Monday, May 28, 2012

Eating for a greater purpose

Mehoye! (Hi, how are you?) This is a common Twi phrase used to greet one another. Today was full of surprises, both good and bad. After spending several days in the community, we thought it would be great if the local schools adopted the sawdust stoves and used them to serve hot meals to students. We helped several school cooks prepare meals for students, but noticed that they did not seem as excited as individuals cooking in homes that we visited. We seem to always get positive feedback, but it can be hard to tell whether they are truly interested or just being polite. The cooks we work with know very little English, so we are able to communicate best when we have a translator. We can often gauge their level of interest by their tones and actions. We were disappointed that the primary school cook did not seem to be very engaged in the new idea, but we were able to help her cook a very large pot of jollof rice for the student lunches.

In the late afternoon, we headed back to visit the elderly lady named Gladdus who requested the first sawdust stove, to see how she was doing. When we arrived at her home, there was already a pot of food boiling away on the sawdust stove we built for her. Our spirits were lifted as we spoke to her about her about her experiences cooking with it. She was already developing her own methods for using the stove from the way that we originally shown her to tailor to her needs. This is exactly what we have been waiting for, individuals that see value in the stove and make it their own.

After leaving Gladdus’s, a translator accompanied us to other homes in Patriensa to tell people about our stove and ask if they would be interested in trying it out. As we talked to each household, we received an overwhelming response of interest and enthusiasm to try our cookstove. Everyone asked us to come to their homes and build them a sawdust cookstove. Why were we receiving such excitement from the individual homes but not from the schools? As I thought about each scenario, I developed a theory. The school cooks are likely not paying for their cooking fuel because they are employees of the school. Because of this, they are not benefiting directly from the money saved through a free cooking fuel. The individuals and street vendors immediately appreciate that they can save time or money by using sawdust as their cooking fuel. After spending so much time helping school cooks, it was encouraging to end the day with so much interest and positive feedback from community members.

Although we didn’t feel as successful at the schools with our cooking product, it was a lot of fun being around all of the school children during recess. All of the kids want to feel my skin, almost as if to see if my color will rub off. At times there are several kids on each hand, and some will rub on my legs. I have also experienced kids trying to scratch it off, which is much less pleasant. We played some soccer with the kids as well as simon-says type of game. I say simon-says, but the kids naturally wanted to do anything we showed them, from jumping up and down to hook’em horns. We ended our day with a meal of white rice, chicken, a tomato sauce, and fried plantains. More members from our program in the US also arrived today to join us in Patriensa. Tomorrow is a Ghanaian holiday so we will have a slightly more relaxed schedule. Tomorrow afternoon we will formally meet the Queen Mother of Patriensa who will officially welcome us into the community.

Because we are helping people cook several times a day in addition to eating lunch and dinner each day at the secondary school, we often find ourselves in sticky situations. After helping people cook a meal, they typically insist that we eat some of the food they have prepared. This wouldn't be a problem except that they often give quite generous servings...and we do this multiple times a day. I consider myself to be pretty good at scraping a plate clean, but even I have been struggling with the amounts of food. It has been a struggle to finish all of the food they provide, but we push through as best we can. It can be even more difficult if we are not particularly fond of the food being served. They typically provide one or two dishes and our whole team eats off of them with our hands. In these times, we dig deep and tell ourselves we are eating for a greater purpose.


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