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…