Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Most Unrecognizable Meal...

…is often the most appetizing, I’ve discovered.  Due, no doubt, to my lack of culture, I find foreign meals the most unrecognizable.  I mean, I can identify most hamburgers as such, but paneer mutter is still just peas in an exotic mix of sublimity.  While this may shock and revolt some, I enjoy not knowing what I’m eating; I see the mystery as part of the enjoyment.  When I say I enjoy not knowing what I’m eating, I am specifically referring to unfamiliar ingredients as part of a prepared meal, not that I enjoy being unaware of the phlegmy addition to my dollar-menu patty.
Saturday Ivan took a brief respite from his midterm preparations to join me at an event in Grand Anse.  The venue was mostly indoors or under a large pavilion, which is good since consistent rainfall has been uncharacteristically prevalent this dry season.  In one building, local vendors and artists sold their goods (I picked up a bag of cinnamon bark) and in the adjacent building and under the pavilion, international foods and drinks were being sold.  We had a very inexpensive plate from the Iran table.  The green slop to the left was rich and creamy, dotted with chunks of chicken.  The orange and gold clump on top was a thick casserole with kidney beans.  The pillow of rice was an unobtrusive pillow of rice.  I don’t know what the different parts of the dish were called—except, perhaps, the rice—and I am making assumptions that my familiarity with chicken and kidney beans led me to an accurate speculation of the main ingredients.  Regardless, it was exquisite.  Only reluctantly did I pass the plate to Ivan after eating my half.
My kind of food: foreign, unrecognizable and a little ugly.

A little pride for the U.S. of A. table.

The Chinese table. Not only were they selling food, but also flimsy collapsible fans, plastic figurines and chopsticks.

Vending their sundries.

The ever-popular Korean station.

The homeland offered a veritable buffet of desserts.

On multiple occasions I’ve discussed (if not merely mentioned) my volunteering experiences with the children at Queen Elizabeth orphanage.  Through omission, I may have unintentionally implied that these are the only children I have spent time with.  Once a week I have also been volunteering with children at an afterschool program called Limes.  Since 2003, Limes has provided underprivileged children with a structured program where they can engage in activities under the supervision of volunteering Significant Others (SOs).  The program is meant to provide educational lessons, teamwork skills, and exercise in a positive social environment.  (Read the mission statement.)

Unlike the orphanage, where the ratio of adults to children is mercifully manageable, Limes attendance is not unusually in the fifties to sixties.  Attending SOs number in the five to ten range, leaving each with an unreasonable number of wards to manage.  The children also vary greatly in age, from just-learning-to-walk to just-learning-to-drive.  The age disparity is at times a blessing, though frequently a curse.  The older kids are mostly responsible enough to watch out for the very little (and also very accident-prone) children.  Simultaneously, it is the older children who are frequently responsible for the younger’s accidents.  Keeping the attention of such a wide range of attendees is also difficult.  Age brackets differ in levels of interest for the activities provided.  For instance, the youngest children may enjoy coloring for hours on end, but the older children may tire of it rapidly.  For this reason, the SOs create groups according to age and plan activities appropriately.  So while the youngsters are coloring and the not-quite-so youngsters are playing Pictionary, the oldest are playing Red Rover (which, by the way, is referred to as Red Over by at least one child in Grenada—as I was so corrected).  (As an additional side-note, there was apparently a pirate named Red Rover and a book was written about him in the 19th century.)

Being allowed to take part in Limes activities means adhering to the Limes rules.  And while the most obvious of these are reinforced almost daily (no fighting, no stealing, etc.), the dreadful phrase rules are made to be broken is never more true than when directed to a swarm of children intent on impressing and intimidating their cohorts.  So for two hours, organized activities are punctuated with screaming, crying, fighting, and general misbehavior, while the perpetrators’ eyes keep on the SOs to gauge how far the boundaries can be pushed before they’re scolded or have their snack privilege revoked or are sent home or are told to never come back.

The children genuinely enjoy their time at Limes.  And, unless I am very much mistaken, each child harbors a certain level of affection for the SOs that, week after week, materialize with bags full of books and crayons and sports equipment.

While I would never disagree that children are our treasure and our future and our reflection, I would prefer not to dwell on the trite.  Anyone can see these photos or meet these kids and come to the immediate conclusion that they are entirely deserving of this program; hopefully they are also reaping its benefits.  

The sad truth in many circumstances is that they come from poor neighborhoods and broken homes where incomplete families do not instill in their children the values and morals accepted by society.  Couple that with a child’s propensity to covet all things he cannot have and the rules on sharing and stealing become a great issue.  All children share this vice, however: “It is easy, when you are young, to believe that what you desire is no less than what you deserve, to assume that if you want something badly enough, it is your God-given right to have it” (Jon Krakauer).  However crass it may seem, Freud had an enlightened, albeit pessimistic, assessment of children.

All the more, for these reasons, should the instructors of the Limes program be admired.  They work to teach the oh-so-important morals and behavior needed to function and grow as a young member of society and a proud citizen of Grenada.

That last paragraph seemed like a perfect place to end my blog—mounting a wall of depression to access that sliver of hope on the other side.  But, pathos aside, I have a lighter subject to discuss: food.  We’ve been getting Baker’s brand baking chocolate lately as a less expensive alternative to chocolate chips.  I just chop up the individually wrapped ounces and use them as I would baking chips.  Although the flavor is in no way affected, when baking chocolate is transported in this climate via a non-climate-controlled method, it becomes a little discolored.  Maybe my block of chocolate never actually reached its melting point, but I’d bet it got a little soft on its journey to IGA.

Also in the menu is okra.  I never actually ate the stuff back home.  Maybe I’d tasted it once or twice in a soup or gumbo, but had never personally cooked with it.  We’ve eaten these peculiar vegetables multiple times now and they’ve always been successful.  Anyone who’s ever cooked with okra will know what I mean when I say that I’m not sure how I feel about their sliminess.  As I slice them, slick strings attach to my knife and fingers like spider silk.  The goo disappears as they cook, and they have a pleasant taste, but is it necessary to be so thick with mucus when raw?

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