Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Feeding the hungry in my village: Ke kopa metsi

I’m promised a camera will be available for pick up next week, so new pictures should be coming soon. (Thanks to all of you who have rallied to replace my broken one! I’ve had three offers of cameras from family and friends!)

This is an old photo, one you’ve seen before. It is of an “elegant grasshopper” and sure to be a next thing I’ll be battling in my garden. Yes, he is elegant and he is certainly beautiful: but he’ll be far more destructive to my vegetable plants than the wind knocking around a thorn fence. Also, this is a great shot of the material I use for my thorn fencing. The common name for the plant is “kraal thorn,” as many African farmers use the thorns to fence in their cattle. Can you imagine gathering armfuls of the stuff? Yeowee! I have the battle scars to prove how nasty a material it is to fence with. But at the same time, I’m very grateful to have it: it’s free for the taking and plenty abundant. And the thorn works very well if the fencing is stacked tall enough, thick enough, and staked against the strong African winds.

I heard a knocking at my door yesterday and a young girl I had never seen before was standing on my stoop asking for water: “Ke kopa metsi.”

I invited her in and poured her a glass of water from my Brita pitcher. (In addition to the suggestion of boiling our water, Peace Corps supplies a Brita pitcher to use for water filtration.) With big eyes she surveyed the interior of my home. Visitors to my home—especially children—are always inordinately curious about the nature of my accommodations. She took her time drinking the water and then finally drained the cup. I offered her more to drink, but seemed satisfied, and turned to leave.

Since arriving to my permanent site, such visits to my home are not uncommon. Most come in search of a “cold drink.” In fact, only last week one of the yardmen came to my door asking for a drink. When I offered him tepid water from my Brita pitcher, he balked: he wanted cold, refrigerated water. He was not pleased and seemed skeptical when I assured him that tepid was all I had. I was a white woman from America, after all—of course I would have a refrigerator!!

(I know, I know, I can hear the collective screech from all of you at this moment: No, I still haven’t purchased a refrigerator. I will, I promise. I just can’t seem to get around to it! Eish!)

When I first arrived at my permanent site, another college worker asked me for food. I gave him a portion of my supper that night: beans with rice and some sautéed Swiss chard. South Africans like their meat and I don’t eat a lot of meat. It’s rare that I ever have meat in my home, so I never have it to offer anyone. (I’m not a vegetarian: I’m certainly happy to eat meat when others cook it and offer it to me.) So, this gentleman was not happy about the absence of meat on his plate and I hadn’t rinsed the Swiss chard greens very well, so they were gritty. He didn’t come calling to be fed again.

I’m sure it’s a blessing that my lack of refrigeration and lack of culinary skills has made it through my community’s grapevine: I certainly am in no shape to feed the masses.

I learned early in my Peace Corps service that the people I live with aren’t crazy about peanut butter. However, peanut butter is a cheap, highly stable and nutritious food that I always keep on hand, both for myself and anyone asking to be fed. I figure if someone is hungry enough, they’ll eat peanut butter.

It seems like most of the volunteers here have a group of orphaned boys that we tend to look out for and mine have come to me a year late in my Peace Corps service. I noticed them several weeks ago and wondered why they weren’t in school. They asked me for matches, and I declined. Call me silly, but even in America, I wouldn’t be inclined to hand over incendiary material to under-aged children—under aged children with questionable intent. I also became aware, somewhat disturbingly, that wherever the boys seemed to gather, I would often come across the remains of a killed pigeon. I would come behind them and find the bird’s entrails and feathers. Were they eating the bird? Is that why they needed the matches? Or had they killed the bird to feed the dog? (They have a dog as a playmate and I’m happy to finally report the condition of a happy canine living in South Africa.)

Although I was rightly disturbed at the thought of the boys eating a pigeon, I was also impressed with the skill they possessed: at least they could eat if necessary.

I couldn’t help but worry about the boys and their eating habits.

As it was sure to happen, they came to my house asking to be fed and I was happy to oblige—with peanut butter. I made them peanut butter crackers, worried that I’d have enough and worried I’d be starting an expensive and ongoing trend. However, the boys are fed better than I had feared or they really dislike peanut butter, because they haven’t returned, asking for more.

But I have some peanut butter on hand, should they return. All are welcome to peanut butter, tepid water, and gritty greens!



  1. one camera was mailed to you last Tuesday. Check the PO.
    love ya

  2. I don't have a refrigerator either. Somehow, I can manage without it. It would be nice, but apparently, not necessary. B

  3. Hi Karen, nice post! It looks like the new post editor from Blogger is throwing you for a loop like it did me. What you have to do is click on the image in the post editor and a little menu will pop up at the bottom with a selection saying something like "small, normal, large, and full size." For some reason they made the default full size, which is probably why your picture is so enormous.

    They might have fixed that with the recent maintenance, but that's how to fix it right now.

    Oh, and I can't imagine living without my fridge. Cold water is God's gift to mankind. Huge sanity booster too.

  4. I also have been expected to produce cold water and cool drinks to guests. Surprise, i also don't keep either. Well, i chill my water now just so i can palate it, as it is mega salty. But i can relate. :-) have you ever offered someone tea without milk? They also don't seem to ever call again...