Eating for a purpose

Before I joined the Peace Corps, I imagined myself picking fruits and vegetables from a garden in my backyard, or a neighbor’s backyard.  I imagined how healthy I would become riding my bicycle around my village and eating raw foods all day.  When the plane flew over Cape Verde and I saw rolling hills of brown dust, I knew I was in for a very different reality.

My iron levels are low as a result of a lack of green, leafy vegetables.  When I find onions or green peppers in a friend’s rice dish, I get excited because it’s nutrients.  I don’t exercise anymore because after being robbed, I’m afraid to run alone.

As a result of my lack of exercise and lack of nutrients, I decided I needed to change something.  I wasn’t happy feeling tired, sluggish and unhealthy.  Therefore, for the month of March I have decided to omit processed foods from my diet.  What does this mean?  Not eating packaged foods with more than five ingredients.  Eating local cheeses and milk, instead of processed dairy products, for example.

There a few challenges up ahead — one of the most tricky aspects of this decision is when I txiga (visit) with neighbors and friends.  When you are invited into a home, you must eat.  It’s an insult not to eat the food prepared for you.  Unfortunately, that means no cachupa for a month.  Another challenge will be finding foods to cook with and finding ingredients that are not processed, including items such as a variety of fruits and vegetables, brown rice, and wheat flour.  And last but not least, will be the challenge of doing this on a Peace Corps stipend.  We are volunteers, thus the pay is merely money to survive on.  However, if I can do it on a small budget, others can too.

My purchases from the local market

All in all, I hope my March goal will be an example to others.  In Cape Verde, diabetes is a huge problem.  You might not know it as an outsider looking in because people are not obese or overweight.  Because they are physically active all day long, they can eat foods high in fat and never put on weight.  A normal Cape Verdean diet consists of lots of white rice, potatoes, and oil.  Because these foods are cheap and accessible, it is what everyone eats.  The question is not nutrition, rather the question is price and quantity.

Yesterday, I began preparing for this goal by shopping in the local market.  Another objective of my goal is to buy almost everything from the local market, benefiting local people.  Wish me luck!  I will keep you posted with successful recipes and my progress!  For now, I leave you with my lunch…Bon appetit!

Spinach quiche made with local goat cheese and a side of fruit salad

Posted in Projects | 9 Comments

Planning to Not Plan

Recently I received a brand new agenda book, a Moleskine planner, from America.  I was ecstatic.  As I broke the plastic wrap, and cherished the smell and feel of something new, a pack of stickers fell out of the agenda book.  I immediately started laughing as I looked at the stickers – colorful stickers to mark important dates in the months ahead: concert, cocktail, mountains, event, meeting, dinner, etc.  My immediate thought was, “When will I ever use these?”

This planner definitely was not made for Cape Verde, or any developing country for that matter.  I never know when events are actually going to take place.  It’s always last minute or if it is planned, it’s at least two hours later than you thought.  I never really know where the day will take me.  I get up, prepare as best I can, and see what happens.

I don’t use a planner in this country to keep track of appointments.  Rather, I use it to write down ideas, things I want to accomplish, with lots of question marks and uncertainties ahead.  It makes me smile to think about marking a date weeks in advance with a sticker.  It just doesn’t work that way here.

It’s funny how something as small as a planner reminds me of so many things I’ve forgotten about America.  A neatly lined book, awaiting my stickers and appointments, is a world apart from surprise visitors yelling my name, three-hour late parades, or gathering with neighbors over a bowl of cachupa.

If I marked anything in a planner with a sticker it would probably be my once-a-week hair washing or scrubbing my feet.  Oh vida.

Posted in Day to Day | 3 Comments

Hello World

 “Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends.  You are constantly off balance.  Nothing is yours except the essential things: air, sleep, dreams, sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” 

-Cesare Pavese

Traveling is challenging.  There’s no doubt about that.  You must research, you must prepare, you must improvise, and you must force yourself away from your warm, snuggly, inviting, comfort zone. Most importantly, you must be ready for failure — failed attempts at a new language, failed attempts to find that restaurant you’ve been waiting for since planning your trip, failed attempts to obtain tickets to that popular attraction — you must be okay with being lost, following and not leading.  For about my first year of Peace Corps, give or take a few months, I felt like I was still traveling.  Almost like an extended summer camp of sorts, a hazy dream that would soon come to an end.  Every day was a roller coaster, never knowing what was next, and constantly tired, even on the best of days.

Now, let’s rewind to life before Peace Corps, before traveling…After getting my master’s degree, I felt good about who I was becoming, and where I was headed.  I learned to deal with my quirks, and tried to better my weaknesses every day, making resolutions, goals and plans for the future.  I was comfortable in my own shoes, even when they got a bit stinky.

Peace Corps abruptly changed all that.  Suddenly, in this completely new environment, I felt like a pimply, awkward teenager.  It was difficult to be myself.  Everyone was a stranger, every meal was foreign, and every sentence was incomprehensible with a new language that I did not speak.  All of a sudden, it was weird that I liked coffee without sugar, that I didn’t know how to eat fish with bones, or that my skin turned red in the sun.  I stood out like a sore thumb, like a lost teenager just trying to fit in and not knowing how.

After arriving in Cape Verde, I was merely trying to survive.  I imitated others to fit in.  I copied words, phrases, and actions so that I could integrate successfully, so that I could connect.  With all this imitation, all these foreign concepts hitting me one after another, it was easy to lose myself for a little while.  It wasn’t until around my second year when I started feeling like me again.  I was there all along, just hiding — maybe waiting for the right time to come out, or maybe I was adapting and forming a new version of myself.

And now?  I see Cape Verde as my second home.  I’m not traveling anymore — it’s my life; it’s my friends; it’s my second family.  That’s the beauty of Peace Corps, of prolonged “travel” or living in what once were foreign places.  It turns brutality, survival, and differences into familiarity, comfort, and unity.  All those idiosyncrasies I never thought I would get use to, all those “weird” gestures and sounds, I find myself using them without thinking.  I find myself adapting so much that some aspects of America, my homeland, now seem odd.  I find that as different as we may appear to be, we’re all much more similar than we realize.

Even though, as volunteers, we fail much more than we succeed, we become adaptable, flexible.  As a second year volunteer, this is what I know: wherever I go, wherever I end up in the world, I have a home in Cape Verde.  A once foreign place now holds cherished friends, adopted family members, and a different me.  My mind has expanded, my family has grown and the world is much smaller than it once seemed.

Aside | Posted on by | 1 Comment

Our Graduation

Last week, PC volunteers in Cape Verde received big news: After 24 years of partnership, Peace Corps will be finishing it’s work in Cape Verde and will no longer be operating here as of the end of September. PC/CV is “graduating,” due to a relatively high level of development in-country and a PC global desire to re-prioritize resources.

For more information about PC’s closure, visit these links:

  • An article with further information (use Google translate to read it in English)
  • clip from the local news about PC’s closure in CV

Education volunteers during our swearing-in ceremony

What does this mean for volunteers?

Second year volunteers, including myself, will finish their service uninterrupted.  However, no other volunteers will be replacing us.  First year volunteers can either transfer to a new post, or choose to finish their service early and return to America. Definitely a bittersweet moment for everyone.  A time of reflection, celebration and preparation.  8 months.  Here we go.

Posted in Swimming | 4 Comments

My Starfish Story

As I walked home from work a couple of days ago, I saw a dog dragging itself across the cobblestone streets – bloody legs, its ribs poking out, shallow breaths.  Living in a developing country requires you to get somewhat accustomed to dogs without legs, or dogs with no hair, or dogs with one eye.  In a country struggling to grow food and find clean water, animals are the last concern.  I have come to accept this fact over the past year and a half, and other than occasionally putting out food or water for a dog, or giving a dog a quick stomach rub, I go about my business – attempting to focus on “bigger” projects and realizing I can’t save all the stray animals.

Yet, something about this dog tugged at me.  She was by far the most helpless dog I’ve ever seen in my life.  As soon as I bent down to examine her broken legs, she snuggled up to my side and let out a whimper.  Barely able to walk or breathe, she put all her effort into coming to me.  As I sat for over an hour stroking her nose and telling her it would be okay, neighbors came out of their houses and students walking home from school stared curiously, wondering why the branca was not only petting this mangy dog, but talking to her.  As I continued to ask people for a local veterinarian’s contact information, I received responses like feed our kids, not the animals.

As I later found out from curious neighbors, she was hit three weeks ago by a taxi and now she crawls from place to place and whimpers throughout the night.  As we dropped her off yesterday so that she could be put to sleep properly, I cried.  I felt silly crying for this dog I met just a couple of days ago, but sometimes it’s just too much.  I can’t live here every day and not be affected by cows eating out of garbage cans and puppies eating old diapers.

I know it’s one dog, but it’s one less dog that has to suffer.  It’s showing my neighbors that we can care about both people and animals.  It’s showing my community that we can work together.  It’s showing compassion for beings that can’t speak for themselves.  It’s doing small things with what we have, and not getting overwhelmed with the vastness of it all.

Posted in Lost in Translation | 1 Comment

Boas Festas and Sweet Tea

America – Recently I went home for Christmas and I found it different than before, almost like seeing a childhood friend after many years and hardly recognizing them.  I found it strange and unfamiliar, with cutting-edge technology, increased prices, and updated buildings.  It wasn’t the place I left a year and a half ago.

I had trouble remembering to bring my ID so that I could enjoy a glass of wine at a restaurant.  I had trouble remembering to flush my toilet paper down the toilet, instead of putting it in a wastebasket as we do in CV.  I had trouble keeping up with time, appointments and meeting.  I kept saying por favor instead of “please” and tchau instead of “bye.”  I kept reminding myself that hot water came out of the faucet, not just cold water.  And as I brushed my teeth, I found myself trying not to swallow any water, yet suddenly remembering that I could actually drink the water that ran so freely from the faucet.

I observed as friends and family members chose between a Droid or an Iphone, a Kindle Fire or an Ipad.  As my family opened presents for a massive four hours on Christmas Day, I was left overwhelmed.  As I looked around my bedroom, I felt suffocated with things — stuff and more stuff.  America is truly grand – eating at any time of day you wish, going to the store and finding exactly what you came for, everything you want or need is accessible.  However, I found it all a little too much – a sense of privilege rather than gratitude, a sense of loneliness rather than familiarity.

One of my favorite things about being home...

My trip home was glorious – it was just different.  I loved spending time with family and friends, eating all my favorite foods, taking multiple showers, and living like a princess. Yet, my view of America has changed — maybe forever, maybe not.  Maybe it’s not such a bad thing.  Maybe it’s a part of living, seeing and growing.

And the very best part about being home

Aside | Posted on by | 3 Comments

Food for the Soul and Body

No matter where we are in the world, no matter how old or young we may be, our favorite foods bring a sense of comfort.  When I’m missing home, I like to make something that reminds me of America — the smell and taste instantly conjures up memories of home.

I’m always looking for tasty, simple recipes that I can recreate here.  I can only eat so much rice.  It’s more difficult than you would imagine — finding substitutes, omitting ingredients, adjusting measurements, etc.  However, thanks to a random shipment of “health food” I was able to find quinoa at the local grocery store.  And of course, I bought it!  As a vegetarian, it’s equally difficult to find good recipes that aren’t full of meat, but full of protein and iron.  That’s why quinoa is perfect…

The recipes makes ten, small burgers

If you don’t know much about quinoa, here are a few of its benefits:

-provides complete protein, including all 9 essential amino acids

-a good source of magnesium, folate and phosphorous

-provides antioxidant protection

It’s especially great for people who are prone to migraines.  Who knew?

Yesterday, I experimented with a recipe for quinoa burgers and today, I’m enjoying the leftovers!  If I can make it here, you can most definitely make it at home.  Bon appetit!

Quinoa burger with a yogurt ranch dip

Posted in Day to Day | 3 Comments