Monday, February 28, 2011

The Last Suppers

How could I leave this country without a final public sharing of what I’ve eaten and cooked in my last few weeks?  With the dwindling days, there were certain “must-eats” that I either tried for the first time or ate again as I doubt I will run into them in the Peg. 

Sarah and I jumped back onto the workshop circuit in Qunu and relished in the heaping Xhosa plates.  Butternut, papa (stiff pap), imifuno (spinach and wildd greens), mngqusho (samp and beans), beetroot, chakalaka (spicy tomato and onion relish), and of course mountains of meat.  After being here for 6 months, we became aware of our new approach to eating while being reunited with Canadians!  For example, we have picked up the local use of spoons to eat, our hands to get all the meat off the bones, and toothpicks to clean our teeth.  I know you’re reading this Jos, but it was funny to observe the Canadian use of forks and knives and it was all I could do not to pick up their bones and strip them clean!

The General-one of ourcolleagues enjoying a "legging"

This may not have been my smartest move as I was still suffering some of the effects of Mthatha water, but I had try the curried chicken foot or “leggings” that I was offered with toenails still attached.  Also, I had a proper fat cake; also known as vetkoek in Afrikaans or amagwenya in Xhosa-dense balls of fried bread.  Both chicken feet and fat cake are sold from big buckets outside of our WSU offices.

My food journey has also included me learning and trying recipes after interrogating friends and catering women.

One interesting dish is umvubo-porridge with sour milk.  The ingredients are simple: super fine maize meal (mealies that are ground to a coarse flour) and amasi (fermented milk traditionally prepared by storing unpasteurised cow's milk in a calabash or hide sack).

Maize meal and amasi, umvubo or umphokoqo
In rural areas, it would be made in a huge three legged pot outside—sadly I could not recreate that!  We boiled water with salt, then poured in the maize meal to form a tall pyramid which sat and cooked before I attempted to stir the cement-like mixture.  When it’s cooked and clump-free, you spoon out the crumbly pap into bowls and walk outside with a fork to fold cold air into it so that it cools down.  In a jug, you mix the amasi and full cream (of the long life variety which is another new thing) and then pour it all over the bowl of cooled pap.  Amasi is an acquired taste, a bit like Greek yoghurt or cottage cheese, but very filling and nice!   

In Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, he describes how he cautiously left a comrade's apartment—his hiding place in a white area when he was wanted by the Apartheid government—after he overheard two Zulu workers comment that it was strange to see milk on the window sill (left out to ferment) because whites did not drink amasi.  

My culinary horizons now extend to other forms of pap porridge and stiff pap, butternut squash and pumpkin, mngqusho, and braised meat stews all with thumbs-up approval!  Using simple techniques, often in one pot with little finicky preparation or attention. Using whatever spices you have around the house (including the national staple Aromat) and avoiding the two enemies of water and high heat, the tough cuts of stewing meat cook down to tender fatty chunks that fall off the bone and the hard cubes of pumpkin and butternut become soft and sweet with a little help from butter and sugar.  I can’t wait to try this all out for family and friends in Canada!

The Weave Tap

My hair is boring.  It gets pretty blonde highlights from the sun and sometimes a little curl when I play with it, but other than that, it stays pretty much the same unless I were to shave it all off.  I am therefore fascinated by the phenomenon that is women’s hair here. 
For example, yesterday, I went “hair shopping” with Lumka to pick out the hair extensions that would be used to create braids for her.  We looked at different fibres, textures, colours, and even discussed how many packages of hair she would need to have a complete hairdo.  Naturally, her hair is a cute short length, but in our 6 months here, I’ve seen her in a wide range of styles from a bob with bangs to short twisties to long cornrows. 

Lumka also introduced me to what I've deemed the “weave tap”.  When we first Lumka, I thought she had a nervous tic that made her hit herself in the head repeatedly.  It was only recently that I learned that when you have bonded hair (when a hairpiece is sewn onto your braided head), it’s very itchy but using your fingernails might mess the style.  Also, as Sarah and I learned in the impromptu thunderstorm on our Hogsback weekend, rainwater is the natural enemy of women’s hair here.  God forbid if you are outside when it’s raining without your garbage bag headdress.  Even men’s hair can be interesting artwork and I have learned the purposes of coconut oil for itchy scalps, the washing and dreading process, and how to brush dread designs back into place.
I know that articles and documentaries have been written about the socio-economics behind black women’s hair and the statement a woman is making by leaving her hair natural or using procedures such as relaxing.  Similarly, income seems to determine the quality of hairstyle and how often you can have it re-done.  But without analyzing that side of it, it is just another world that I am learning about with the help of our friends who patiently explain all the processes and products.  I am just happy to gain these valuable lessons in international hair issues!     

Sunday, February 27, 2011

On the Road Again...

At the beginning of this month, I spent a week travelling around the Eastern Cape as an assistant on a research project through the Commission for Gender Equality.  We were conducting facility visits to women’s shelters, safe houses, and rape centres as part of a national monitoring and evaluation project.  Eventually, the results will be compiled into a report that will be presented to President Zuma and Parliament. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t enough time in the internship to complete the write-up, but I am hoping that the next group of interns will be able to continue this relationship. 
I had the pleasure of working with their Education Officer and it was really enjoyable to share my experiences of living in South Africa and he was eager to learn about Canada.  We visited Cathcart, Libode, Port Elizabeth, Uitenage, Grahamstown, Mdantsane, Berlin, Fort Jackson, Mthatha, and Peddie.  It was an eye-opening experience both personally and professionally.  To learn about the differences and similarities for survivors of abuse in Canada and South Africa as well as the personal experience of seeing even more of this beautiful province (complete with some very funny and unique stories along the way) and hanging out with a born and bred “Mdantsane boy”!  After my dogged persistence to work with the Commission for Gender Equality, it was a very rewarding experience!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

An Ode to Cipro

I would like to extol the virtues of a new miracle drug in my life: Cipro antibiotics.  I thought my bruised knee was the only casualty of the Qunu workshop, but there was some prolonged repercussions from our time spent in the Transkei.  I was convinced that my intestinal tract could handle teeth brushing and occasional tap water drinking while in Qunu and Mthatha, but I was brought quickly back to reality upon our return to East London whenever what bug I picked up reared its ugly head.  I thought I was going to have to spend my last 6 days in South Africa getting even more familiar with the bathroom  facilities. 
After a couple of days of intensive "cleansing", I finally ventured to the doctor's clinic with seriously painful stomach cramps and a fear that I was either going to lose another 10 pounds or expel my spleen, the doctor prescribed Cipro with a promise that it would have me feeling better in no time.  I was slightly unconvinced but within 18 hours, I was a totally different woman.  I've learned my lesson about Mthatha water for the next time I visit (hopefully a not too far off prospect!) and I also will know to demand Cipro in the very likely event that this happens again in my life!

Front Page!!

Check out the Walter Sisulu University homepage--our workshop was big news!! 
Including the shout-out to the current interns!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Sliding Rock

Brushes with history can happen in mysterious ways.  You may visit a museum or a cathedral or you may slide down a rockface that a world icon used to play on!  The reflection workshop for the long and valued partnership between Niagara College and South Africa was held in Qunu, Mr. Nelson Mandela’s hometown and a breathtaking part of the Eastern Cape.  The drive from East London to Mthatha on the N2 is my favourite stretch of highway and to spend 3 days on the top of a hill looking down into village where a part of history was born was an amazing way to begin our farewell to South Africa. 

Not only did it feel like we stumbled onto a part of history (and my mathematical formula is that if Nelson Mandela’s bum touched this rock and my bum touched the rock, then basically I’ve touched bums with Nelson Mandela), but it was also an opportunity for all of the different groups at the workshop to laugh and play! 
And it wasn’t all poignant moments in a beautiful landscape as I provided a bit of humour with my graceful turn on the sliding rock.  I jumped on that tattered slab of rubber in my white skirt and strappy sandals and went flying down the hill, skidding into the grass, dirt, and rocks and giving myself some sweet carpet burn on my bum.  When my dear friend Sarah managed to hold her laughter for a moment, she reached out to give me a hug in my moment of pain and embarrassment and I went running across the bottom of the hill (worn down by years of children’s bums) into her open arms only to go flying again.  My fall was broken by my left kneecap and left toe bone, two body parts that were made to break falls!  At that point, the whole group was already staring in amusement and howling with laughter.  I couldn’t stop laughing either and my attempts to get up were hampered by uncontrollable giggling and my strappy sandals.  I was helped up the hill and given lots of medical advice for my puffy, scratched and bruised knee and swollen toe.  
The next morning at breakfast, people who weren’t even there were asking me about the state of my knee.  My pride and lower body may have taken a bit of a hit, but I like to think that I now have a sweet story about my experience in Qunu and a bunch of South Africans can think of their reflection workshop and the Canadian intern on her ass in the bushes!  And I have an awesome bruise that is an ever changing rainbow of colours!
The workshop was an opportunity to work with professional facilitators from the Centre for Intercultural Learning and see our “Niagara parents”.  We also reunited with the cooperative members and learned more about projects and the impacts they’ve made.  Selfishly, it was also a confidence boost to receive praise from the organizations we’ve worked with and hopefully continue the legacy of big shoes for interns to fill!
When it was time to say goodbye, we hugged and kissed and I think I may have promised myself as a daughter-in-law to more than a few of the cooperative mamas!  I think we forget how much the people around us can impact our lives—so if some tomato farmers from Nxarhuni have warm memories of Canadians, I really hope they understand how their lives and experiences are intertwined with and valued in ours too.

Chintsa beach for pre-conference planning

Mama Ghana at Chintsa

Chintsa sunset (courtesy Sarah Vickery)

Nelson Mandela Conference Centre at Qunu
Views from Qunu village below
Mr. Mandela's home village

Eastern Cape landscape

Mamas from the cooperatives

Facilitators from the Centre for Intercultural Learning
and Mama Ghana

Nomhlope Maxaxuma and Nomvula Twaise

Mr. Templeton Njokweni expaining
his tomato cooperative's priorities

The workshop "rapporteur"

Lumka, our international translator

Team Canada hard at work

Da Boyz

Singing everyday

Nomonde Ndarana and Mama G

Some participants in traditional dress and song


Our wedding photo

On our Nelson Mandela tour

The views on our walk

The sliding rock
The sliding rock audience


My walk of shame back up the hill

You can't quite see the rainbow of colours...

My two abafazi

Our group

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Final Countdown and Farewell Tour

We’re on the home stretch of our time in South Africa—it’s time to make the last visits to the offices we’ve worked at, take the last photos of our friends and colleagues, give our final hugs, and say the big goodbyes! 
In the last 1-2 weeks, my sadness and disappointment at leaving has turned into an eagerness to get back home.  I have felt a growing sense that it is time to go and move on and I don’t have to force myself to say that it feels like the right time to leave.  Of course
there are moments that catch me off guard where I lose some of my resolve in being ready to say goodbye (or maybe just a see you later) and could imagine myself staying longer. 

But it's always better to leave on a high note so I am focusing on all that I want to see and eat before leaving and the important people to say goodbye to!

We're going to Hogsback!

Magical Hogsback
Two weekends ago, a Kombi mini-bus crammed full of South Africans and two Canadians journeyed to the mystical world of Hogsback for a training weekend for the Youth Driven Generation project funded by the Nelson Mandela Children’s Foundation.  Everyone was still nervous and uncomfortable with each other but enthusiasm and expectations were high as we all heard so much about the beautiful Lord of the Rings-esque scenery. 1pm turned into a 6pm departure and when we finally made it to Hogsback in the dark (after lots of singing including Sarah and I belting out "Oh Canada" and a broken windshield wiper in the pouring rain), we were ready for dinner and bed before a busy weekend!

 Highlights included:

Kicking and jabbing
6am group exercises--Sunday morning had me leading a beginner kickboxing class from memories of university aerobics.  I still get abuse about some of the moves I showed them although I heard complaints of stiff thighs and bums so I must have done something right!

Our hike to the Madonna and Child waterfall which turned into a messy group swim with waterfights, see-through shirts, a photo shoot, and Lumka jumping in the water with her cellphone still in her pants.  Our hike back was made a little terrifying by the huge thunderstorm that rolled in and the lightning bolt that struck 5 feet from us! 

Team building activities like the obstacle course where I was reminded that cheating can get you pretty far and the process of pretending like you’re playing by the rules can cause uncontrollable laughter!  Or the group trust game where we took turns being blindfolded and leading our partners around--including on a big slide!


and then the serious stuff
like trainings on project management,
leadership, and budgeting

By the end of the weekend, all of the awkward barriers that were put up by skin colour, education, hometown, clothes, or family background had been broken down and we hugged and cried when we said our goodbyes.  For most of us, it was our first time to Hogsback, but for many, it was the first bonfire, the first zipline, the first obstacle course, and I felt like a proud mum when I saw how hard everyone was working and the enthusiasm in what they had been chosen to do. 
It has been a really rewarding and exciting experience to have been at the beginning of a project and see it through to this point.  I know that Lumka will keep us updated when we leave and I’m jealous and excited for the next team of interns who get to continue our work!

The Cool Kids