Sunday Morning~ Blantyre
January 21, 2018
I have no idea what a government shut down means for the state department, of which we are a part. We’ll keep plodding along until other notice. I’m distracted by a meal at the moment. It’s so peaceful here in denial.
When I was writing the book and struggling with the question of why I thought it was important to write, I was under no illusion it would be on the New York Times Bestseller list or up for a Pulitzer, but did feel I wanted to tell the story of the people I had come to know and love and raise awareness about our part in their suffering. I knew I wouldn’t get rich off it but thought that if anything financial did come of it, I wanted it to go back to them somehow. I feel like every resource the Congolese people have has been stolen from them, so if something came of their stories, I wanted them to benefit from it. I had thought of a simple school for women to learn a skill or craft. Anything to make their lives worth something other than a baby producer or weapon of war. It’s a total pipe dream, I know. Since there is no infrastructure there it would take a lot of money to start something like that, even if it was kept simple. People have asked, why not a health center for women? And my answer is: it wouldn’t be sustainable. I wanted a realistic goal, something small. So, obviously, that never happened (or hasn’t so far–––I haven’t given up on Oprah). But I am trying the idea out here.
When we had to move last year, the female guards at the houses we occupied lost their jobs. These are older women, 30’s and 40’s with no formal education, not even primary school. They don’t have any real skills, even to work as a maid. They speak no English and have had a hard time finding another job. We’ve employed Catherine here as a night guard, but before we did, she was absolutely desperate, a widow with four children and no income. She did not want to have to beg. Even though we were putting her son Joseph through school she couldn’t support the other kids. So I started thinking about starting a little school here for women in her situation. They are older than 25 years, the cutoff for going back to primary school, so really they have hardly any options.
I met a Malawian artist named Eneless Pemba and I was telling her I’d love to have some type of class for women in this situation and wanted to know if she’d be interested in teaching it. It has to be someone who can speak in Chichewa, I couldn’t do this myself. I thought about getting a grant to do it and I still may do that, but we decided to do a trial and see how it goes. If it’s successful, I might apply for something.
Eneless recruited another artist named Peter and we met and made a plan. They will teach some jewelry making and paper making as well as teach them some English and some basic math skills. I want them to be able to sell what they make. I brought back lots of beads and threads when I came back from home leave, all donated by generous artists and friends and I’m cautiously excited about this. Well, now I am. Yesterday I was panicked. The supplies I had to buy involved a scavenger hunt through Blantyre and Limbe and the January 22nd start date got a little more crowded.
When we planned this, the date was wide open. We have twenty eager women and told them the date and time. They are spread out in different villages and don’t all have phones so we want to be consistent and firm with date and time. We planned two hours, three times a week for two months and then we’ll see what happens. If it’s successful, maybe we’ll keep it going and I’ll apply for a grant for that. Unless Reece Witherspoon calls and wants to make a movie out of the book. Then it’s all on me.
Then few weeks ago we got word that visitors were coming from the states, our CEO Vanessa Kerry and the chairman of the board of a donor foundation. They want to come to Malawi and see the volunteers in action. The dates and schedule were a little fuzzy, but I threw it out there that if we were having a volunteer dinner (which we usually do when visitors come) we’d be happy to host it. The volunteers find it nicer to have these evenings at a house rather than a restaurant. When it’s in a restaurant you only get to talk to the person sitting next to you and everyone doesn’t necessarily get a chance to talk to the guest. So it’s nice to mingle and have it be a little informal. Plus I love to entertain, so tossed it out there. The organizers said they’d planned dinner at a hotel downtown but they’d let me know, then I never heard back, so I figured it wasn’t happening here. Fine. Then we heard that Blantyre was first on the list of places they’d visit, so they would be here Monday (tomorrow) and Tuesday. I have a class from one to five tomorrow, and the first day of this women’s class at our house in the morning, so it was fine that dinner wasn’t going to be here. Well, we were away last weekend and I didn’t look at any emails. On Tuesday I looked a the schedule and see I am down to be observed teaching from 4 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. Ok, that’s fine. It’ll be a little hard toward the end of a long class like that because I never know how the time will work out and I usually have them do group work toward the end of class. I’ll have to make sure they are not all broken into groups at four since that won’t be fun to observe, but what if the visitors are late? Their schedule is tight and that is a real possibility. This is hard to plan for! But I closed the email and went about my day. Later that evening I mused about where we’d be meeting for dinner and George said, “It’s here! It was on the schedule. Six p.m.” I said, “What?? I never saw that!” It was in another attachment I hadn’t opened. Okay, I thought. I can do this. Dinner for twelve at six p.m., lecture with observers (including a journalist), until five, oh, and a new endeavor with twenty women at my house in the morning. Okaaay. I like a challenge. I can pull this off. And started thinking of simple (but elegant) menus that can be prepared ahead. Then I got an email thanking me for offering to do the dinner and listing dietary restrictions. No gluten and no dairy, plus two of the volunteers are vegetarian. Ha ha ha. That only eliminates everything I make. This has made for very entertaining conversations among friends here, several of whom have offered to work in the kitchen for me. Sweet people, many of whom have sympathy panic and have been researching recipes and scouting for ingredients. We had a couple over Friday night and they arrived with a basket full of gorgeous berries, flowers for the table, and several ideas and suggestions. It’s so funny to see people’s faces when I say “no gluten”; a look of horror films over and takes a few moments to subside.
So, I’ve had a creative week in the kitchen (after my initial panic) and after a few trials and a few failures, I have come up with the following menu:
Gluten free gnocchi (I found millet flour and it worked well) with two sauces: garlic mushroom sauce (using coconut cream) or roasted marinara. I was only going to do the mushroom sauce, but someone pointed out there are many people who don’t like mushrooms. And marinara is easy.
Roasted eggplant, onions and carrots in balsamic.
Chicken in garlic, lemon, parsley, cashew sauce.
Grilled filet (George’s specialty and his job).
Garden salad with green mangoes, fenugreek sprouts, radishes, and avocado (from our tree)
Focaccia (Because I can’t do a whole meal without gluten. Just can’t)
For dessert (the most stressful) I made tarts with cashew crust. Some are cheese cake (the no dairy people will be informed and led away), some are a ginger/cashew cream, and some flourless chocolate. They will be topped with passionfruit, pineapple, or blackberry glaze (all local and plentiful).
To drink we’re just having beer, wine, or iced tea. I can’t deal with any fancy drinks. Though they were a hit at Thanksgiving, the gluten and dairy thing just pushed those off the edge.
Ok, back to the kitchen. This has been a nice little break.
Love to all,