Saturday, March 3, 2012

Oh the things you can learn in a Saturday...

            Not that I don’t love teaching swimming lessons, but lessons nearly every Saturday, combined with standard social activities with other volunteers mean spending very few Saturdays at home, in my village. Today, I didn’t teach swimming lessons and it is amazing how fulfilled I feel as a volunteer. If going to school during the week is American coffee, Saturdays like today, on the homestead are like Italian double espresso. 

Let’s look at my current school project: After School Clubs-

            Yesterday the learners voted on which clubs they want to have offered after school. The voting was awesome, a ton of kids wanted to vote and they loved that I drew smiley faces on their hands after they voted so that I could make sure everyone only voted once.  However, getting to the point where we could even organize a vote for clubs took some time.  My first step was to put up posters, explaining what clubs are, why someone might like to join one, how to start a club, examples of clubs, etc. adding a new poster every other day.  To make sure the information was making its way to the target audience (i.e. were the kids reading the posters?) I talked to classes, and informally interviewed individual students and teachers (because they’re overall support and understanding are crucial to the continued success of clubs). Unfortunately, I managed to slow down the process even more by stepping in a hole and rolling my ankle, which resulted in a sprain bad enough to merit a few days off of school. After the tennis ball sized swelling started to go down and the pretty purple and blue bruise started to set in, I made my way back to school just in time for the promised voting day.
            Anyhow, I put up my first poster 3 weeks ago and we just voted this past week.  Don’t get me wrong it was planned this way, and I am thrilled that everything went well. Both the kids and teachers are excited about starting clubs, but that took quite a bit of time.  There were small victories along the way, but even now we have yet to have our first club meeting, where as today, in itself, held a number of concentrated positive volunteer moments.

Here’s how today, Saturday, got started as such a satisfying day:

            Last night while I was doing dishes, preparing myself for the potential disaster of counting over 100 votes in a room that was so hot turning the fan off was not an option; I had a knock at my door. I have had a few visits from the neighborhood kids around this time of day, so I had a pretty good feeling that I knew who was on the veranda (Phinda, Hlelan, Fakazi, and Lindo- all boys between 12-15 years old).  I was correct in my guess and even more excited to see them when they told me they wanted to teach me to make guava jelly tomorrow (today)! This is something that I have been asking any kids in the neighborhood to teach me since I saw grades 6 and 7 at school learning how to do it in their Home Economics class.  First of all, who doesn’t want to try guava jelly? Secondly, what is one of the best ways to reinforce a lesson you have just learned? (To teach it.) So, we made a date to start making the jelly in the morning, around 10. They would bring the guavas and I would provide everything else required to make the jelly (we did review the process and ingredients, I thought) including the pancakes to eat with the jelly, after we were done.

            This morning I got out of bed a little before 8 and started to figure out what I needed to do before the boys arrived with the guavas. At 8:15 there was another knock at my door… Fakazi with the guavas. I had to tell him that I wasn’t ready yet and could he come back in a few hours. No problem, he was just dropping the guavas off right now anyway, he would come back. I ate some breakfast, whipped up some pancakes, did the dishes, and was ready to make the jelly.

Here is the recipe with some commentary and suggestions from what we learned this morning: (read completely before trying to make the jelly. This is some of the best advice from my Dad. Growing up my sister and I would call him at work, with a bowl full of half completed chocolate chip cookie dough, when we realized we didn’t have enough eggs. Love you, Dad!)

Start with a backpack full of guavas. Ok, well half full.

Peel most of the green and yellow off the guavas, until there is a slight pink under the light color of the rind. Peel away from your body and go slowly. The goal is to peel the guavas without any bloodshed.

Oh, wait. Did everyone wash their hands? Lindo? (Expect water that may, now, be more mud than water.)

Cut the peeled guavas in half.

You know you have enough guavas when the pot is about ¾ full. Add a few inches of water to the pan so the guavas don’t burn. We tried it without water first, believe me add water…unless you like crispy black flakes in your jelly.

Cover the pot and let simmer on med low until you can mash guavas into a semi pulp. We tried a number of tools for the mashing. A firm handled spoon worked best for me, but the boys insisted that we use the porridge stick (a long wooden handle with 2 dowel rods crossing through one end with about an inch and a half of dowel making an X at the business end of the utensil).

Ok, now mash the guavas to near mush. We only mashed the guavas partially to mush, and we had a lot of leftover guava stuff. I think that if we had cooked it longer and mashed longer we would have had more jelly and less leftover guava parts.  Just do your best and learn for next time. It should be a little soupy too.

When you are satisfied with the mashy-ness of your cooked guavas then you can take them off the heat and sift, and by sift I mean mash the guava stuff through a strainer into a fresh bowl. What ends up in the bowl, from here on referred to as pulp, should be pretty runny, and the leftovers should be pretty solid and ‘dry’, or a dry as stewed guava leftovers can be. Again, just do your best.

Then juice a little bit of a lemon. Oh, you don’t have a lemon? No problem, Gogo has a lemon tree over there, be right back. OK, you have a lemon now? Should you juice the whole lemon? Yes. No wait, that’s half a lemon, then that’s enough… Just eye it and try it. That’s all I can tell you.

Ok, the lemon juice should be in your jelly jar, add to it the guava pulp and an equal amount of sugar (equal to the whole contents of the jelly jar thus far).

Stir it all around; give it a shake (with the lid on, of course). Check to be sure the sugar is dissolved.

Are you sure we don’t need to cook it again? Yeah, it’s done. It’s kind of runny, you’re sure? Yeah, it’s done. OK then, let’s clean up and eat. Whew!

Cooking with 12-13 yr old boys. I have later heard that you can cook the jelly again to make it like the thicker stuff that we are used to at home, but that is all I can tell you about that. I have a jar full of sugar and guava pulp in my (make’s) fridge, and it does me just fine, though next time I probably will try to do the second cooking thing.

            After the guava jelly and pancake feast I did a little bit of extra cleaning up, since we ended up using Make’s kitchen. This included some laundry, shem. By the time I was done with laundry and a peanut butter and guava paste sandwich it was time to tutor Celomusa (an older, high school, guy that had previously asked me to help him with creative writing). This was an awesome experience. I haven’t had much opportunity to help any kids study or to tutor them since there aren’t any on my homestead, and the kids at my school are still kind of intimidated by me.
            Celomusa and I talked about the information you need to make a good story, the outline method of writing a story once you have the idea, and what to look for when reading to help you write. We also talked about religion, marriage practices, why people in America and Europe are different from people in Africa, both mentally and physically, and what else he can do to get to go to University.  It was so fulfilling and now, I think I may have a regular study buddy!! YAY!  I hope he feels free to bring his friends or at least encourage them to come by if they need any help with school stuff.  Maybe I will be able to ask him to type (he also mentioned needing practice typing) one of his stories as a guest blogger in the future!

            Do you see what I mean about school being like standard American coffee and this Saturday being like an Italian double espresso?  Both are great, and have a place in my life, but to think that I miss my weekend espresso when I leave for a Saturday is… well, I guess it’s hard to know how to fit everything in your schedule, no matter where you live, but there is definitely something to be said for Saturdays on the homestead.

Cheers my friends, and here is to productive and fulfilling Saturdays.

I miss you all a ton! And just a quick shout out to my friends and family who have sent packages- you all really saved me (and my natural instinct to hoard food, thanks Mom). This past month we got paid about a week and a half later than we usually get paid, and let’s just say that I had budgeted down to 5 rand. The food and snacks you all sent honestly kept me eating that last week and a half.  Thank you SO much! I know that I am not always good about getting a timely thanks to you all, but please know that your packages really do make a difference in my eating habits and morale in general.

Have a great week!