“This place is burgeoning with life,” a friend marveled last week. “Chicks, kids, children… there are babies everywhere!”
A couple of weekends ago, we celebrated another year of life for one of our trainees with a backyard bonfire! Safety concerns after dark mandated that we burn our sticks during daylight hours, but we made the best of it by introducing the neighborhood kids to an all-important facet of American culture: s’mores.
Last spring in Philadelphia, the John Jay fellows and I heralded warmer weather with classic graham cracker and Hershey chocolate s’mores alongside the wet green trees of New England – could there have been a greater contrast with squishing strawberry mallows and mint chocolate squares between vanilla cookies, kicking up red dust under the blazing Bundu sun?
Cooking familiar food in South Africa requires some creativity. Yesterday Peace Corps put us to the test with the infamous Iron Chef challenge: two hours to wow the judges with local ingredients and a budget of about $17.50!
We opted for a menu that might be said, in a word, “ambitious”: deconstructed sushi, vegetable tempura, home-brewed lemon ginger tea, and poached pears with chocolate glaze. The other Volunteers were impressed, but the contest results suggest we haven’t won our local judges over to Asian-African fusion just yet.
Happily, my host mother is instructing me in the ways of South African comfort food. We mostly prepare veggies and chicken by chopping, mashing, boiling–and sometimes deep frying! Since my domestic default is roasting and sauteing, it’s a delight to outfit my cooking toolkit with wet heat techniques. “Ngizodla eKZN,” I tell her, “yes, I will eat at my permanent site.”
Speaking of food adventures, I dug up a treasure of my childhood at the nearby mall: Kinder eggs!! The toy assembly looms as more of a Gordian knot in my memory, but the chocolate tasted just as luscious.
My friends were less satisfied with their pizza lunch: The pepperoni arrived on a bed of barbecue sauce. Is that the local default? Confirmation pending.
Everyone loves the local “chip” shop, though: A living representative of the British English practiced in South Africa, this roadside stand offers fried, thick-cut potatoes to order. You can also order the chips wedged into sandwiches between bologna, pickled mangoes, and hotdogs.
We were all longing for some lighthearted moments this week after a weekend trip to the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. The museum’s design is heavy: weighted with a deliberately dismal setting, captions and placards running to hundreds of words, and tragic film and video footage.
We could not come to agreement as a cohort whether the dense information presented best served the museum’s cause, but we all agreed it had given us something more to contemplate.
On my way out, somber and shivering from the concentrated horror, I glimpsed an unusual bloom nodding at me from the flowerbed. It cheered me to catch sight of something beautiful thriving in the shadow of an unhappy past, a little life sprouting anew.