Thursday, September 15, 2011

Reflections in an African Watering Hole

It's been one week since I left the African continent and came back on a 40-hour traveling extravaganza involving airplanes, cars, and trains.

I've had one week to process through what my summer has entailed, and how it has changed me, and honestly, I still can't nail it down to a specific thing.  True, I have been busy with moving to Los Angeles (my present location until December, barring any job offers in the area) and trying to get my life reorganized to prepare for my clinical rotation at Cedar-Sinai (the reason for my move), but it's hard to just sit and reflect on this internship, when it felt so normal.  I do have to write a report on my going-ons during the summer for Loma Linda, and that has helped somewhat to work through things, but it still only covers the academic aspect of the trip.

This whole experience was eye-opening, in so many ways.   Although my first trip to Kenya brought a reality and tangibility to the hunger, starvation, and poverty that is endemic to Africa, this trip found me realizing that it is difficult to solve those problems, and that it is not easy or cheap.  When I look at the amount of money that the Foundation spends on building materials, salaries for staff members and the builders, food for the program, food for the staff, and various other supplies, it is astonishing.  In a country such as South Africa, money is a valuable resource that is necessary for anything to get done, and it needs to be constantly coming.  And money is not something that is lying around for the taking.

Zimbabwe's situation is much worse:  We were there shortly before coming back to the States, and I was supposed to be conducting a nutrition workshop for the HIV/AIDS support group that the Foundation has recently started, in conjunction with a clinic they just opened.  In order for me to even understand how to disseminate appropriate information to these individuals about nutrition in the face of being HIV-positive, I needed to know their normal diet, and what common problems they face.  All of them centered on food insecurity.  The majority of the support group members are on anti-retrovirals (ARVs) and these drugs need to be taken with food.  Except they don't have money to buy food, and with anywhere between 4 and 6 children in their family, plus whatever orphans they may need to take care of, food is something of a luxury.  This leaves them to take their drugs on an empty stomach, which causes them to be nauseous and feel sick, but they say that they get used to it, and now it's just something they live with.  And that just broke my heart.  Not only do these people have to live with the threat of their own vitality with HIV/AIDS, they also have the stigma that still pervades African society, and have to worry if there will be food on the table for their families.  I can't help but respect them, for their bravery in continuing to fight to live, but also in their desire to have a life that means something.  All they need is more money, and it saddens me that that is all it takes for them to have a better life.

The last week of my time in South Africa was an absolute joy.  I celebrated my birthday at the village, with a cake and hand-written card no less from the staff members and kids, which was so awesome.  I planted a tree, which is something all the volunteers get to do before they leave.  And I just had fun running around with the kids, as they discovered that I can do that. =)

That basically wraps everything up.  I'm in Los Angeles now and getting myself acquainted with the city.  Before I conclude this last summer-centric blog post, I present pictures galore:
From left to right: Diorca, Santi, and Blessing.  They are getting some clothes donations.

This is Blessing.  He's one of my favorites of the preschool kids because he is always smiling.  =)

My last day at the Zitha village: The kids are all mobbing me.

Just another day at the village.

Just some of the kids in the play group.  They are standing in one of the chicken houses being built.

This is Desire.  He's in the preschool and always greets me with a loud and robust "Good Morning!"

My birthday celebration and a little caking as well!

The peas!!

Some kids eating their snacks!  The one in the purple is named Soli, and he is hilarious!

Some of the kids in the preschool group sitting among the cabbage growing in the garden.

Well, thanks for reading!  We will now return to the irregularly scheduled food posts.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Lessons You Learn From Peas

I can't believe that in two weeks, I will be on a plane headed back to the States.  Time has passed so quickly, and I'm dreading heading back into the "real world".  Admittedly, it's been nice to be a little removed from the life of an American and the constant updating of social media outlets, but at the same time, I'm finding that I miss the community and connectivity of it all.  I do get the chance to hear about the news from Al Jazeera, and considering all the hoopla of Libya, the US debt crisis, and all the other things going wrong in the world, it is nice to get a somewhat unbiased report on what goes on.  And, I get to watch all the football (soccer) that I want, because it is the sport, outside of rugby of course.  I watched a few minutes of a rugby game (seeing as the Rugby World Cup is this year), and as hard as I tried, I could not quite grasp the game.  Alas!

As to the aforementioned and titular peas, the village garden project has been flourishing, and harvesting of some of the crops that have been planted have been going bloomingly well.  Just the other day, I had some fresh spinach from the garden - delicious!  The lettuce has also been ready to harvest, and some people from the community have actually been able to buy some of the surplus produce.  The peas were actually used in one of the lunches that we provide the kids that attend our preschool, and I spent a good hour or so getting the peas out of their pods.  I'm not sure what the term is for the process, but I'm going to say de-pod-ing peas, like shucking corn or threshing wheat.  So I was de-pod-ing these delicious peas, and I have to say, it's a lot of fun, but also a whole lot of work.  Although the saying is "two peas in a pod", most pea pods don't have two, and if they did, it would be a rather small pod.  Most have around 4, with upwards of 7!! And some even had something a little extra in it: a worm!  Not that we were eating those ones, but life has its little surprises along the way.  I guess Mendelian genetics isn’t the only thing you can learn from peas.

The fact that we are even able to harvest some of the vegetables planted in the garden is just an amazing fact in itself, and goes to show the success of the projects here.  We were able to use the peas we de-pod-ed as part of the lunch menu, and it’s so exciting that it is even possible for this to happen, even if some of the kids purposely picked out the peas from their bowls.  In the time that I’ve spent here, I can honestly say that I’ve seen changes, great and wonderful changes that makes me stand in awe of what the Foundation is doing here in South Africa, and makes me loathe to leave.  The kids that are in the preschool, that I help to wash their hands, that I willing let shake my arms and hands until I’m sore – I’m really going to miss them.  After about 6 weeks, they finally know my name, and when they say “Good morning Karissa” when I enter their classroom, I can’t help but smile back at them.  The heart and resilience of a child is incredible, and it makes me remember how much I take for granted: my dream of a childhood, the fact that I have two parents who love each other and me, the mere fact that I am a United States citizen by the sheer reality that I was born there, the wide range of opportunities offered to me because of a free public school education until age 18, the even greater echelon I enter because of my acceptance to an Ivy League university and subsequent private graduate school, the financial capabilities to attend these schools and go on this trip in the first place – all of which put me in the top 1% of the world’s population.  And that’s not even going into the most trivial of things that, like having a toilet seat, like being clean when you wake up every day, like having readily accessible pharmaceuticals and medical care, like reliable electricity and Internet that doesn't cut out every few minutes, like the ability to wash clothes in a machine rather than by hand.
And it makes me aware of what I'm going to miss here, like how the night sky is simply radiant here because light pollution doesn’t drown out the Milky Way.  It really puts things in perspective, and makes me appreciate all that I’ve been blessed with, what I’ve been given, out of no effort of my own.  When I look up into the sky, usually on the drive back to our lodgings or when I’m taking a shower (our shower is outside), I can’t help but be in wonder of the millions of gaseous bodies way out there in the universe.  It makes me feel so small, because in the scheme of things, in the midst of this massive galaxy and the multitude of stars created by the Creator, He still cares for me, He loves me, and has given me a life that has been so chockfull of grace and blessings, and that is something that I can never lose.  What can I do but give back but a portion of the gifts He’s granted to me, to share just a bit of the intelligence I don’t really think I have, to offer what little expertise and knowledge I’ve gained from my years of schooling, and present it wholeheartedly to the people, the future generations of this world, that desperately need it.  And yet, as much as I attempt to rectify and solve the problems in this one community, there are thousands more who are not so lucky, who don’t have a benevolent benefactor bringing them medicine to treat their sores or providing them with fresh vegetables or teaching them English or paying their primary school fees.  It hurts my heart when I realize the fate that awaits some of the children I see here, that despite the help we may provide, they may end up selling cabbage and oranges on the side of the road, living in a small house raising 6 children, or driving a taxi van from town to town.  I can only hope that because of this small window we’ve opened to them, that they aspire to become something bigger than a street vendor or cashier at the Pick N’ Pay (the local supermarket), and that they actually achieve that dream.  And while hope is something I seem to constantly be lacking, it is the one thing that I should and can never truly abandon.  Because without hope, where would we be?

Anyways, on to a less somber topic… I’ll be in Zimbabwe for a few days doing a nutrition workshop to an HIV/AIDS group and then pop back to South Africa for a few days for a health fair before leaving on a jet plane back to the States.  And as soon as I get back, I hit the ground running with orientations for my clinical rotation at Cedar Sinai, health screenings, and moving to the bustling life of a graduate student in Los Angeles.

But until that day, I’ll be savoring every minute I have left in this wonderful country.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Of Bribes and Border Gates

So, here we are again in Zimbabwe.  Because of the two new volunteers, we had another round of tourist activities, the same, in fact, as the ones we did before: Kruger National Park, God’s window, Victoria Falls and Chobe National Park.  And that is where our story begins:

The two volunteers will be leaving on Sunday to go back to the States from Zimbabwe, and so, part of the schedule was to go to Zimbabwe via car, show them Victoria Falls, do a safari in Botswana, and then let them go back with a whole bunch of awesome pictures and experiences outside of helping out in the village in South Africa.  The trip to Zimbabwe and Victoria Falls is a two day trip.  The first day has us go through the border gate to cross into Zimbabwe, and then stay in Bulawayo and Hlekweni, the service project in Zimbabwe where the Foundation has an HIV/AIDS support group.

We had some problems, unfortunately, with the Foundation’s van on the first day that we tried to go to Zimbabwe.  In a town called Tzaneen, which is about halfway between where we were staying (Hoedspruit), and Bulawayo, a strange sound started coming from the car after accelerating after a prolonged stop at a signal.  After a number of people stopped by to see what was wrong, offering their help, going to three or four different dealerships/mechanics, still no prognosis on what caused the problem in the first place.  Some people said it was the transmission, some said it had something to do with the tire or the axle, and others said it was something with ball bearings and the engine.  Needless to say, no real cause was found, and as the sound had disappeared as soon as we starting driving to the first place, no one could really say what was wrong.  And so, back to Hoedspruit we went.  Nomvimbi, the director of the Meriwether Foundation, was going to just book flights for her and the other two volunteers, to take them to Zimbabwe and the tourist attractions, while those left behind would continue working at the village, and would take the van to the closest Toyota dealership to get a second opinion to find out what was wrong. 

As it turns out, there was something seriously wrong with the van, and the flights were going to be quite pricy.  Due to a fortuitous connection to a local police office with a 14 passenger van available to lend to us, we were able to use this vehicle while our car got fixed.  And that turned out to be our downfall.  In South Africa, vehicles are often stolen and transported across the border to Zimbabwe, and can be found all around Africa, from Tanzania up to Egypt.  As a result, the border gates between South Africa and Zimbabwe are closely monitored to make sure that all the vehicles have the proper paperwork and registration.  Because we were traveling in a vehicle that did not belong to any of us, we needed to have a letter from the owner, stating that he was okay with us driving it across the border. 

The way the borders work in Africa is like this: Basically we first go through immigration and customs for South Africa, in order to officially “exit” the country.  Then in order to enter the next country, in this case, Zimbabwe, we go through another set of border gates, immigration and customs.  At both of these gates, you need to clear your vehicle and get your passport stamped.  For the country you are entering, any visas that are required will also be paid for at the immigration counter.

The border officials at the South African border were not convinced by the paperwork we provided, and actually thought that we were trying to trap them.  They wanted us to have a notarized letter, as well as a note from the bank that partially owned the vehicle as well, all of which we did not have.  The bank would never provide that kind of documentation to anyone, and since we were already far from our original location, we had to resort to other means of persuading them to let us through to Zimbabwe: Bribery.

Now, bribery and corruption are commonplace in most African countries, and as much as it is looked down upon, there still is a good amount of it that happens behind closed doors, so to speak.  Government employees are not paid much, similar to the United States, but these individuals seem to believe that this entitles them to make a little money on the side, and people know it.  For a little extra money, they are willing to look the other way, or if the opportunity presents itself (i.e. that there are Americans who have money, and are willing to pay for seemingly small breach of standard operating protocols), they are willing to propose a monetary amount that will smooth things over.

And so, a “service fee” of 1000 rands was paid to the border officials in South Africa to let us go through to Zimbabwe, with the added incentive that the majority of the people in our car were American citizens, of course.  The exchange rate is about 6.5 rands to the US dollar, which amounts to about a $153 charge to get us through the border.  Apparently, during the negotiations of our “service fee” to the police officers, one of them took a liking to me, so someone joked that if only I had flirted a little more, perhaps we could have paid a little less, or maybe, nothing at all.  But that was not to be, and we passed through the first border with no other problems, and the feeling that because we had overcome this obstacle, the next border gate to enter Zimbabwe would be relatively easy, minus the wait in line.  Our last visit to Zimbabwe had us standing two hours in line before we even got into the building to purchase our visas and get our passports stamped.

This time, the line was relatively short, and we completed the necessary paperwork, paid for the visas, and got stamped, all within 30 minutes or so.  Our real problem came again with clearing our car.  The border officials in Zimbabwe had the same problem with our paperwork as those in South Africa, and had the gall to charge ask for 1600 rand, or the equivalent of $246.  By this time, our collective pool of available cash had run almost dry, not only having to pay for the visas, but also the “fee” at the first border gate.  We also needed to have some cash on hand to pay for gas, as gas stations were few and far between in Zimbabwe.  As it turned out, we had just enough: 1500 rand plus $20.

So there you have it!  An adventure in itself just to get to another country, and it only cost us a few extra dollars, and 4 hours of our time.  And because it took us so long to get through our problematic papers, we didn’t leave the Zimbabwe border until 1 am, which meant that we had to drive through the night in order for us to reach Bulawayo by morning for us to arrive at Victoria Falls by the next evening.  And so it was:  I spent around 24 hours in a car and pulled the closest to an all-nighter since college.  Hopefully, we won’t have the same problems on our way back, but then again, who knows!

It’s sad that this type of thing is normal here, and that it is so widely accepted as a means to any problems you may encounter with any authority figure.  It is true that corruption is rampant in the African continent, if the current problems with Egypt and Libya are any indication.  At the same time, it does give a picture of the state of mind of the people here, in that people here will do what they can to make sure they get ahead.  There is a little in the sense of working for the greater good or helping out another person, and it’s in this attitude that causes a lot of the problems when organizations try to get some community involvement and sustainability after they leave.  People are loath to help out or volunteer their time and services, unless they know that they are getting something out of it.  Even though they see the good that can come of it, people are always asking for something to compensate for their time, and it's here that changes need to be made, so that these communities can be empowered to continue improving their own situation and livelihoods, without the assistance and crutch of foreign and visiting organizations.

Anyways, on to pictures!! These are just a compilation of stuff that's happened within the past few weeks - homemade pancakes and lettuce wraps, elephant ride, cheetahs and walking where lions were, a leopard spotting in the Kruger National Park (although you can't really see it), and some tomatoes that have been growing in the village in South Africa.  The internet is pretty slow in uploading pictures, so I'll just leave these as a teaser.


Until the next time - one month and counting...

Thursday, July 28, 2011

South African Pancakes

So I said that a food post would be coming up, and here it is!  Now, this isn’t focusing on traditional South African food, but rather, a specialty that we had: pancakes.

Now, pancakes are more than just the fluffy circular breakfast item that can be found at any IHOP or Denny’s.  True, those are pancakes, but there are many different variations.  For example, at the Original House of Pancakes, they have the huge German pancakes, that you eat with powdered sugar and lemon.  You also have crepes, which are super thin pancakes, filled with savory or sweet fillings, and are incredibly tasty.  Then there are potato pancakes, which can also be found at the Original House of Pancakes, and can be served with any type of preserves or can be eaten just as is.  Scallion pancakes, found in a number of East Asian cuisines, are not fluffy, but flat, crispy and fried with green onions and other goodies.

The South African pancake is basically a cross between a normal pancake and a crepe, and can be stuffed with savory or sweet fillings, like ratatouille or peaches and cream.  It really just depends on what you are craving.  There is a restaurant called Hattie’s that is famous for their pancakes, so on one of our days off when we were seeing the sights of South Africa, we stopped there to partake of this excellent dish.  And boy was it delicious!  I would show you guys some pictures, but that would take up data from the wireless I'm using.

So good was this dish, that we made it ourselves one night!  As limited as our kitchen is here, it did provide the necessary cookware to adequately prepare the pancakes.  I used a package, which is kind of cheating, but it made it possible to make pancakes without having to individually buy the components of pancake mix, like flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, etc. 

They turned out more like crepes than anything, but they were quite tasty, although I burned the first couple trying to figure out how thick they should be.  The batter ended up not being good for super thick pancakes, and thus the thinner ones ended up being the way to go.  Plus, the package had all the instructions in milliliters, and seeing as I didn’t have a graduated cylinder on hand, I had to guess on how much water and oil to add to the dry ingredients.

Nevertheless, it was quite delicious, and although not filled with the most creative of things, it was something good to eat after a long day.  And by the way, peach chutney, though not exactly the same as the chutney I’m used, is an excellent accompaniment to any filling you have, even the savory ones (you get the whole salty and sweet combination that I love so much).

Anyways, that’s what’s been happening in my South African kitchen.  As for what I’m actually in Africa for, here’s what’s been going on:

Things have gotten back on schedule, per se, as we’ve completed the sightseeing portion of this trip.  While it was fun to go on safaris and game drives, it did make for one heck of a long car ride, from here to Zimbabwe to Botswana and Zambia, back to Zimbabwe and, finally back to South Africa.  We visited the programs the Foundation has in Zimbabwe, and I have to say, it is amazing what this organization has accomplished.  One of the projects in Zimbabwe is in a small little village called Lambo, and they have been working here for only a year or so, but have managed to send 6 people to trade school to learn how to become builders, with another group starting as well.  The original six have started their own business, and from the business plan I saw, are well on their way to becoming successful with their start-up enterprise.  All of this is centered around the primary school, which, as I’m told, used to be a dump.  But after a demolition, the returning builders, and just a short six weeks, it’s been remodeled to a roofless building, much sturdier and better than before.  After sitting in on a community leader meeting, it is clear that education is important to this village, and yet nearly all of them are not able to afford the $9 school fees for the year, and only are able to do so out of the generosity of the Foundation.  It really puts my own education into perspective, when you realize that not only do we not have to pay for elementary and high school in the United States, but I also have been able to attend both a top notch university and graduate school.  It is quite a sobering thought, that not only do these children have to overcome the financial burden of school, but also the social and environmental barriers to their education, like the recent recession or poor infrastructure.

As for the project that I’m currently at in South Africa, I’m helping them with their preschool program, which has been a ton of fun, because I get to work with kids!  This program is a combination education and nutrition program, and tries to prepare these kids for entering elementary school and learn English.  I’m not the one teaching them, seeing as I can’t really speak their language, but I can at least try and help them with the English that they do know, which at this point, is “How are you?” and “Bye”, the latter being what they use to greet me.  I don’t think they’ve quite got the meaning of “bye”, but I guess that’s some progress regardless.  The nutrition component is right up my alley: We’re monitoring the children’s height and weight to see if they are growing adequately, and because we are providing them with breakfast and lunch, we want to see if that is at all helping them in any way.

Anyways, it’s been a blast to help out with the kids each day, and eat delicious traditional South African food every day.  I finally get at least one day of “rest”, which usually ends up being Sunday, to do nothing and relax.  Over the past couple weeks, it meant watching the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, extended version, and reading all 7 Harry Potter books in one week.  As of now, I finally figured out how the TV in our place works, so I can catch up on world news with my favorite news channel, Al Jazeera.  Because Internet is not as readily accessible to me as I had hoped, I feel rather disconnected to the world, which has its benefits, but at the same time, it sucks not knowing what big news has happened in the world and in the US.

That may change, though, because we should be getting a wireless modem for the village to use, and it’s possible we could be taking it back with us for our use at our lodgings, so win!!  But until that time, updates will be few and far between.  It’s hard to believe that my time here is almost half over, and I still feel that there is a lot for me to learn about the culture and way of life here.

Anyways, until next time!! I'll try to get some pictures up, but no guarantees.  Hopefully of some of the kids that I'm working with, and the preschool that looks pretty awesome!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Pictures and Update: South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Botswana!

Hello everyone!  I am now typing from Zambia, although by time I upload this, I may be in Zimbabwe!  There have been a whole lot of things going on since I last sent out an email, much less posted on this blog, so we’ll see how much I remember, and can tell you guys!

If you couldn’t tell already from the second sentence, traveling is a big part of what I am doing here, particularly since the Meriwether Foundation has a number of programs in different countries, plus there are lots of other touristy things to do in neighboring countries.

But first things first!  South Africa:  As I said, it definitely was different than I expected, in that it is filled with greater development and infrastructure.  There is a store called Makro, and I supposed you can call it South Africa’s Costco.   I don’t have any pictures of the inside, but you can kind of see the largeness of the store. 
As for living arrangements, they are certainly much swankier than I expected.  All the places we have been staying at quality establishments, and it makes a long day at the village that much more rewarding coming back to a comfy bed.  There is a kitchen, and so we “get to” cook our own dinners, which have so far just consisted of pasta and vegetables.  I know, not that creative, but when you’ve spent all day in the dust and moving around, cooking some elaborate meal is the last thing on your mind. =)
Here was the first place we stayed at while in Johannesburg:

Zitha village: This is the place where I have spent the most time, thus far, and where I will be doing the majority of my work.  I am working mainly with the preschool program, which is going to be providing education and 2 meals to eligible preschoolers, and it has been a joy to see the kids each day.  I am also helping out with the feeding program the Foundation has in place for orphans, which provides lunch to them.

As for the tourist attractions in South Africa, Kruger National Park is the first thing on the list, and as far as game drives go, it is a beautiful and scenic drive, with the smattering of animals in between.  Below are just a few of the animals we saw: elephants, giraffes, and of course, a mother rhino and her baby.  The Kruger boasts having the Big 5, referring to the 5 most dangerous animals to hunt: lion, leopard, water buffalo, rhino, and elephant.  We saw three of these in Kruger, failing to see the big cats.  They are rather difficult to spot.

Now for the current stuff: Things have been progressing rather well at the village, and it has been awesome being able to work with people who are passionate about what they do, and can see constant progress in what they are trying to achieve.  As to why we are in Zambia/Zimbabwe, it is partly for fun, and partly for business.  I said before that the Meriwether Foundation has a number of projects in other countries, Zimbabwe included.  They are trying to start a clinic in Zambia, and part of this trip was laying the groundwork for that project.  We will be returning in a couple of weeks to formally start, so that should be very exciting when that comes around.

As for the other part of this trip – there was much fun to be had! =)  One of the Seven Wonders of the World is right on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe: Victoria Falls.  It is this breathtaking waterfall, and you can view from both sides, and get completely soaked if you want to get a closer look, as evidenced by our pictures below.  My clothes and shoes were drenched, and took at least 2 days to dry.  That means uber fun times when you are traveling, but it was definitely worth it.

Animals were also seen too!!  Chobe National Park, which is in Botswana, provided the setting for a river cruise and game drive.  LIONS chomping on some buffalo were spotted, as well as many elephants, impala, crocodiles, monkeys, and hippopotami.  It was a cold day, and the river cruise was a tad nippy, but being surrounded by God’s creation and a quintessential African landscape made up for it.

Last bit of animal news: I rode an elephant!  Pictures will be coming from sister’s camera, but it was quite an adventure through the bush and we even got to feed them!  Bonus, we got to see some cheetahs, lions, and caracals.  Note: these are all tamed animals, as they are part of a program that lets you “walk” with these cats.  The elephants we rode on were also somewhat domesticated, having been orphaned, rescued, then trained to be ridden.

So there you have it!  The adventures and pictures so far!  A food post will be coming shortly, regarding what South Africans normally eat, but before I go, I’ll leave you with some little tidbits from “The Boma”, a restaurant we went to in Zimbabwe, as it is not the regular fare and actually caters to tourists.  On the all-you-can eat menu: bream, which is a white fish; impala terrazine; crocodile tail, which is quite tasty; guinea fowl; water buffalo, which is not anything spectacular I think; ostrich, which I’ve had in meatball form before, but this time were on kebabs; and warthog, which was by far my favorite of the meats offered and is exceptionally juicy.  I, unfortunately, forgot my camera, so no pictures of what they look like, but here’s some from sister’s shoots of the restaurant.

That’s all folks!  Uber long post, but it might be a while until the next one.  Enjoy!

Until my next chance to get on the Internet…

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Excited?? Maybe...

As I get ready to head to sleep so I can wake up for a bright and early start tomorrow morning (we fly out of LAX at a bracing 6:50am), I can't help but think about what the next 10 weeks holds for me.  Many people asked me today if I was excited to go, and in all honesty, I can't say yes wholeheartedly.  That is not to say that I am not excited about going, the adventures I'll be having, the experiences I'll be gaining, or the things I will see.  I just don't feel it right now.  It hasn't really hit me yet that this time tomorrow, I'll be on a plane heading toward South Africa.  And usually, it doesn't hit me until I'm on the plane.

So for now, I am just waiting.  Waiting for the excitement to catch up with my surroundings, waiting for any anxiety I may have to dissipate, waiting for tomorrow to get here, waiting to find out exactly what I will be doing, waiting.  And so, it seems that I will continue to be patient and just see what God has in store for me. 

The next time I will be posting, I will be on the other side of the world.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Almost there...

South Africa in less than a week!!

I simply cannot wait.  And as much packing and wrapping up I have left to do, my mind keeps running around, anticipating what experiences I have in store for me.  So for now, I will wait expectantly for June 27 to arrive, and try not to procrastinate any longer in packing.  

The next time I will be posting, I will be on the other side of the ocean!

Until then...  =)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Last Two Years - Graduation, Reflections, and Looking to the Future

It seems only yesterday I was graduating from Cornell, embarking on my big great adventure into the unknown future, thinking "Oh God. What am I going to do now?"  Not much has really changed:  I still am looking into the future with the wide-eyed uncertainty of a new graduate, wondering what new hurdle and new city God will bring me to for opportunities only He can provide.

It's hard to believe that in two short years, so much has happened, and a Master's has been awarded to little 'ole me.  Although the degree has been conferred, this is under the assumption I will finish all my requirements, which is what the rest of my year will entail, but more on that later.  I did walk across some stage, have someone call my name, and wear a nice dress over which a polyester black (and heat-trapping) gown was worn, with a colorful hood and tasseled hat.  I had friends and family come to see this momentous occasion, became partially blinded by the flashing lights of the stated paparazzi, and smiled so much my cheeks were sore. 

And yet, it seemed a little bittersweet and a tad anti-climactic.  Everyone says that graduation is a happy moment, but I will agree with that, but I didn't really feel it.  Maybe it's because I'm not really done, and still have my practicums to complete.  Maybe it's because I never really felt that connected to anyone in my program.  Or maybe it's just because that's me.

Loma Linda and my time here has had an impact on my life, but it's hard to say what that impact was.  To be honest, I think a lot of it was not as a result of the coursework, or the professors I met, but more because of my student job at the Center for Spiritual Life and Wholeness. I had an amazing time working there, and the people I had as co-workers and as collaborators were simply wonderful.  Truly, I have learned so much from my time there, and if God ever called me to be a manager or office administrator, I think I would be well prepared.  Tonight, we had a farewell dinner for those of us who graduated, and I can truly say that I'll miss the banter and repartee.

Grad school was easier than I expected it to be, and I am thankful that God had me go through Cornell and major in nutrition, because it made those classes all the more understandable.  Public health is an amalgamation of so many different disciplines, and it is so interesting to see how they all fit together to create this field meant to address so many of the issues plaguing not only our society, but the world at large.  The courses I took here hopefully have provided the foundation and backbone to successfully work in this arena.

Leaving Loma Linda, as much as I am looking forward to a change of location, still holds some people I hold dear to my heart.  I hate that it takes me so long to really get to know people, and for them to get to know me, because it is only in this last year, that I feel that I've developed the beginnings of some really potentially great friendships, only to have distance make them that much more difficult to maintain.  And knowing me and my track record with long-distance relationships, it is not an easy feat.  Nevertheless, I doubt that I will forget those people, regardless of the lack of communication.

However, as I look into what the immediate future holds for me, I cannot help but be excited for what God has in store for me: SOUTH AFRICA.  It is mind boggling that in two weeks, I will be on my way there to spend 10 weeks developing nutrition components to existing health programs.  How that translates into action and what that actually looks like is another question, and a little (okay maybe a large) part of me is scared of the very real possibility that my knowledge will fail me and I will fall flat on my face.  Of course, looming right in front of me are all the signs that God has let this happen and orchestrated this summer brilliantly, and I, being the ever faithless pessimist, struggle to see it and must focus on that.  Which brings us full circle to how I came to be at Loma Linda in the first place: God's sovereignty.  And by recognizing His will and His love for me, I can never go wrong, and by doing the same, you can't either. 

And that brings us to the here and now.  For the time being, this blog will serve to chronicle the (mis-)adventures of my time in South Africa, and whatever tidbits of cultural goodies and God-things may come my way.  So stay tuned!  Semi-regularly food blogging will resume in September when I move to Los Angeles.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Mother's Day Breakfast

Mother's Day - the day which we recognize the woman who gave birth to us, and the person we all adore and wish to shower with gifts and appreciation.  Although really, we should be doing this on the other 364 days of the year, but on this particular Sunday in May, flowers, cards and presentations of our love for all that our moms do.

Per tradition in the Yu household, my sister and I make breakfast for Mother's Day, and this year was no different.  We decided to be a little more adventurous this time around, and aimed for something we had never made before - Eggs Florentine.

I recently discovered poached eggs and they are amazing!  The only problem is, I have not quite perfected the art of making them, and while browsing other food blogs, found a supposedly "fool-proof" way to poach eggs in the microwave.  Of course, different microwaves have different strengths, and it depends on how much water you put in the bowl, and so on and so forth, but we decided we'd have a go at it.  The basic premise is that you fill a bowl with water, and then crack your egg directly into the water.  The initial time in the microwave is about a minute and a half, then check the solidity of the egg white.  Continue to cook in the microwave in 10-15 second bursts, until the yolk is at the desired consistency.  While this does produce a rather excellent looking poached egg, it does tend to over cook the egg white, but nevertheless, a delicious addition to any breakfast entree.

You can't have an eggs Florentine without Hollandaise sauce.  Hollandaise sauce is not really that difficult to make, and while I've never really made it either, I was pleased by how it turned out.  The basic ingredients include egg yolks, butter, and lemon juice.  The key to making this sauce is CONSTANT STIRRING!  This helps to distribute the heat evenly, and prevents the egg yolks from coagulating and causing a lumpy sauce.  Normally this would be made in a double boiler, but seeing as we didn't have one, we had to do it in a normal pot, thus the greater emphasis on constant stirring. 

Hollandaise does not just go with eggs Benedict or eggs Florentine.  It can also be a great accompaniment to a fish or chicken dish, or even a plate of greens.  To make this sauce, here is the ingredient list:

3 egg yolks
1 1/2 sticks of butter (3/4 cup) - melted
1 Tablespoon of lemon juice

Mix together the egg yolks and lemon juice and put on the stove on low to medium heat.  Continue stirring and heating until the yolks begin to thicken.  Slowly add in the butter (you may not use all of it), and keep stirring until desired consistency.

So there you have it: An easy sauce for a relatively easy breakfast!  As for the other components of our breakfast, we wilted some baby spinach, fried some pieces of Canadian bacon, and toasted English muffins. 
The final step: assembly.  The English muffin, placed on the plate, and the Canadian bacon and spinach placed on the bottom half.  Carefully place the poached egg on top, and drizzle with the desired amount of Hollandaise sauce.  The top half of the English muffin can either be placed on top, or left on the side like an open-faced sandwich.

I can take no credit for the beautiful plating - that would be all my sister.  And I have to say, she did a wonderful job!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Art of Dumpling Making

Dumpling making is a delicate and time-honored tradition of the Asian cuisine that... who am I kidding? I don't know anything about the history of the dumpling; only that they taste amazing.

The dumpling is a delicious item that can be eaten either as a main dish or as an appetizer.  There are a number of varieties available, depending on the place of origin, the preparation, and the filling.  I suppose if someone wanted to be creative enough, a dessert dumpling could be made.  You can fry, boil or steam them, and could be filled with any meat (beef, pork, chicken, fish, or a mix of any of those) or even vegetables for that matter.  Even the dipping sauce could be different, although personally I'm all for soy sauce, vinegar and ginger. But, for now, I'm only focusing on the most basic of dumplings.

Now I'm sure most, if not all of us, have had the famous Ling Ling potstickers, sold at your friendly neighborhood market or Costco.  And while they are a fast fix for that dumpling craving, they don't quite measure up to the taste of dumplings made by hand. 

Having been privy to a number of dumpling making parties in college, I found it only natural to document my most recent foray into the Chinese dumpling production business for personal consumption, otherwise known as making dumplings for dinner for accountability group.

The ingredients to make dumplings are fairly simply, although they vary depending on who you ask, and often how you've made it before.  The skins are fairly standard, being the round wonton or dumpling skins you can find at any Asian market.  I've heard some people say they like to use square skins, which also work.  You can also make your own skins, combining flour, salt and water together to make a dough you can roll out.  That is a little more time consuming, and can come in handy should you run out of pre-made skins and still have a lot of meat filling leftover (you'd be surprised how often that happens).

As for the filling, ground pork is standard.  This was the first time we actually ground the pork ourselves, using the handy kitchen tool known as the food processor.  Let me just say, the food processor makes this incredibly easy, and you don't have to chop up everything finely for the filling to be a uniform mixture.  For this filling, we added a mix of pork, shrimp, shitake mushrooms, green onions, cabbage, garlic, sesame oil, and salt and pepper.  Normally, I would add dark soy sauce, to add more flavor, but as one of our esteemed company is allergic to soy, the sauce was left out.  On that note, I would also say this is not the only way to make the filling.  There are many other possible combinations and it really is up to you what you want to add or leave out.  As to the proportions, it does not really matter: as long as it tastes great, then you have a filling worth putting into a dumpling.  You can always tweak the filling after you've made and tried the first few.

To the actual construction of the dumpling, it does not require a great deal of dexterity, and can be as complicated or simple as you would like it to be.  Having a small bowl full of water will help you seal the edges adequately, so the dumpling does not explode when it is being cooked.  Also not putting too much filling inside will also help in that.  I am notorious for putting too much filling in, and end up having to take some out just so it will close.

A spoonful should be enough for you to adequately fill your dumpling without bursting the skin.  Wet your fingers and run it around the edges of the skin, then press the edges together.  You can make it completely flat, or crimp and fold the edges.  As long as you get a good seal, it doesn't really matter what it looks like.  The "pretty" ones and the "ugly" ones all taste the same after they are cooked.

Cooking the dumplings is just as easy: Boil some water and throw in your finished dumplings.  Swirl the water and the dumplings so they don't stick to the bottom of the pot or to each other.  Let them cook for about 10 minutes, then remove them.  Put them in a bowl, get some sauce, and enjoy!

If you should find yourself with extra dumplings that haven't been cooked, you can freeze them and eat them later.  All you need to do is make sure they are spread out on a metal surface (I like to use pie tins), and not touching each other, and stick them in the freezer.  Once they are frozen, you can put them in a Ziploc bag, and take them out whenever you get the hankering for some dumplings.

So there you have it.  The story of a dumpling-filled night, and now, a dumpling-filled freezer.  It definitely is a team effort, and much more fun with people to eat and enjoy them with.  Make a night of it, invite some people over, and partake in the delicious art of dumpling making.