “run” and must be caught and dried before the ephemeral oshanas evaporate.
These cycles of abundance and drought create periods of intense work, like the kind I stumbled across last week. Upon entering the homestead, I walked into a group of memes sitting under a tree with a massive pile of marula fruits making omagongo (marula juice). Like everything else in Namibia, I immediately decided that I needed to try it, at least once, so I joined them in the shade. After some confused laughter and quick observations I got to work on a small pyramid of marulas, using a cow horn to pierce the fruit and loosen the skin, letting the juice drip down onto a plastic plate and all over my hands. An hour later, the plate was only beginning to look full. Clearly, I forgot to mention one very small, very important detail: marulas are 10% skin, 10% juice and 80% stone. As auto-pilot took over (puncture, loosen, squeeze; puncture, loosen, squeeze), my mind began to contemplate the process occurring under the tree.
PHOTO: Marulas ready to be juice and cow horn to help with the job.
For some unfortunate reason, clichés are always at the forefront of my mind, so I couldn’t help pondering the “drop in the bucket” theory that was unfolding in front of me. As overused as it is, it’s true: we may feel that our action is only a drop in the bucket, but over time these drops add up ounces, ounces to pints, pints to gallons. And location matters naught – a drop is a drop; a drop in Africa is a drop in America is a drop in Asia.
Just a few days before, I’d listened to NPR’s broadcast of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. I’d heard it many times before, but this time it was different; I didn’t just listen to the speech, the speech spoke to me. It reminded me that we all have rights – and along with those rights come equally important responsibilities. Among those responsibilities is public service; to serve our communities, wherever they may be, in whatever way we can. By some convoluted logic, people seem to think that drop in rural Africa is somehow bigger than a drop in urban America or in one’s hometown. But it’s not. A drop is a drop. So let’s keep Dr. King’s dream alive by serving our communities and speaking out for human rights, wherever we are, however we can. Drop by drop.
Thursday, March 15, 2012
And, of course, a new post wouldn't be complete without a picture of my favourite little Namibian making a sandcastle.
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Even today, the “Easy Bake Oven Theory” still applies. After a tiring day at school, the simple act of making the family’s oshithima all by myself, from start to finish – no easy task when neither the flour is measured nor the boiling timed – brightens my day and sends me to bed physically tired but mentally satisfied. Despite the tortures of inhaling smoke for an hour while my eyes burn and my nose runs, the sense of accomplishment that I get from contributing to the family’s chores makes it more than worthwhile.
But learning new things should always be a two-way street, so I’ve started teaching the girls on my homestead how to bake. After the last lesson, with the desire for independent oshithima-making on my mind, I suggested that Justina try making a chocolate cake by herself sometime. She eagerly agreed, and a few days later I set her free in my kitchen while I took over the oshithima.
I must admit, I was nervous; a year ago, she’d never even read a recipe, not to mention used measuring cups involving fractions, the boogey-monster of the math world. In the end, I had no reason to worry. On her first solo baking attempt, she passed with flying colours. The texture and consistency were correct, all the ingredients included and the batter well mixed. The only hangup was the cocoa powder – 3 t instead of 3 T, but this is a mistake many American adults, would make, not to mention a novice, ESL baker! And the cupcakes still tasted great, which is really what counts in the end.
As she was taking them out of the pan, I realized that I needed to capture this momentous occasion, so I tucked one cupcake into the fridge. The next day, armed with my camera, I asked Justy if she wanted a picture. Again, she eagerly agreed – but first needed to bathe and change clothes.
So now it is preserved forever: Justy’s first cupcake – the first of many baking accomplishments.
[Afterword: Last night Justy asked me if she could make cupcakes again. There was still some sour milk stinking up my fridge so I consented and she got to work while I stirred the oshithima. After the porridge was finished and I was thoroughly smoky and sweaty, I went into the kitchen to check on her cupcakes. It was a sad but familiar sight: flat, greasy-looking cupcakes. I summoned her in and we discussed what might’ve gone wrong. Just as I suspected - not enough flour. After this, I quoted an important English phrase and life lesson: Live and learn. Next time, I said, she’d get it right.]
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
The rain has its perks – cool weather for bearable days and sleep-able nights, free water for drinking, cooking, bathing and washing, great puddles for children to splash in, and abundant fish and frogs. But too much rain causes a flood, which is exactly what we have on our hands right now. And crossing long stretches of deep water can be time consuming and dangerous – most people don’t know how to swim, and even for those that do, the bottom is often obscured by the murky water making every step a guessing game (how deep? a plant? a fish? a stick? a rock? a slimy creature?)
For the safety of the learners, classes were suspended last week, and the school will remain closed for the remainder of this week. It was rather anticlimactic – having two days of school and then shutting down. But hope is on the horizon: it hasn’t rained in 6 days and the water has been steadily, but slowly, flowing downstream.
If you’re getting a feeling a déjà vu, you’re absolutely correct. This same thing happened last year – only in April, and school was closed for an entire month. The fact that it’s only January is slightly worrying; there’s still a long rainy season ahead and potential floodwaters from Angola on the horizon. But, for now, we’ll march forward optimistically – and hope that Mother Nature can keep it in moderation.