Thursday, April 14, 2011

You need a Spoon

Pretty much every place I go, I find some kind of food that I fall in love with and miss like woah when I leave.  Here, (at least so far) that food is pap (or, since I am apparently Shona now, sadza). 

It’s made from mielie meal(or corn meal stuff), and has the consistency of Play-Dough.  (The process of making pap involves you first making porridge, and then adding more mielie meal for the thicker consistency.)  And the funnest part (at least for me), you eat it with your hands.  Everybody eats it with gravy and chicken, but I prefer beans, spinach, and cabbage.  You grab a piece off the pile of pap on your plate, dip it in or scoop up your chosen pap-accompaniment, and then you hope that not too much falls all over while you try to quickly get it into your mouth. 

The first few weeks I was here, everybody would always ask me if I needed a spoon to eat my pap, and my response was always no.  If I am going to eat traditional food, I am going to eat it in the traditional way.  Everybody would give me a doubtful look, and then hand me my plate.  And nobody can believe I actually enjoy eating these foods that they eat all the time.  I have gotten some laughs because I apparently eat my pap funny (I think it is the split second of panic that it is all going to fall on the floor before I get it into my mouth that contributes to the hilarity of me eating pap), but in my defense, I have only been eating pap for a few weeks, and these people have been eating it their whole lives. 

Since I first ate pap, my pap-eating skills have been improving.  In fact, I have even moved on and  learned to cook it (so some people can get excited about me making fun food we can play with).  Last night, I made pap all by myself, and it turned out fantastic!  (Despite the fact that the family that lives here got home when I was in the middle of mixing in the last mealie meal, and the dad wanted to finish it for me.  I told him no, I am making it.  How am I supposed to learn to make it if I am never given the chance to make it?  And the mom said I did a great job.)  So look out for my mad pap-making skills when I get back.  And hopefully my pap-eating skills will improve some more and become mad as well.

As an update since I originally wrote this: I have made the pap almost every day.  And every time I make it, "it's nice."  FTW

Hot Water and Civilization!

Absence really does make the heart grow fonder.  Being on an organic farm in the middle of Nowhere, Argentina with no hot water and questionable safety standards, I was excited when I got back to Mendoza. 

After the first week we went back into Mendoza on Saturday morning.  First things first, we found internet to check in with family and friends to let them know we were alive and safe.  Then we found a hostel, and after checking in, the first thing on my list of things to do was take a hot shower.  It was the best hot shower you can imagine.  After a week of showering in cold water with no water pressure, you would think it was the best shower ever, too.  Our night in Mendoza consisted of an adaso at the hostel and going out dancing, of course.  Our Sunday in Mendoza consisted of wandering around, discovery of a park (and having a moment similar to an experience I had on the beach in Barcelona), and a late lunch with friends.  I decided I liked Mendoza, and I was excited to come back the next weekend.

The next weekend I had planned on staying in Mendoza for a couple of days before heading back to Santiago.  When I got there Saturday morning, I went back to the same hostel, checked in, and took another one of those best hot showers ever.  (This one  might have been even better because although it is disgusting to admit, I hadn’t showered in about 3 days.) 

I met some people from the States that were living in Santiago, and they told me that there had been an earthquake and the passage to Santiago was closed.  I was hoping it opened up in time for me to go back when I was planning on going back.  I was also hoping that the earthquake wasn’t too big, and everybody I knew was safe (which they were).  I spent the evening with the people from Santiago, and we made friends with the Romanians and an Argentinian that were going to climb Aconcagua.  Early in the evening we passed some mate around, so that pretty much set up the buena onda of the evening.  

I hadn’t really decided what I was going to do with my full day alone in Mendoza until I got there.  Since I had my January paycheck money, I wanted to do something fun, but I couldn’t afford to spend that much money.  So I went rafting and did zip lines.  It was so much fun!  Even though I was by myself, I had a great time.  I learned that tons of people travel and do things like that by themselves, so everybody is friends with everybody.  I am ready for more adventure tours, I just have to wait until I have the cash money.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

Upon my arrival at the farm I was going to be staying at for two weeks, I realized there was no need to be nervous because it was just like Grandpa’s house.  Random stuff sitting around everywhere, a bathroom door that didn’t close all the way, and no shower curtain were just a few of the similarities.  One of the main differences was that the water from the sink drained into a 5 gallon bucket, and when the bucket was full you took it into the bathroom to use for the toilet.  (There were more than a couple of accidents with us not paying attention and having the bucket overflow.)  I could handle it.  I also found out there was another young female volunteering for two weeks!  I wouldn’t be alone!

The work wasn’t too hard.  The worst part was learning that I am allergic to fig leaves.  I didn’t entirely mind picking the figs though because I would take lots of breaks to eat fresh figs and admire the view.  You would too if you had this to look at:

Snow Capped Mountains

I also got to learn about wine making.  We picked the grapes, plucked the stems, and smashed them (sadly, not with our feet, like in that classic episode of I Love Lucy).  We put them in a big barrel with a frozen water bottle in it, and after about a week, we got to try the wine.  It was still really sweet, and it tasted a lot like juice.  I thought it would be good for tailgating mornings or kegs and eggs. 

Luck tends to be on my side (sometimes), and I was lucky enough to be on this farm when they had some visitors, which made things more exciting.  The main visitor was a French chef who owned a restaurant in Buenos Aires.  He had come to see and learn more about organics.  He brought his mother and two daughters with him.  The chef knows French, Spanish, and English.  The daughters know French, Spanish (their mom is from Argentina and they live in Buenos Aires) and some English, and the mom knows French and English.  It was a really interesting experience to have.  The mom even gave me her address so I can go visit her in France. 

All in all, it was pretty fun.  I am glad there was another person there, and I made a new friend.  It was a purely Spanish two weeks (except for when I was talking to the woman from France who didn’t know Spanish), so I learned a lot and gained some confidence in my Spanish speaking abilities.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Cuddle Time and Pillow Talk

Let’s flashback for a moment, to January 30th, when I left Santiago for a grand adventure into the Argentine countryside.  Part of my contract at work was that I got a free bus ticket to Mendoza, Argentina when I quit.  As part of my work visa, the Chilean government requires there be a one way ticket out of Chile guaranteed in my contract, and the institute I worked for chose to give a one way ticket to Mendoza.

I decided to take the next two weeks to volunteer on an organic farm (via WWOOF)somewhere near Mendoza.  I know a few people that have done WWOOFing in different places, and I have heard good things.  The only thing I was nervous about* was going by myself, but if I could make it in Santiago de Chile for 5 months by myself, I could make it for two weeks on a farm by myself.  So I wrote down the directions and got on that bus, and I was off.

On the bus ride to Mendoza, I fell asleep right away.  (I chose an overnight ride for the way there, and then I would take a day bus back to Santiago.)  The only thing I really remember was the winding curves up to the border.  I honestly thought the whole ride was like that, but on the way back I figured out it wasn’t. 

Now for the cuddling and pillow talk: The man sitting in the seat next to me kept trying to cuddle and make pillow talk with me at the border, and I was in no state to be functioning in any capacity (or language).  He wasn’t actually cuddling, but he did keep invading my seat space.  There was no need for that considering the nice semicama seats.  And the pillow talk was just him being chatty and friendly.  He was telling me about the book he was reading and his life story, and after learning I studied political science, he offered to show me around the political science department of the university he worked at because he was a professor (and this wasn’t a lie- he gave me his business card).  I wasn’t talking much, mostly just nodding along- it was something like 3AM and I was woken up on the top of a cold mountain to go through customs. 

When we finally arrived in Mendoza, I got off the bus prepared to look for the bus company of the regional bus that would take me to Rivadavia, the next stop on my journey.  My chatty seat neighbor was worried about me getting there safely, so he talked to the person in the office of the bus company.  He explained to the man that I was from the US, traveling by myself, and I didn’t know any Spanish, so I was essentially doomed.  (Please, keep in mind, he didn’t know any English, so every word we had exchanged was in Spanish.  Also keep in mind, that as I am listening, he is speaking Spanish to everyone.  I, by no means, think that I know that much Spanish, but I do think I know enough to get around.)  While we waited on a bench, he started telling this random woman the same thing.  She started asking questions about me, and when he didn’t know the answer, I chimed in and answered her question.  She seemed a bit surprised that I had been following and understanding their conversation, considering I “didn’t know any Spanish”.

*As a side note, I was also slightly nervous about getting through customs.  You may remember me mentioning my friends that tried to go to Mendoza one weekend, and they had quite the situation.  I did not want any border problems.