Friday, January 29, 2010

Cooking in the Gambia

     Since being here in the Gambia, cooking has taken on a whole new meaning. When we were still living in Pirang with Gary, Denise and Lori I cooked about twice a week, one vegetarian meal and one meal using either chicken or ground beef. Cooking a combination of vegetarian and meals with meat has been something I have wanted to implement in the way I cook ever since we got married, but once I began work and school it never really happened. But now, without the convenience of pre-packaged processed foods, McDonalds or restaurants in general I have had to become a bit more creative in my cooking.
    We usually venture into Serekunda once a week to go grocery shopping for more American style groceries at some of the bigger supermarkets, but even with the convenience of these supermarkets we still have limitations as to what they carry, which in turn leads to even more creativity when trying to follow a recipe. For example, we can't get things sour cream and taco seasoning so we buy plain yogurt and have taco seasoning mailed over in packages. Also, now that Elias and I are in Brikama our refrigerator is the size of a dorm fridge so our freezer has limited space which means no quick and easy chicken nuggets that I loved so much in the States. Instead I buy my chicken in the market here in Brikama, and I make sure I get the frozen chicken. Spaghetti is usually meatless, cheese is rationed and I have even begun cooking with fish! If you know me very well, you know that I'm not a big fish fan, but they have some really good local fish here such as butter fish and lady fish. I usually buy the butter fish because it's cheaper, but still has very little, if any, fish flavor.
    In Pirang we enjoyed using MCC's "More with Less" cookbook, but since I left mine at home I have found creative ways to alter some of the recipes in my  Lowville Mennonite cookbook to make them work here. I have also found recipes online to be very helpful even though most of them have ingredients that I can't get here. I did find a chickpea sandwich  recipe the other day that I really enjoyed and would have never used in the States since it would have taken "too much" time to make. Which leads me to another point, everything takes longer to make here! I decided to make "10-minute taco salad", which would have been ten minutes if I didn't have to shred the cheese, make the tortillas and bleach the vegetables. However, even though things take longer and are a bit inconvenient at time, I have really enjoyed trying out new ideas and finding ways to cook without meat and without other items along with trying recipes that Lori and Denise have used such as lentil burgers which aren't too bad.
     I will admit, I do get cravings for a big mac or American pizza every now and then, but it's not the end of the world and it's certainly much healthier not having those options. Instead I can go to the bitiko (small shop) and get fresh baked bread or to the small restaurant at the end or the road and get a plate of Gambian rice and fish for 15 dalasi (less than $1) or even to the market for some fresh bananas or papayas.  Of course at times a big mac sounds much more appetizing at times, but without that option I'm learning to once again step out of my box and hopefully by the end of my time here I will enjoy a plate of rice and fish (I'll write about Gambian cooking later).

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Home sweet home, a conference and an eco-retreat

     Hello again! We know it has been awhile since our last post, but here we are again. Since we last wrote we are happy to say that we are officially moved into our house! It was a long process but we were able to finally receive the keys on January 6th and move in officially on Saturday the 9th. Between that time and yesterday we didn't have internet and we weren't home for most of it so this is our first real opportunity to provide an update. As I said, we received the keys January 6th and that is the day we also began language study. We are currently learning Portuguese-Kiriol which is not a real common language here, but it is spoken by the Balantas which comprise the majority of the fellowships we will be working with. The Balantas here in Gambia come from Guinea Bissau where Kiriol is one of the main languages if not the main language. We will continue with language study for about three months along with going out to the fellowships to develop relationships and to practice what we are learning.
      As for our house, we are living at a Methodist Mission in Brikama which is the hub of transportation, enabling us to go out to the different fellowships. With living in Brikama comes the blessing of electricity and running water! Keep in mind it is still cold and we still have to hand wash clothing, but life is just a little simpler with a few less stresses. Here are some pictures, mind you there is a flash on the camera so the green is not as bright as it appears:

The front of the house from the neighbors property, the open door is ours but the house is a duplex so the concrete block that juts out is where our side ends

This is the kitchen as you walk in the front door, the sink is to the right, sideways picture is of the stove, fridge and counter that the refrigerator holds up, and the last picture is of our cupboard and water filter

The dining room plus the extra bed that was here when we moved in, the kitchen is just through doorway off to the left

our buffet

the living room

the back door

our bedroom

sink (that doesn't work), shower and flushing toilet!
     This is most of our house and it is actually quite big. We have some neighbor puppies that like to wander through every now and then along with many birds and even some monkeys (I'll post those pictures later).
     Now onto the conference. On Tuesday the 12th we left for a conference in Senegal with all of the EMM workers in West Africa (Gambia and Guinea Bissau) along with leaders from West Africa and Claire Good (EMM's area representative to Africa). We stayed at an old school there and had many sessions on leadership led by John and Loice Byler. We stayed at the conference until Friday morning when we left for our retreat. The conference went well and I think that there was a lot of material that was very beneficial for the West African leaders and those of us that are helping lead here in West Africa.

The first picture is of John teaching and the second is of John and Loice (on the right) chatting during a break
      Lastly this takes us to the EMM workers retreat where John and Loice also taught. We were privileged to go to a beautiful eco-retreat on the ocean from Friday until Monday morning. This was only for the EMM workers in West Africa joined by Claire Good and John and Loice. This was a time for a much needed rest for many with some time for play and time for learning. We were able to swim in the ocean, play cards, read, have a bonfire on the beach two of the nights an even catch crabs to roast on the fire at night if you were Elias or some of the YESers from Guinea Bissau. It was a very secluded and quiet area where we had the beach almost entirely to ourselves with the exception of a couple people here and there. It was just a nice time of no work, hot showers, compost toilets to be eco-friendly and comfortable beds. Here are some pictures, but they certainly don't do justice to the beauty of the location:

Our (Elias and I) lodge

Cows free roaming on the beach, something you don't see everyday
having fun in front of beautiful sunsets

The Guinea Bissau workers (YES team and long term workers)
      So that about wraps up our adventures throughout the past few weeks. If you've bared with us this long you are doing really well and we thank you. Please feel free to leave comments or questions about anything that we wrote here. Blessings to all of you and thank you for your continued support!

Prayer requests:
-That we will learn the language well
-For bonding with those around us
-For continued health
-For Claire Good and a young man named Onan who will be traveling back to the States tomorrow evening

-We had a wonderful time of rest and time with God
-We are back home in our own house!
-We will now have more time to study language and visit those in the fellowships