Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Quest for the Perfect Onion Ring

I am a big fan of onion rings and I have had a craving for some greasy, beer battered onion rings for weeks. Now that I have my own kitchen and some free time, I have tried my best to make them just like they do in restaurants. It turned out to be much harder than I imagined.

When I went to site, Peace Corps issued all of the volunteers an "official" Peace Corps cookbook. It has a bunch of recipes and lists ingredients that you can expect to find in Botswana. It is a fantastic resource and I find myself using it for almost every meal. One of the best pages in the whole thing lists conversions from American to metric (very useful when your oven shows temperature in Celsius).

I was flipping through my cookbook the other day and saw a recipe for onion rings. It listed the ingredients needed as flour, milk, onions, egg, beer (optional), and oil for frying. It just so happened that I had all of those ingredients and so I set out to make them. I cut the rings, dipped them in the egg and then battered them. It seemed so easy. I fried them until they were brown and then sat down to enjoy. They were good, but not quite the taste I was looking for. The batter was just too light.

The next week, I was wandering around the grocery store and found breadcrumbs. I had hopes of finding cornmeal to batter them in but breadcrumbs could be just as good. I took them home and tried out the same recipe but with bread crumbs. They looked like real onion rings when battered. I was pretty excited. I fried them and sat down to eat. The texture and look were perfect (see the picture above), but there was still something missing in the taste.

I will keep trying and hopefully have a perfected recipe soon. I am considering using buttermilk in the batter along with some kind of spice (Maybe onion salt or onion power as well).

Until then,the quest continues....

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

I'll Take a Coke (And which kind of Coke would you like?)

Most people at my center speak pretty good English,but every now and then there is a funny "lost in translation" moment. I had one of these yesterday.

I have become a regular tea drinker in the mornings (coffee is available but only ground up and its kind of expensive). Yesterday, I ran out of tea bags and went around the office to ask for one. I used my Setswana to ask nicely for a tea bag: (A lo na le Tea?) One of my coworkers looked at me kind of funny and then asked me in English what "Tea" meant.

How does one really explain tea? I started, "Well, its the little bag you put in hot water... No wait, that a tea BAG, tea is the actual drink. Tea is a hot drink you get from seeping tea leaves in water."

"Ah," he said. "Here we have coffee, roiboos (an herbal tea), and five roses (black tea). We call all these tea." (And as an aside, tea with milk and sugar is surprisingly good. I have developed a taste for it. And, the coffee that we drink in the US is considered by many people I have talked to as "too strong." They drink an instant coffee that is mostly chicory. I haven't developed a taste for that yet.)

So, apparently, Tea is a generic term for any hot drink. Interesting. It reminds me a lot of the joke people tell about Southerners. In the American South, Coke is pretty much a generic term for any kind of soft drink. So the joke goes that if you ask a southerner for a coke they will ask you back, "What kind?"

"So, can I get a Five Roses Tea Bag from you?"I asked.

"Sorry," came the reply. "I don't have any. I don't take tea this early in the morning."

I then went through the office asking for tea. After going to one of the other buildings, I found someone who had some. "I have Five Roses but it is missing something."

"Missing something?" I asked. "Yes," she replied. "Ah, how do you say in English... You know the thing you want more and more of when you get it?" I stood there trying to think what in the world she meant and then it dawned on me; caffeine. I told her that that was okay, I just wanted tea. Then I unsuccessfully tried to make a joke about how if I didn't get caffeine then I would start getting headaches. Humor and sarcasm do not translate well apparently. She then asked me if I was addicted to caffeine and that I should see someone about curing me. I backtracked quickly and told her I was joking. (In Setswana: Ke a tsameka!)

Then she looked very directly at me and said, "I used to be addicted to coke." I coughed up the tea I was drinking and asked her to repeat what she had said. "Yes," she said. "I was addicted to coke. It was awful. I had to have it three times a day." I really don't know what to think at this point. So I smile and nod and agree that her addiction was not good and three times per day sounds like a lot.

"Yes," she replied. "Three cans per day was just too much." Ah, it finally dawns on me - she meant Coca Cola. I laugh and excuse myself. Another funny "lost in translation" moment but I did get some tea.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Blast from the Past (and how Not to get better if you are feeling sick)

During training (this was about a month ago), our group went on a bit of a field trip to go see a few culturally significant sites nearby. We started by seeing cave and rock drawings that were around 2,000 years old. It is wild to think that around the time of Christ, people were making rock drawings in Botswana that can still be seen today. You can see pictures of them here:

We went on to visit the tree where David Livingstone first set up shop when he lived in Botswana. It was interesting to stand where Livingstone once stood but at the end of the day it was really just a rather large and old tree.

Our final stop was the most interesting. We got to visit a small, traditional village that shows people how Batswana (this is the name for people from Botswana) lived many years ago. Think Jamestown or one of those places in the States.

We were greeting by several women and children in traditional garb. they sang and danced for us and then we filed into a small clearing in the village. The head woman conducted a ceremony where she cast some chicken bones and these were supposed to predict whether we would be fortunate, lucky, healthy, ect. She told us that it was a good sign (which I am quite certain she does for all her paying customers) and that we should be happy.

From there we enjoyed more dancing and then they acted out a traditional wedding ceremony. they picked a woman from our group and went through the whole deal. The women prepared food and prepped the bride for the ceremony while the men got to sit around the fire and drink traditional beer from a gourd. To call this drink beer is a bit generous. It is made from some grain and is not filtered. It has a very low alcohol content and is a bit chunky. I think it would be what you get if you made beer from grits.

They saved the best ceremony for last. It is one they did traditionally for when a person fell ill. Women would come over to the sick person's house to check on them and would spread fresh cow dung in a large patch in front of the door. The sick person would be carried out to stand in the cow dung while facing the rising sun. The rising sun was supposed to cheer them up and the cow dung supposedly would draw the sickness out of a person. I didn't know quite what to think about that one, but I did not envy the woman who had to do that reenactment.

We ended the day with bush tea and a traditional Botswana meal.


I am tantalizingly close to South Africa and it makes me want to see a game there. Sadly, I am restricted to my post until August. I am supposed to be settling in to work, learning about my community, and meeting people. I don't disagree with the policy at all, it just sad that I am in a neighboring country in Africa while the World Cup is going on.

To make up for this, I have been watching as many games as possible at the little pub near my apartment. Its a great place. They have a projector which in effect, gives them a big screen TV. Yesterday, after asking nicely, they put the US game on the big screen instead of the England game. I sat with another volunteer and two Canadians I work with to watch the game.

It was such a good game and I was rocking nervously in my seat until the last few minutes. As soon as Donovan scored the goal, we all jumped up and yelled in excitement. The only problem was that when i jumped up with my arms raised, I accidentally punched the projector. The screen went all wobbly and for a split second, I was horrified. Projectors are expensive in the US and I definitely didn't want to replace one on my (nonexistent) salary. Luckily, no damage was done and we went on celebrating.

I am only a few hours away from South Africa, but I will continue to have to settle for watching them on TV.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Swearing In (Let's Make It Official)

Training is over and I am now a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV). The final week of training was quite hectic.

On Tuesday, I took my final language test. The language test involved me sitting down with one of the language trainers and having a conversation. It is much different from class because in class, I can always stop and ask for clarification in English. This is not allowed for the test. And to top it all off, it is being recorded and will be graded by at least two of the language trainer. I blanked when he asked a question about my host family. I thought I knew the word for family, but I wasn't sure and I didn't want to go and talk about my host family for a while if he was asking me about something else. I skipped that question, but otherwise it went pretty well.

Wednesday was a fun day for everyone because we got to go to Gaborone, the capital city of Botswana to do shopping for our our new places. Gaborone is very "westernized" and while sitting in a mall, it was easy to forget I was in Africa.

Thursday was our swearing in ceremony where I would become a Peace Corps Volunteer (and as an aside, my tie is intentionally short. It is a preference among many of the men in Botswana to wear their ties short).
We all had big smiles on our faces and there was a buzz in the air. After several speeches, the US Ambassador got up and swore us all in. I was (and still am) very excited to be sworn in, but it felt a bit anticlimactic. After all the time and effort I spent getting to this point, my dream had come true. It took a while to set it.

Now I am living at my permanent site and have started my first week with my center. Time to get to work.