dreaming of my kitchen

For the last hour I have been flipping through recipes on The New York Times. Recipes that I can do absolutely nothing with except let them fill my dreams. Not the green been & red pepper salad, not the rhubarb crisp, not the fettucini with sausage & sage leaves, and definitely not the asparagus pesto. I don’t do much baking and am lactose intolerant, but was reading what looks to be a good cheesecake recipe.

Yep, it is that time on these trips where I dream of my little kitchen. It is a little kitchen with a half-sized stove and a not-full sized fridge. But it is my little kitchen. The pots and pans are familiar, the knives sharp, and the spices abundant. Most of all, it is a kitchen to which I have full access should I be in the right city.

Let’s be honest. Variety and options here are sorely lacking. But, given a kitchen, I could whip up some foods with different flavors and textures than my daily fare. Same ingredients, different combinations and spices. And I could make pancakes and (non-greasy) eggs on a Sunday morning. Maybe even real coffee.

Please do not get me wrong – I get more than my fair share of food here and have plenty of variety given the location. Tomorrow I will be back to sharing photos and stories of my travels. But tonight I am going to enjoy the luxury of dreaming of my kitchen and foods that are a few weeks away.

sunflowers in the field

I am headed into the field again today – this time to help install some hand pumps. The wells have been drilled and the cement pads put in. Today, the cylinder, drop pipe, rods, and hand pump – the final parts necessary to get water. I don’t remember – it is either 5 or 6 wells… so excited to join the team today. And here, some fields are filled with sunflowers being farmed, which adds to the beauty of any day.

a village rooster

Walking through the villages, chickens and roosters are all over the place. Yesterday, someone bought a few chickens to bring back to town (cheaper to buy in the village), and put them under the seats in the van. One peed, and thus my bag now has chicken pee on it. This bad boy was hanging out in the village showing off.

word images of the last month

Here is my attempt to capture a few word images from this past month. I doubt they do it justice, but hope you get the picture. As you read, smile and laugh because that is what I have done this month through the good times and the hard times.

Laughter. My time in Uganda, was filled with laughter. We laughed when we saw each other in the morning, when we told stories, when we walked through villages, when we shared tea, and simply at a funny look. In a moment there is laughter. Contagious laughter. So beautiful. I wish I could bottle it up and take it home. I once got an email from a colleague listening to my laughter through our shared wall that was titled, “I love your laughter.” Man she would have loved to be in Uganda with me.

Speed talking. On day 3 of my work in Lira, Faustino declared that he was terrified that he would be placed on my team the next day for our work in the village (his statement was, of course, topped off with loud laughter). For the first two days of discussions, we were a group of Ugandans, two Americans and two Canadians. The discussions were good and kept moving. Excited and surrounded by North Americans, I moved into my rapid-fire speed talking that is a clear indicator of how fast my brain cells are working. The poor man was struggling to follow and never bothered to say anything. We were partners for the next couple of days during which I spoke African English, we shared life histories, and we laughed more than one can imagine.

Science revisited. Do you have any idea what a petri dish of cultured e-coli smells like. If the word poop comes to mind, you hit it. The thing about testing water quality for e-coli is that when you have contaminated water, you are effectively multiplying the e-coli, containing them in a petri dish, and then opening the lid and counting the blue and purple dots (e-coli colonies). You use a little magnifying glass and get real close to make sure you count right. It smells. You loose your appetite. You are thankful that you do not drink from the river. Then you take a shower and then go to dinner.

Biosand filters. BSF. Based on an old technology that was modified for an individual household used less than two decades ago. BSFs can be made locally and, when properly cared for, reduce pathogens by 98%. I saw these in Uganda and Zambia. Everyone I asked who used a BSF loved it. But, the best part, is that the cement and sand act as a water cooler. And so, often before I was told about how the kids do not have diarrhea and their skin no longer itches, I was told, “The water is cold.” You think that is not a big deal? Yeah. You probably have a fridge and ice. Some brilliant person should start marketing BSFs as water coolers in places where there is no electricity with a side benefit of eliminating disease.

Latrines. I love them because they reduce disease. I love them because when I am in a village their presence means that when I need to pee, I have a place to put my white butt that does not involve mooning the world. But sometimes I think people building them are dense. For example, I used several latrines this trip with a hole that could not have been more than 6 inches square. I think a man made that hole and I wanted to kick him. Seriously though, every time I use a good latrine, I think of the girls who now have a place to pee during the day with dignity. And dignity begins to change this world.

Hand washing. What formal meal have I been to in America where everyone went to wash their hands before going through the buffet line? Can’t think of one. Matter of fact, I cannot think of a single meal in America outside of a home where this was the practice. Hamburgers. Fries. Pizza. Let’s not pretend that we do not eat with our fingers. How can I say this? Hand washing changes health. For the last month, I have washed hands with my friends and colleagues before meals. In the bush, we used bottled water and a bar of soap stashed in the glove box. At the formal dinner, we traipsed into the bathrooms. No questions asked. Do me a favor and think about that the next time you have a french fry.

Safe water. Latrines. Hand washing. Three key aspects to a healthy home & a healthy village.

Books. A part of my nomadic life is stashing books in my luggage. A few days ago someone asked me if I was well read. I am finishing book five of the month, an interesting collection of short stories of Indian immigrants to America (Unaccustomed Earth). Books one to four included good literature making me want to return to Savannah for another vacation (Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil), B-grade action (Clive Cussler), learning to cook in Paris (The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry), and an excellent book on community development (When Helping Hurts) that you should read. Last year the (former) president read more books than I did, and I somehow doubt his book list included beach trash. Some day I think I should read Plato and Aristotle. Then I will consider myself well read.

Safari. This one day safari in Botswana could be characterized by ‘elephant’. I do not think I am exaggerating if I say that I saw a couple hundred elephants – almost all headed to or at the river. The joy of it being deep into dry season is that the water holes in the park have dried up and the animals all flock to the river. As we sat in the boat, family groups of elephants headed to the river. At the sight of the water, the younger ones would start to run – the dust from the earth flying around them. 10-20 elephants walking and running… and not a sound. I want to say that they were light on their feet… but they were elephants. They were huge. Reaching the river, they drank their fill, then splashed water and mud onto their skin. Some of the kids rolled in the mud and sprawled  out. You could almost hear them sigh and say, “Mom, do we really have to go? It is hot out there.”

Seasons. In Uganda they said it had been dry, and not too much rain. Everything was green and lush. There were a couple thundering storms during the night. The maize was  growing. But, the real rains were just getting ready to start. The days hot and relatively humid, the nights cool. Zambia was in the dry season. No questions. Roads were dusty, the plants coated with a thin film of dirt, and I used lotion. The days were headed towards hot, but the nights remained cool. Each day I was here, the temperatures increased a bit… the locals say that October is the hottest month of the year, then the rains start in November. Between the dust from the earth, the dust from the cement factory, and the heat, it sounds like not a lot of fun. Please remind me to not visit in October.

Singing. Somehow I sing in languages I do not know because one cannot help but sing when surrounded by the voices and rhythms of Africa. Each region’s music is different, and each confirms that I have no sense of rhythm and sing off key. One morning Peter teaches a new song he has just written. Within a minute everyone is harmonizing and I feel blessed to be in the middle of this awesome beauty. In heaven I want to be that white girl in the crowd because I am convinced that my off key singing, clapping at the wrong time, and awkward dancing will somehow fit in just perfectly. Until then, I love that my African brothers and sisters include me in their worship.

three stories

In Uganda I finished one book and read another – both beautiful works of creative nonfiction. The Chains of Heaven took me through northern Ethiopia visiting remote villages and monasteries more secluded than what seems possible. And through it all, it was as if Philip Marsden was saying, “This is what life is in Ethiopia. Here is history that lives on today.” The Bookseller of Kabul took me to Afghanistan to get to know a family that seemed different, but was trapped by tradition on every side. And through this family, Asne Seierstad  seemed to say, “Here is Afghanistan, where tradition traps people and slowly destroys women.”

And while I am reading these books, I am in Northern Uganda where there has been an incredible amount of pain and heartache in recent years. I visit villages that, just two years ago, were on roads that were dangerous to travel. I pass schools were children were abducted. I hear stories of bravery in the face of evil. I hear of a child left for dead by the rebels, but who survived. I see houses newly rebuilt as people returned from the camps. Driving through the beautiful countryside it takes my colleagues, my friends, telling me these stories to make it real because there are no bombed out buildings to indicate recent destruction. Just red dirt roads. It as is if I am reading a creative nonfiction book through their stories. And so, in my head, I am in Ethiopia, Afghanistan, and Uganda all at once. 

I spend one day visiting villages where our partners have not worked, and the next two days I go where they have worked. I say worked, but really I mean loved. How to explain the difference in these villages? Where they have not worked, people are drinking out of streams and water holes that resemble mud holes. Latrines are falling down, it seems as if the bush is pushing in on the village trying to slowly suffocate it. In the villages where they have worked, clean water is being drunk from wells or biosand filters. There are drying racks for dishes, latrines with doors and roofs and solid floors, hand washing stations, and garbage pits. The compounds around the houses are clean and the bush seems content to stay where it is. Are the children and the clothes cleaner? Is there a brightness in their eyes? I would like to believe so, but maybe it is just my imagination. Regardless, it seems as if there is hope here. They could live steeped in past pain, but this is a story of change, of growth, of hope. And that is why I say my colleagues and friends loved on these people. Because items and things can change the physical, but for the heart, it takes love.

Ethiopia was about history and today being one. Afghanistan was about tradition trapping people. Uganda was about hope and love prevailing. Uganda was my favorite story.