"The master in the ART of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion" -- James Michener

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Great Gatsby and Chicken Feet

Well the first week of work has come to a close and I might be beginning to start to understand my role, maybe. I have spent much of my week reading old proposals, grant applications and miscellaneous documents trying to get some grasp on what a Programs person does at the GRS office. As I am beginning to wrap my mind around the major concepts, I am starting to work on my first big project. Next week the programs team which includes me and my three bosses: Elise, Matt, and James, will be compiling the Fiscal Year 2011 Work Plan report (FY11). This report outlines all of the programs that create GRS, what goals they hope to achieve and how they aim to achieve these goals. The fiscal year starts October 1st , so our team is currently compiling the small reports from each section of the office and making them one cohesive unit. GRS writes this report to renew their USAID grant. I have written some paragraphs on a couple of Grassroot programs that I have a better handle on, so it is exciting to be a part of such a big project so early.

Outside work, our group continues to run around discovering Cape Town. I am taking runs with Charlotte, Tim and Graham after work, and in the evenings we all either go out for a glass of wine or hang out as a group in our living room and kill a few bottles. It’s amazing how good even the cheep wine is here. Building off of that, I would like to give some attention to the food here in Cape Town. For those of you who know me well, you know that about 60% of the waking hours of my day are spent either thinking about, or consuming food. Tim and I now call this “pigeon mode” reflecting the one dimensionality of a pigeon’s worldview. It is this diligent attention to food which has yielded me some amazing experiences already. Aside from the every day culinary experiences that you encounter, for example the samosas of Bo-Kaap— the colorful Muslim sector of Cape Town that is featured in one of the pictures above, I have three particular stories that I would like to elaborate on.

The first is probably the least eventful but the most cultural in my view. It happened when I was in of the townships working last week. Graham, Tim, Nolan and I went to observe a new coach delivering an HIV lesson called “Red Card” to seventh and eighth graders. “Red Card” builds off of the connotations linked with a red card in soccer to help the students identify and act upon tough situations they encounter in their real life. First, the kids discuss what a red card means for a player in soccer, then continue to define what scenarios warrant a red card during a soccer game. They then carry those meanings over to their life off the field and apply them to when someone commits a personal “foul” against them in their personal life. For example, one of the scenario role plays depicts a younger girl being approached by an older man (something very common in Southern Africa) and the younger girl in response to his advances would “throw her red card,” aka simply saying a resounding no. The kids then explain the reason behind the red card which is that inter-generational dating is a major force driving the HIV epidemic.

After we watched the new coach give this lesson and be critiqued by his superiors (which yielded incredibly professional and perceptive feedback), we were headed back to the car. On our way I was offered some KFC by the coach. Little did I know that not only was it KFC, it was African KFC which included chicken feet. Needless to say I would have needed some serious mental preparing to have stomached that, but it gave me a serious chuckle.

Despite my chicken nature while approaching chicken feet, this day provided another culinary adventure which I happened to enjoy very much. On our way back one of the coaches offered to go with us and get a “Great Gatsby” for lunch. This “Gatsby” was an experience and lived up to its name in many ways. Weighing in at approximately 3 lbs, the Great Gatsby is a sandwich that is a 2’ baguette with chicken, potato wedges, a full tubs worth of mayonnaise and some other things I can’t remember.

This was definitely the most prodigious, decedent and heart stopping sandwich that I have ever seen compiled. The group split two. This incident ended in an absolutely instant stomach ache, but is a Cape Town specialty well worth trying at least once.

Last but not least was the Biscuit Mill which we visited today and is now one of my favorite places on earth. The Mill is a farmers market that attracts the people who sell and consume the most gourmet products in Cape Town. Consequentially, the market is filled with the best, brightest and most beautiful people. Truly a foodie’s paradise. After making two rounds where I saw everything from bakeries, fresh champagne with pomegranate seeds at the bottom, falafel, schwarma, donner kebabs, crêpes, Belgian waffles, mushroom kebabs, fresh mozzarella made on site, cheese stands and condiment stands, I was quickly was worked into an excited, happy frenzy. I took as many samples as I could to figure out what I wanted and I settled on a sandwich stand. It was the most wonderful thing that I had ever tasted. The fresh pesto, sundried tomato spread, honey cured ham, tomato, fresh feta were all, I am sure, from the owner’s local farm. They piled that on to a hearth roll which was baked that morning and was handed over to me to make my day in a mere five seconds. My roommate Sara and I found an open picnic table where we could face outward to take everything in. Afterward, I washed the best sandwich of my life down with some fresh squeezed orange juice from the juice lady. It was truly a magical and satisfying experience and I plan to get my fix every Saturday. I cannot wait to see what it turns out during the summer.

Despite diversity in food experience, the Cape Town crew continues to realize our privileged position and frequently call Cape Town Africa Light. The best and worst part of our job is that we are in the office, fully a part of all the nitty-gritty work that makes this program run. Yet, Cape Town is a misrepresentation of the dire situation that affects sub-Saharan Africa. We are all itching to travel outside the city to other sites which will be a possibility once we really get our bearings at home. Nonetheless, being able to experience a culture through food is one of my favorite things and South Africa has so much to offer. Maybe someday I will warm up to chicken feet.

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