Oliver: As we sit down to write this post we have just finished dinner and are treating ourselves to some of the Reese’s Pieces that have found their way across the ocean in a care package from home (thanks again). While most people that we’ve talked with from back home expect that we are eating and being exposed to all sorts of exotic foods—it is really not the case. In Swaziland there is a staple food—and, believe me, you do not know the meaning of that word until you come here. Everyday (at almost every meal) what Swazis eat started as a cob of maize (the white starchy stuff) in a field somewhere. While Rebecca and I have, and continue to have, occasional encounters with this staple starch, we have enjoyed our few months experimenting to create at least pretty convincing imitations of what we typically ate back home.
Rebecca: Everything starts from our garden, the grocery store, the bomake stands (where women sell produce), or dropped off as gifts from the students or teachers. We get to the grocery store about once every two weeks so the other options really help us out. The grocery store almost like shopping in America. Oliver checks how much 1 kg of potatoes is at Shoprite vs. down the street at Pick N Pay(even the store names are familiar). We can get a lot of the same canned and packaged foods here as in America, even though they are always slightly different. It is off brand, off brand options here. Most things we can get in the capital but they are expensive and we don’t get up there too much. Regularly, we can get milk but it’s longlast milk, not the real stuff. I’m very suspicious about the cheeses. Bringing meat home is pretty rare-it wouldn’t last the hot drive back. So, our grocery store visits resemble our shopping experiences in America but it some areas it gets further and further away. We pretty much buy food that looks like we can Americanize it.
Oliver: We have become fairly proud of some of our more successful attempts at recreating food in America (several pictures above). However, we would be lying to say every day is a culinary adventure. Some nights we just want a bowl of rice with seasoning or I’ll roast a couple cobs of maize over a fire and make a salad from the garden. I guess what is interesting is what passes for ‘convenience’ food in this context. A year ago I never would have classified boiling rice for 20 minutes as ‘fast food’, but here that is my go-to when I don’t really have time (or the ingredients) to put together an elaborate meal. These ‘quick’ bites are made easier when some of our students show up with a gift of maize or teachers bring over Swazi foods and produce for us to try. Having a garden seems to have accelerated this exchange—we pass out some basil and lettuce to some of the teachers and end up with bowls full of guava, groundnuts, or a couple cobs of roasted maize (If you couldn’t tell, I am really starting to like the stuff). Either way, to our Peace Corps Medical Officer’s relief, our diet is balanced and stomachs satisfied – a teacher even told me today that I am starting to put on weight (so you don’t have to worry anymore, mom).
Rebecca: I am the official sous chief so I take care of chopping things, stirring, plating, and playing Bejeweled while Oliver is burning his hands because the pots are over boiling. What I really like to do is desserts. I really like to bake, which is a challenge without an oven. I’ve made miniature cakes in true Peace Corps style (take a pot, put stones and sand on the bottom, put a smaller pot inside, pour batter, cover) and made quite a few non-oven recopies like no bake cookies, truffels, and sometimes raw cookie dough (no egg!). I’ve recently started using the school’s stove to bake cookies and pies. This is a perfect example of a Hard Core Peace Corps Volunteer slowly getting lazy and going the Soft Core Peace Corps route. But the Soft Core way leads to more deliciousness.
Oliver: I have enjoyed the desserts from the beginning, but am particularly pleased with the recent switch-over to the school’s oven–now Rebecca can really churn out wonderful treats to enjoy after dinner. I think that changing the way we cook and view feeding ourselves should have been an obvious outcome of joining Peace Corps and moving to Africa for two-years, but I really never thought of it. I think the changes have all been for the better and often fantasize about what we could make with a grocery store stocked with all the ingredients they use on the Food Network, a car to transport them home quickly, and a kitchen stocked with cutting edge appliances (like an oven, sink, etc.). I guess we’ll see if we feel as motivated and excited about experimenting with food when a quick trip to McDonalds or TacoBell is all we need to satisfy our desire for some quick and tasty food.
Rebecca: We thought the pictures could speak for themselves but if have more ideas of what we could do with the ingredients you see, let us know in a comment so we can try it out.