Thursday, December 29, 2011

Mission Accomplished


I think most people have a love-hate relationship with holidays. Everyone has their favorite, but we all have the one or two "special" days that we could actually do without. For some, it's their own birthday. For others, nothing is worse than taking the day off in honor of good 'ol Christopher Colombus. Personally, my favorite holiday has long been Thanksgiving, mostly because it marks the last day of sanity before the official start of the Christmas (read: shopping) season. Unfortunately, in the last decade the unofficial start date of the spending season seems to have been moved up to the day after Halloween. 



While Thanksgiving remains a bastion of unadulterated family values (history aside), I have to admit that New Year's Day has slowly crept into second place for me, overtaking my birthday and April 20th along the way. Before you correct me, let me reiterate that I did mean New Year´s Daynot New Year's Eve. I do like champagne, chicken wangs and pretty thangs, but I've always liked a fresh start better than a big finish.

With that in mind, I look forward to the New Year, just as I look back with satisfaction on the one that we are wrapping up. I say "satisfaction" because in more ways than one, I did what I set out to do. The obvious one was finagling my way into the Peace Corps after a two year application and training process that can only be described as two-steps forward and 1.95 steps back. 

Beyond that, I actually nailed my only official New Year's resolution: to read one book per week over the course of the year. After falling a couple books short of the same goal in 2010, I re-pledged myself to the challenge at the beginning of this year. While I don't feel particularly smarter, I promise you that all that personal time with my books was great for my sanity, and probably saved at least one of you from getting cussed out or flashed on at some point during the year.

I still have a few days left to finalize my resolutions for 2012, but one thing is for sure: the book-a-week program is still in effect. While I have no trouble finding (making) time to read, getting my hands on good books has been a challenge at times. Unfortunately, after a strong run across several continents in less-than ideal climates, my Kindle went kaput a few months back. Luckily, my roommate lets me use his Nook. When I'm desperate, I can read digital books right off my laptop, but that can cause a headache quicker than Fox News. Besides, I think our Peace Corps Safety and Security Guidelines recommend against breaking out the MacBook Pro on the bus on my way back from soccer practice at night.


Fortunately, I've always been an analog boy in a digital world—my vinyl collection dwarfs my drawer-full of scratched CD's in cracked cases. Therefore, it's no surprise that I would take a paperback book over any e-reader, any day. So, to get my fix, I've had to be a bit resourceful. There is a livreria* close to where I work, but the books are dumb expensive, and I tend to be dumb broke. Back in October I got my Municipal Library Card, but it was disheartening to find that the entire Portuguese language collection lacked a single book by Paulo Coelho. In their defense, they do have the complete works of José Saramago, which I plan to dig into next year.


The library at the Peace Corps Office in Praia was more promising. Before shipping out for São Vicente in September, I raided the shelf for some good titles, including one very special one that I had to check out just on principle, even though I've already read it. There's nothing like a library with good taste in American historical fiction!



Beyond finding her book (again!) halfway around the world, I've been lucky to have Lita present in my life of literature this year.  Recently, she was gracious enough to stand in as my editor, offering some golden tips to refine my first short story. More importantly, my windowsill is now crammed full of books that she's shipped over from the states. Muito Obrigado!

So, for those of you that are interested, here's what I was getting into during all those times when I was nowhere to be found:
  • Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides (2002)
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People - Stephen R. Covey (1989)
  • American Gods - Neil Gaiman (2002)
  • A General Theory of Love - Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini & Richard Lennan (2000)
  • Palace Walk (Between the Two Palaces) - Naguib Mahfouz (1956)
  • Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption - Laura Hillenbrand (2002)
  • Devil in a Blue Dress - Walter Mosley (1990)
  • Meant to Be: The Story of a Son Who Discovers He is his Mother’s Deepest Secret - Walter Anderson (2004)
  • The Known World - Edward P. Jones (2003)
  • The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century - Thomas Friedman (2003)
  • Martyr’s Crossing - Amy Wilentz (2002)
  • New News Out of Africa: Uncovering Africa’s Renaissance - Charlayne Hunter-Gault (2007)
  • The Bondmaid - Catherine Lim (1995)
  • My Wild Irish Rogues - Vivian Moore Hallinan (1952)
  • The Fortune Catcher - Susanne Pari (2002)
  • The Bonesetter’s Daughter - Amy Tan (2001)
  • Negro President: Jefferson and the Slave Power - Gary Willis (2005)
  • Women of the Silk - Gail Sukiyama (1993)
  • Soul on Ice - Eldridge Cleaver (1965)
  • Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause - Tom Gjelten (2008)
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone - J.K. Rowling (1997)
  • Motherless Brooklyn - Jonathan Lethem (1999)
  • The Ugly American - Eugene Burdict & William Lederer (1958)
  • Small Business in the Third World - Malcolm Harper (1984)
  • Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town - Paul Theroux (2003)
  • Slaughterhouse-Five (or The Children's Crusade) - Kurt Vonnegut (1969)
  • War Talk - Arundhati Roy (2003)
  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1892)
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot (2010)
  • Anthem - Ayn Rand (1938)
  • The Manifesto of the Communist Party - Karl Marx / Friedrich Engels (1848)
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll (1865)
  • George Washington - William Roscoe Thayer (1922)
  • Blindness - José Saramago (1995)
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; An Inquiry into Values - Robert Pirsig (1974)
  • The Lacuna - Barbara Kingsolver (2009)
  • The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good - William Easterly (2006)
  • The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafón (2001)
  • Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkeyand Even IraqAre Destined to Become the Kings of the World's Most Popular Sport - Simon Kuper & Stefan Szymanski (2009)
  • Water for Elephants - Sara Gruen (2006)
  • Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World - Tracy Kidder (2004)
  • Bel Canto - Ann Patchett (2001)
  • The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine - Michael Lewis (2010)
  • 1984 - George Orwell (1949)
  • Outliers: The Story of Success - Malcolm Gladwell (2008)
  • Fight Club - Chuck Palahniuk (1996)
  • The Control of Nature - John McPhee (1989)
  • The Talented Mr. Ripley - Patricia Highsmith (1955)
  • Born to RunA Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen - Christopher McDougall (2009)
  • The Portrait of a Lady - Henry James (1881)
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books - Azar Nafisi (2003)
  • Starship Troopers - Robert A. Heinlein (1959)
  • Bound Feet and Western Dress: A Memoir - Pang-Mei Natasha Chang (1997)

Stay tuned for my thoughts on the best and worst from the list above, which will be posted soon on the "2011 Reading List" page.

Pura Vida,

Drew

*livreria = bookstore

Friday, December 23, 2011

Quick and Painless



I am a lifelong learner. No, that does not mean I love school. It just means that I love learning. I guess that is why I love teaching and coaching—after all, there is no better way to learn. As I look back on my last ten years of working in various capacities, I can point to one consistent theme. When I stop learning on the job, it’s time for me to move on. I’ve had at least one job where it was clear that my manager was not interested—or possibly threatened by and opposed to—my professional development. On the flipside, I’ve been lucky to have held several jobs where my managers wanted me to develop me to the point where I could do their job. 

While I avoided having specific expectations about Peace Corps, I have to admit that I was primarily attracted by the learning opportunity. Of course, I was and still am looking to help people, but I did not need to travel halfway around the world to find folks in need of help—I’m from Oakland.

For me, education is simply a matter of personal and professional health. In that sense, learning is my medicine. Like medicine, it takes many forms, some easier to swallow than others. On one hand you have tough stuff… think Law School. Now, I’ve never been, but I hear it’s something like a 20,000-hour dentist appointment. What about college? I guess that one is kind of like prescription drugs: necessary, but often times the generic ones are just as good as the high-priced brands.

Since arriving in Cape Verde, I’ve swallowed a whole bunch of medicine and had plenty of “learning opportunities.” For me, there was a clear parallel between the 13-week regimen of anti-malarial pills and the 9-week Pre-Service Training that I went through. Both seemed to last forever, and both caused heartburn and strange dreams. Then there were the endless sessions on the medical and safety concerns of the Peace Corps, which I liken to the Oral Rehydration Salts that kept me from wasting away during my weeklong battle through the cycle—essential but disgusting.


Thankfully, not all medicine is created equal. Take Robitussin: that stuff is pretty good, and I hear it works for everything. More importantly, not all learning opportunities are as painful as my Pre-Service Training (PST). With a tip of the hat to our Peace Corps Training Staff, I can gladly say that this past week was the perfect example. I just got back from three days of In-Service Training in the capital city, which was everything that PST was not. Even the bread during coffee break was better*, and that’s what really counts after all. But seriously, I walked away from three days of trainings feeling more motivated and better prepared to do what I came here to do. Even the medicine was quick and painless: one flu shot and a bag of supplies to take back to my island.


The only bad news is that in a couple of weeks I will have to start another 42-day course of anti-malarial prophylaxis. But that is a small price to pay for the opportunity to visit Dakar, Senegal in January! Stay tuned... Happy Holidays…

Pura Vida,
Drew

*Pao Quente is officially the best bread bakery in the country. Too bad they have not opened up shop on São Vicente yet.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Commitment and Canned Meat




One of the big themes of my Peace Corps experience, dating back all the way the application process, is the idea of commitment. Before I even knew what country I would be posted in, or when I would be leaving, I made a commitment to myself: I would see it through to the finish—27 months. For me, this mindset went hand in hand with a commitment to avoid having expectations—good or bad—about what my Peace Corps experience would be like. Basically, it was a two-part affirmation to myself. One: I had absolutely no idea what to expect, and if I thought I did, based on an info pamphlet or another Volunteer’s war-story, then I was playing myself. And two: no matter what the surprises, I could and would handle them. So far, this approach has carried me pretty well through the first five months, and I’m glad that I prepared to be unprepared. You are always surprised by the things that surprise you... that’s what makes it a surprise.

Along the same lines, I made another important commitment to myself. I promised myself that over the course of my service I would not start anything. I know this one take some explanation, so give me a chance. Don’t get me wrong, I love to start stuff—projects, businesses, activities. The point is, I did not come all the way to Cape Verde to “do my thing.” I certainly want to be involved with the launch of exciting projects while I am here. The important thing is that I will not be the one who starts them. Being an “idea guy,” it can be difficult—damn-near impossible—to hold back when I see an opportunity. But if development work isn’t damn-near impossible, then you’re probably not doing it right. So I haven’t formed a new soccer team, organized a co-op, or launched any awareness campaigns lately. Instead, I’ve been scoping out the landscape, getting my hands dirty when it’s welcome, and doing the double-dutch dance, waiting for the right second to jump in and start jamming.

So, while my contributions have often felt peripheral, I still feel like I am in the right spot. It is still rewarding to witness other people reap the benefits of their own hard work, even when they could have done it without me. For example, I conquered the cycle just in time to attend the closing ceremony of the Culinary Class. Oh, I remember their first days of  the training when they needed a recipe to boil water. Look at 'em now—how ya like them apples?!





Not everything in my life has been restaurant quality over the past week. Unfortunately, I have to admit that I recently broke an important commitment to myself. Shortly after my arrival in São Vicente, I vowed that I would never eat meat out of a can. Actually, I’ve been staunchly anti-canned meat for my whole life. When I was growing up, Spam was not a real dish, it was just an idea that came up when clowning folks**. As in, “your mama’s got snakeskin teeth.” Or, “your mama eats canned Spam with a spork and loves that sh*t.” I remember my visit to Hawaii as a child, when I first saw Spam on a actual restaurant menu. Eventually, I learned that Spam’s popularity throughout the Pacific Region is a legacy of the U.S. military presence, which only made me less likely to indulge. I even made it through living a couple of months on Guam without eating “spahhhm”*** even once—sorry Vicky, it’s nothing personal.

Let me be clear, this is not just about Spam—all canned meats are off limits. And don’t give any crap about “it’s just like eating canned tuna," because it’s not, and you know it. But, like I said, I broke down this week. Being a foodie, I was ecstatic when I finally got access to my own kitchen so that I could expand my diet beyond corn, potatoes, salt and butter. But as I stepped out of work on Monday, I recognized a funny feeling on the back of my tongue. It was a craving for something I first tried during my homestay during training: "spaghetti." So, I swallowed my pride, headed to the store, and grabbed the necessary ingredients for spaghetti a la Cabo Verde*: 1 pack of pasta, 2 eggs, butter, and a can of salchichas. Yes, I said a can of salchichas—that's how we roll.

Later that night, I sat down with a bowl of pasta goodness that made me feel just a little bit more integrated. Not surprisingly, my roommate decline to partake in the feast, but he was there to support me in my time of weakness. Besides, we reasoned, if you’re gonna eat canned meat, it might as well be hot dogs—after all, can it really get any more processed than miscellaneous meat parts and preservatives stuffed in an animal intestine? So, I loaded up my fork with a heap of noodles, hot dog and hard boiled egg, dripping with melted butter and hot sauce. And as I savored my first bite of the goodness, the sweet words of Luther Ingram floated through my head...

“If loving you is wrong, I don’t wanna be right.”

Pura Vida,

Drew

* No, this is not the actual name of the dish, it's just what I call it. Many Cape Verdeans find marinara or tomato-based sauce to be "too acidic."
**For the Motown Generation: clowning = playing the dozens
*** The vowel sound in the Chamorro pronunciation of Spam is the like the sound that the dentist asks you to make. As in, "say aaaaah."

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Man Down


Some people have a photographic memory. I have what I would call an audiographic memory. In my mind, almost every song I hear is in linked, in some way, to a past experience or period in my life. You know what I'm talking about. I’m sure you can think of a song that will ALWAYS remind you of the first time you asked someone (or got asked) to dance, whether you were twelve and twenty-one. It’s just that for me, this aural memory has always been stronger and deeper than any other form of recollection.

My first months in Cape Verde have brought plenty of highs and lows, each with their own soundtrack. My best memories of Cape Verde will always be associated with the honeyed sound of Mayra Andrade, or the Gypsy-styled yearning of Tito Paris. Three weeks ago, I passed up a chance to see the latter live in concert, in the interest of not spending money that I didn’t have. Luckily, two weeks later I was sitting at a hotel bar enjoying a free night of coladeira music. Sometime after midnight, the lead singer blessed us with a pleasant surprise when he invited a special guest to the stage… Tito Paris! I doubt I will ever hear coladeira music again in my life without being transported back the outdoor patio of that hotel. And next time he comes to town, I definitely got money on it.

But enough of the sweet stuff. As I said, my time here, like anyone’s life, has its highs and lows. Honestly, after a high Thanksgiving week, the last 8 days or so have pretty much kicked my ass. On the 30th we closed out a beardiful Brovember with the festival of M.E.A.T., which featured three-meat (no bean) chili and fried chicken smothered in beef gravy. Later that night as I laid up in my bed trying to get some rest before another day of work, I suddenly felt my stomach turn upside downand it’s been all bad since. Being bedridden with a bad case of "the cycle*" is bad enough when you can get some rest. Now, imagine trying to cope when the entire country is blasting Rihanna on repeat. Coincidentally, my least favorite thing about this country, by far, is their clinical obsession with “Man Down,” and for that reason, the song will be eternally associated in my mind with the low points of my Peace Corps Service.

The lows this week also include my not-so-illustrious soccer career. It appears I counted my chickens before they hatched in my last post, because after telling me that I had made the cut, the coach decided not to sign mehe wants me to help coach instead. Yes, it hurts my pride. Yes, I’ll get over it. After all, it’s been several years since I accepted that I was just a good player who planned on becoming a great coach. I wouldn't change anything about the last month of tryouts (except the result). I played hard and I played well, and I still have a good team to train with. Plus, I've made some more friends, and I’ll be there to support them at the opening game this Sunday. Hopefully, we will honor the passing of the great Sócrates by notching a win for the Corinthians family.

If there is anyone who’s really suffered during my status as “man down” it’s Mia. With nobody to play with she has gone literally stir-crazy (plus, I think she’s in heat). Lucky for her, we got to squeeze in a little play date with her best friend, MC**. Enjoy the moment of Zen, and please say a prayer for my bowels.

video

Pura Vida,

Drew


*Peace Corps slang for diarrhea, deriving its name from the fecal-oral cycle that often causes it.

**Named after the great Stanley Kirk Burrell.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Have's and Have-Not's

I am not going to spoil everyone’s holidays by going off on a rant about the FUBAR state of the world, the insane lack of equity in our global society, and the ever-growing divide between the rich and the poor. In fact, I have recently overdosed on that entire conversation. In the last few months I’ve read a few different books that in some way or another offer insights and ideas about international development and aid. For the most part, the books have been interesting, but I am more interested in the work that can be done, and change that can be made, in my neighborhood or at my job. When it comes to fixing the world, I am temporarily out of service.



I am so oversaturated with the idea of sweeping international development, that I recently did something I almost never, ever do. I put a book down after reading the first thirty pages. Admittedly, I was hesitant to start reading The End of Poverty (Jeffrey Sachs, 2005), for a few reasons. Like I said, I’ve recently read several books that get into a lot of the same issues (White Man’s Burden, Dark Star Safari, Mountains Beyond Mountains). Also, I am just a little skeptical of the idea that some guy (no matter how smart he may be) has discovered the secret to ending world poverty and has managed to outline this in a convenient, digestable bestseller. Lastly, it didn´t exactly excite me that the foreword was written by Bono*. So, as I reluctantly turned the pages through the first chapter, I felt a question percolating to the front of my mind. In all this discussion of how to address the gross economic inequalities in the world, I began to wonder how (or if) Sachs would address the issue of how the world got this way. In other words, if the White Man’s Burden is to save the world’s brown people, does that responsibility grow out of the White Man’s historic role in the underdevelopment and undermining (see rape and pillage) of brown societies over the course of several centuries? Or, are we of the opinion that the developed world is just lucky, and therefore they/we should share because it is nice, and the right thing to do? Well, I did not have to wait long to hear Mr. Sachs’s take on this question. In Chapter Two he writes (italics mine):
"Let me dispose of one idea right from the start. Many people assume that the rich have gotten rich because the poor have gotten poor. In other words, they assume that Europe and the United States used military force and political strength during and after the era of colonialism to extract wealth from the poorest regions, and thereby to grow rich. This interpretation of events would be plausible if gross world product had remained roughly constant, with a rising share going to the powerful regions and a declining share going to the poorer regions. However, that is not at all what happened. Gross world product rose nearly fiftyfold. Every region of the world experienced some economic growth (both in terms of the overall size of the economy, and even when measured per person), but some regions experienced much more growth than others. The key fact of modern times is not the transfer of income from one region to another, by force or otherwise, but rather the overall increase in world income, but at a different rate in different regions." (p. 31).
And that was enough for me to stop reading and move on to the next book.** Assume?! Wait, I’m pretty sure that colonialism happened. And it is downright fallacious and fellatious to argue that the massive transfer of wealth from a lot of countries to a few is irrelevant or non-existent because the overall amount of wealth in the world has increased. But-I-ain’t-the-one-to-gossip-so-you-ain't-heard-that-from-me. Plus, I promised you this blog entry would not be about saving the world.
The title of this post actually refers to my own life, as I live it day-to-day here in Cape Verde. As in: the things I have and the things I have not. And since I rambled on a little bit in the intro to this post, we will handle the next part in the most efficient and fun way possible. It’s list time!!! In honor of Thanksgiving, I present to you, the things I am grateful for having AND the things I am grateful for not having. Enjoy:
The Have-Nots (The Things I Don’t Miss Having)
Microwave – If you can’t find a way to cook it without a microwave, you probably shouldn’t be eating it anyways.
Mirror – I am not saying that I look good no matter what (but thank you). All I’m saying is who needs a mirror in the house when you’re celebrating Brovember? Shaving is not permitted this month anyway. After the culminating Festival of M.E.A.T.*** on November 30th I will take my crunchy self to the barber and get cleaned up.

Hot Water – I came to Cape Verde swearing that I would NEVER get used to cold showers. I was wrong. My roommate and I (combined) use less than 1 cubic meter of water per week.

The Have’s

Teammates – There’s really nothing like being on a team. One of the hardest parts of travelling so much in the years leading up to joining the Peace Corps was not being able to fully join a soccer team. It was a great opportunity to train with good teams like Bay Area Ambassadors, University of Johannesburg, of FC Manica, but I haven’t suited up for an outdoor league match since my last game with Bosnjaci in the SFSFL in 2009. But after a few weeks of tryouts, Corinthians will be announcing their team roster this Friday, and I will be on it! Yes, I am proud and thankful for that. Special thanks to all my coaches over the years: Jim (OSC Dolphins), Micah (UHS), B.A. (UHS), Jeff (UHS), Jeff (SF Vikings), Rusty (UHS), Rene (Rosal FAS), Ibra (Bosnjaci), and on and on. Just to clarify, this is a picture of the all mighty Burners Indoor Men's Team, not Corinthians. Cape Verdeans can be light-skinnededed, but they are still brown.

A Roommate – Over the years I’ve been fortunate to have some great roommates. Long-time followers of this blog have already been introduced to Jelly. My folks back home in the town know that Trevor and I go waaaay back, and will be honorary roommates for life. Felix was the perfect roommate, until he fell completely in love and stopped hanging out with me. But I forgive you because she is hot and you ended up marrying her. That being said, my current roommate, Rory, and I have a certain chemistry that I wouldn’t trade in. Can you imagine living with someone AND working with someone everyday and NOT wanting to murder them? Well, I am happy to say that I do not have any intentions of murdering Rory, and I enjoy going almost everywhere with in tandem. In fact, we decided to celebrate Halloween this year as a pair of Mormons!

Neighbors - I love my hood and all the people in it!
Cheap Fish - No explanation required.
Students – This one speaks for itself. I am a lifelong learner, and the best way to learn is to teach, so I give thanks for having students, on the field and in the classroom.

Colleagues – A lot of jobs suck. Mine doesn't.


Furniture- We finally took the plunge and bought some real furniture to supplement our not-so-deluxe plastic picnic table and chairs, and the foot stool that we made out of recycled soda bottles. We will be eating a whole lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches until the next paycheck, but it’s worth it to feel like you actually live in your apartment.

A Guest – For me, this one is a lot more important than it may seem. In November 2009 I packed my life into boxes, put them in storage and left town. For the next two years I basically lived off the hospitality of some of the best people in the world (Pops included). While not paying rent is awesome, after a while I began to look forward to having the opportunity and the ability to pay that love forward. So, when a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer contacted me via my blog over a month ago, I jumped at the opportunity to play host. After wrapping up two years of service in Morocco, Adriana has joined us in Sao Vicente for a week of decompression and thanks-giving. No, we don’t have much to offer, but it means the world to be able to share it. Plus, she can cook!
All that is just to say, just be thankful for what you’ve got, and be grateful for not being loaded down with all the things that you actually don’t need anyway. Happy Thanksgiving, Chicken over Turkey all day (especially if it’s not my Daddy’s grilled Turkey). Lovage.
Pura Vida,
Drew
*My roommate told me a great story recently that reflects our feelings on Bono and his ilk. It goes like this… Halfway through a U2 concert, in between songs, Bono starts clapping very slowly. “Every time I clap my hands… a child dies in Africa dies.” A voice from the crowd yells, “Then stop f*cking clapping!”
**It is hard for me to overstate how big of a deal it is for me to not finish a book once I've started it. To put it perspective, I read every last page of Don Quixote and 2666, even though in both cases I had decided early on that I wasn’t enjoying it. Once again, thank you Colleen and Lalita for those horribly overrated suggestions. New Rule: no recommending 1000-page books unless you've actually read them yourself. Lita, I forgive you because I just got the awesome batch of books that you sent me in the mail. Colleen, I forgive you because the statute of limitations on being mad about a book has recently expired.
***Men Eating Animals Together

Monday, October 31, 2011

Sugar and Spice

“Picked up a package yesterday and I was happy!

It was some boxes full o’ goodies from my Pappy!”

- “1-Luv” by E-40 (In A Major Way, 1995)

Tonight we will celebrating Halloween in style. And although there won’t be any trick or treating, I’ll be fine because I am finally stocked up on my favorite candy. After over a month of waiting, I finally got almost all of the packages that have sent to me since September. Just to be on the safe side, I requested an shipment of Sour Patch Kids from multiple sources. I can happily report that those sources came through, and now me belly full. Special shout out to my cuz, Quineen!

In addition to the teeth-rotters, Fauntie* came through with a massive and crucial cornucopia of tasty spices for the kitchen. Here’s the updated of the third shelf in our pantry, which just might put Pont d’Agua to shame:

Not bad, considering I live in on a tiny island with hardly in any rain in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Wait, did I just say “hardly any rain?” Yeah, about that...

So, apparently it does rain on São Vicente. We just get a year’s worth of rain compressed into two days. Last Monday, I woke up around 5am to take Mia out to xi-xi ("shee-shee"). I got about half a step outside of my room before realizing that I was splashing about in water half an inch deep. I thought it was just our toilet leaking (again!), but as I rounded the corner of the hallway I saw that our whole apartment was on its way to becoming a fishbowl. So much for Posh Corps**.

After a few hours of scooping, pushing, mopping and bailing, I managed to get most of the water out (thank the Lord for tiled floors). Unfortunately, that night found my roommate and I at war against the elements yet again—this time the water was coming in through windows in the kitchen. Both of us are Small Enterprise Development Volunteers—not civil engineers—so we were a little short of brilliant ideas to prevent a repeat of the previous night. The best we could do was slap some duct tape over windows, get to mopping, and pray for a break in the rain. We both agreed that what we really needed was some sandbags. Unfortunately, my shipment of Sour Patch Kids had not arrived yet, so we were short in that department. Next time I promise we will be ready with a candy-grade levee that will be the envy of FEMA.

There is a silver lining to every cloud, and this week’s storm was no exception. The heavy rains left the ground ripe for cultivation, so we got to work in the garden at the Centro de Juventude (CEJ). A previous Peace Corps Volunteer on this island ranja’d a whole bunch of seeds from the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds company in Mansfield, Missouri, so now we have a nice selection to work with. After weeding and breaking up the ground, we planted three sets of seeds in paper egg cartons: sweet red peppers, squash, and watermelons. In honor of Halloween we also sowed a few pumpkin seeds directly into the ground. Maybe next year we can do a little jack-o'-lantern, pumpkin seed roasting cross cultural exchange activity.

When I got home I was still feeling the green thumb, so I kept on rolling. We’ve been saving our 1 liter juice containers, so I cut a bunch of those in half and filled them with some terra sabi (“borrowed” from the CEJ). In the coming months, inshallah, we should be harvesting at least some of the following goodies:

  • Pink Accordion Tomatoes
  • Williams Striped Tomatoes
  • Arkansas Traveler Tomatoes
  • Lettuce Leaf Basil
  • Licorice Basil
  • Serrano Tampequino Peppers
  • Golden Treasure Sweet Peppers
  • Bull Nose Sweet Peppers
  • Chinese Yellow Cucumbers
  • Ground Cherries

So, consider this your invitation to dinner. The food will be spiced to perfection, the veggies will be homegrown, and dessert will be sour and chewy. All you have to do is book the ticket. See you soon,

Pura Vida,

Drew


* Fauntie = The Fun Auntie = Carmen Anthony

** Volunteers that serve in Continental Africa like to poke fun at those of us who are lucky to land an assignment in Cape Verde, where most of us have electricity, running water, and a functioning government. Therefore, Peace Corps Cape Verde is sometimes to referred to as “Posh Corps.”

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Now We´re Cooking

The other day I looked up and I realized that I have been living in Cape Verde for more than three months now. I cannot exactly say that time has flown by, especially when I consider the nine weeks hard time in Pre-Service Training. At times those minutes felt like hours. Even now, as I settle into my new home on the island of São Vicente, I would have to say that the last three months has felt like… well… three months.

The only thing that really shocks me is the thought that I have been here in Cape Verde for a longer period of time than I spent in South Africa last summer. It isn't a question of how fast or slow the time has passed. Instead, I find myself comparing everything I did in South Africa with everything I have done so far here, and honestly, there is no comparison. The good news is: that puts me right on track with the Peace Corps' expectations of a new Volunteer. Let me explain.

Much of the Peace Corps approach to development work grows out of a process known as PACA—that is, Participatory Analysis for Community Action. I'll skip the seminar and settle for giving you a snapshot of what this actually means. Basically, instead of showing up as an “expert”—presumably fresh off the boat from a faraway land and culture—and prescribing remedies for the development of a given community, PACA is a strategy for immersion and research, with the goal of eventually being in a position to actually help. The key word is “eventually.” For example, before you pitch an idea to a community leader about building a cool new community center, you might spend a few weeks compiling a “seasonal calendar” or a “daily calendar” that would help you to understand the patterns of life of different people or groups within that community. Why is that so important? Well, it would help you figure out when the best time to schedule a planning meeting would be. Or, who might actually use the community center, and when might they use it.

The good thing about PACA is that it works. The tough thing is that so many of us volunteer-types want to jump right in and get our hands dirty. We want to feel like we are actually making a difference and changing the world (wait, did I say that out loud?). But when you combine the training phase with the emphasis on easing into our actual assignments, you are left with three months that feel worthwhile, yet not exactly game-changing. Sure, I got to roll up my sleeves a little during my first three months here, but only in the last week or so have I really started cooking.

In the literal sense, I have been helping to teach a culinary class, and after two weeks of theory in the classroom we took our first trip to the kitchen. The lead instructor of the class is the General Manager of Ponte d'Agua, one of the classier establishments in our city. This week's visit to their kitchen—where the practical sessions will be held—brought me back in time to my first “real job” at the Burlingame Country Club. Now you know your boy can burn, but I am hardly qualified to train fifteen students who are looking to land a actual job in a professional kitchen. Instead, my role as a an instructor is to address elements of professionalism and entrepreneurship to add value to the training. My work experience in the industry is just a plus.



Things are also heating up in terms of my other responsibilities at work. This week, Rory and I started teaching an English class for the staff and volunteer leaders of the Centro da Juventude. We also just submitted plans for two more classes that we will start teaching in November: Aula de Profissionalismo and Aula de Microsoft Excel.

Feeling productive is not just about doing development work and changing the world. Sometimes it’s just a question of feeling like you're living right. For some it may mean going to church, for others it means spending quality time with the kids. In my life there has always been a correlation between living right and cooking. If I haven't cooked a meal for a week then I know there is something wrong. In other words, something (psychological or situational?) is stopping me from making time for the right things in my life.

Fortunately, as the title of this post suggest, the kitchen is officially open. Rory and I have been piecing it together over the last four weeks—a cutting board here, a can opener there. We've sourced our favorite spices (or at least the ones that are available), and now we know who’s got if for cheap. But last week I knew the final piece had fallen into place when I got a phone call from DHL* saying a package had arrived for me… MY KNIVES! Thank you Big Brother Jaime-san for making that happen, and I hope they served you well over the last two years.


We wasted no time getting to work in the kitchen at home. We recently hosted “family dinner” for the seven Peace Corps Volunteers that live on this island. We’ve also knocked out some tasty spaghetti (a little too often), sweet curry chicken with sautéed greens, rosemary pork chops with mashed potatoes, spicy popcorn chicken, sweet and sour chicken, sweet and sour pork, and fried rice. If you are wondering about the last three dishes, the answer is yes: there are plenty of Chinese people in Cape Verde. But they just can’t burn like the Chinese people back home in the States, so we decided to take matters into our own hands.

As I wrap up this family-sized portion of a post, I have to give a quick shout-out. Since I started Live From Tomorrow I have had a couple of friends tell me that they have been inspired to start their own blogs. Since we’ve been talking about cooking, I want to take a moment to plug one of those. “A Vu on Food” is the work of my littlest friend with the biggest heart (and appetite). After studying at Le Cordon Bleu in London, Christina Vu launched her blog as a way to share her foodie adventures from around the world. Whether you’re looking for a creative new recipe, or just want to sit, read, and salivate, I highly recommend you take a trip (by clicking on the link above). Until the next meal…

Pura Vida,

Drew


*If you are sending me a care package (you are, aren't you?)... DO NOT USE DHL!!! It is stupid expensive. I recommend International Flat Rate Shipping from the good 'ol USPS. Also, do not declare some ridiculous inflated value, because I will have to pay customs on my end.