Monday, July 31, 2006

Gaborone, Botswana: Eating mopane worms – not exactly yummy

I don’t know how I forgot to mention this but last week I tried Mopane worms which everyone here eats. They sell the dried worms (caterpillars really) in the markets and you can eat them just like that as a sort of snack or re-hydrate them and cook them in tomato sauce with onions. I don’t know that I could actually eat the hydrated version but the dried ones look like dried worms and when you break it open, it looks like a peanut and tastes like a combination of salty wood and dust. I’m not sure that I would want to eat it again and I was offered the tomato sauce version but I declined. I’m willing to try different things but I never thought I’d eat a worm on purpose. Hey but I can say I tried it. I don’t know if any of my Guyanese friends/family remember but sometimes when we used to bite into a guava, we’d find a worm in it and promptly throw it out. Now I’m actually eating it by choice although I won’t likely be trying it again. Here is a link to a site that explains what the mopane worm is.

Harvesting the worms are also a problem as the website will explain and if there is not a sustainable way to do it, the worm will become extinct. One of the great things about living in another country is that you learn to appreciate differences and you also learn to appreciate the lifestyle you left behind. I can feel that my experiences here will change the way I view the world.

I travelled to work and home today by combi (a mini-bus that’s used a taxi). It was quite an experience. I went to the Riverwalk mall and the combis were coming about every three or four minutes but they were packed. These combis should seat about 12 people but there are sometimes 15 or more. And it’s quite a system if you happen to be seated at the last seat at the back and you have to get out. The people seating in the two folding seats (one in the second row and one in the third row) have to get out, then the whole back row has to get out so that the last person can get out and everyone climbs in again but move over one so that other passengers can get in at the front part. Well I was lucky because they didn’t ask me to move to the back. Apparently I got a preferential seat (not as good as the one in the front but then again, after seeing the way the drivers drive, I would rather sit in the second or third row. I was lucky both ways that I got a good seat.

It was a kind of quiet day at work. Priya came in with the last set of changes to the website layout. I did some editing and it looks good to go. I sent the file to Thapelo to review and with some luck (keeping fingers and toes crossed), it will be ready for viewing. I seem to be saying that each week but there are a few of us working on it and with everyone volunteering their time between full-time jobs, it takes longer to get done.

This afternoon the students had a nice lunch of curried chicken and rice and pap (a kind of sorghum cereal). Everyone in Botswana eats the pap sometimes with gravy or sweet with milk or sour with cream of tartar. I tried the sour version but didn’t like it as much as the sweet version with milk and sugar or even with gravy. I also tried samp which is a kind of corn product made like a potato dish. The students were really happy that they were getting such a feast of chicken and rice. One student had not eaten since Friday. Yes Friday. That’s three days ago. The last meal was on Friday at the centre and nothing over the weekend. Many of them are orphans living with relatives (sometimes in a shed at the back of the house) and the families cannot always afford to give them food. The AIDS epidemic is beyond a crisis and it really affects everyone. Offices cannot find qualified people to do some of the jobs because by the time some people have the necessary education, they have died from HIV/AIDS. There are posters everywhere and many foreign NGO’s and educational institutions are doing research and work here on education and prevention.

Each day, the students get three slices of bread and sometimes if they are lucky, they might have a pat of butter or some peanut butter that someone donated or brought in or they may share a few eggs among a dozen students and that is the only meal they’ll have for that day. It’s sad really. It reminds me when I used to teach in Winnipeg and very often one or more of the students would come to school hungry. These were adult students who worked full-time during the day and came to school Monday to Friday evenings from 4-10pm for a one year program in hairstyling. There were days when some of them would work all day and have no time or money to buy or make dinner. I used take my dinner to school and give it away to whomever didn’t have dinner that night (pretending that I had already eaten or wasn’t hungry because I could always go home and eat).

Somehow you think in Canada people don’t go hungry at least not in the cities where things are readily available but they do go hungry. The staff here are really caring people and they do whatever they can to help but they also have families of their own. They have to really want to be here because the wages are not that great and some of them quit well paying jobs to be here. What the centre needs are some donor organizations who could help support them with cash or contributions of food, equipment or HR services like a full-time counsellor or social worker. This makes me realize even more how much of a consumer culture we have gotten used to in Canada but in spite of that, I am still grateful to call Canada my home. Hopefully the website will attract people and we created a section for donations and contributions.

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