Friday, November 1, 2013

On Eating Pillows and Lions and Narnia and Boogers

A friend of mine recently told me that reading my blog was surreal.  I couldn’t figure out why so I asked.  They said that Africa is like an unreal place.  I might as well be in Narnia!  This made me laugh out loud.  It's true, even I feel that way.  I might as well be…although fortunately there is no snow queen but there is also no Aslin or fauns.  Man, I want some fauns in my life.  I sort of wish I was a faun.  In my mind, at different times of the year, my husband is a faun.  Goat is his nickname anyway.  But I think it I were a faun I would be so unsteady on my feet and wouldn’t ever fall down like him.

Where I am is more aptly described by this first of all viral web videos from many years ago.  It still absolute cracks me up, though I would never forget Norway, there are lions here.  But no tigers as I am not actually in Kenya but just very near it:

Some people like this viral better:

18 million views!  Can you believe the amount of time wasted?  Although I think lions is better.

But enough about Narnia (are you hearing this Josh?).

It's been a few days since Nicole left and the Germans don’t live here anymore and the peacecorp worker is working on peacecorp things somewhere.  I feel lonely.  I am working as fast as I can at work to get it done as quickly as possible.  I have to buy more equipment this weekend, if I can, to facilitate that.  Every day that I lose with only what I have is another day I have to stay here.  And, those Narnia is great, it's not home (what I really mean is that there are no fauns).

Side note: with all the carbs here I am going to be diabetic soon.

A note on work:  the Gacaca videos are strangely tastefully done, they list the cast of characters at the beginning (the perpetrator or accused and often the judges as well), plus music and titles at the beginning.  This completely goes against the lazy image of Rwandans.  The name of the production company is Hope media productions.  Remember, the S on superman means hope in his opinion, not truth justice and all that.  That was really, really deep, the Superman / Gacaca comparison, btw, I hope you take time to think about it.

The other day my friend made me some food that is the best thing I have ever had.  Or, two of the best things I have ever had.  First, you take some mystery meat.  Rwandans seem to have no idea how to cut meat or their culture of butchery is quite different from muzungu tastes.  I have some ideas about this, but, what they do is apparently chop at totally random angles so everything is connected to lots of fat, in fact a particular piece might just be a large piece of gristle and fat and therefore, to me, completely inedible.  Also, the bone are attached and sometimes cut across exposing the marrow.  The last strange thing about Rwandan beef and chickens are that cows and chickens are, first and foremost, prized for what they produce: milk and eggs.  The result is that, as has largely been the case for most of human historical animal husbandry, that the meat is dark and impossibly tough.  But also really textured and full of flavor from a natural diet and a non-stressful life spent actually using their muscles instead of the way we think of American meats.  If you would like to try to experience the different, go to your local organic food store or food co-op and actually buy the expensive chicken.  While it will not be gamey and tough like the meat her, it will be a great deal darker, it will have less odor, it will be more moist, and it will taste better.

While I think eating this Rwandan meat is sometimes nice and sometimes utterly repulsive, there is one major and undeniably genius effect.  Rwandans eat meat mostly in sauces with vegetables and spices that are cooked down for a while.  The result, from cooking the meat and fat and gristle and bone and marrow, is such a delicious sauce that it bears noting for future reference.  It always makes me wonder, the poorest of the world get the least quality cuts of meat and the least quality animals that they come from.  For instance, fajitas!  And then white people steal the idea and ruin it.  One major downside to this method is that the sauce is full of little bits of bone.  You have to just pull them out of your mouth.

There are a great deal of different vegetables and spices you can use in the sauce, but my particular favorite is dodo.  You heard me: DODO.  Pronounced just like it is written, but the consonants in Kinyarwandan are more delicate than our Germanic mouths.  Dodo is basically a stunted or strangle looking version of spinach.  It just grows wild here.  It's a thing that I would never think to eat.  They chop it up small, stems and all, and put it in the sauce to boil in the flavors.  I hadn’t thought that maybe I was running low on iron or something, but the moment I tasted this meat sauce dodo concoction, I was HOOKED.

Last, oh divinity of divinities:  you put the whole sauce over cooked and smashed plantains or cooking bananas, which is OK, or you put it over the most luxurious, strangest food of the Rwandan gods that is cassava “bread”.  You take cassava flour and boil it with water and stir and stir until it becomes a thing that seems like a giant pot of the stickiest glue in the world.  In a word, stir until it seems like maybe you shouldn’t eat it.  That’s when it is just right.  And cassava is like my new favorite texture.  The trick is, it, again, is TOTALLY repellent on its own.  It NEEDS the meat and vegetables like no starch has ever needed it before.  And then it is a big gluey ambrosia.  It's almost impossible to cut and don’t touch it whatever you do!  Because you will never get it off of you.  It sticks to the spoon and the plate.  You have to drench it in the sauce to get it to unstick.

According to Rwandan culture and also my personal experience, you can never eat cassava for lunch.  You must eat it for dinner because, in addition to feeling like you are eating a big gooey cloud, you are basically eating a big sticky metaphoric pillow.  Nothing has ever put me to sleep as fast as cassava bread.  I am going to make this when I get home because the idea that my husband has never tried such a delectable carb makes me cry.


Totally weird ending to this blog, and probably more information than I really ready to share or that you are ready to hear:

The very best part of every day is when I get home in the evening and go to the room and take a piece of tissue and then in absolute privacy I pick my nose.  Why is this news?  Because, though there is emissions testing here and rain, they do almost nothing to combat the really severe dust clouds and totally black, thick, choking smog (lol, I almost typed Smaug, how is that for nerdiness?) that I encounter on the roads here every day.  Seriously, one has to shield their eyes otherwise they will be sandblasted in the windy heat of midday when a truck or moto or car or whatever drives by!  My eyes, additionally, are usually field with protected but disgusting goo as well.  The idea with the totally useless emissions testing in Rwanda is twofold:

1.     If you really, really emissions tested and took all the smog monsters off the road, nothing would get anywhere in Rwanda.  They cannot support it yet.

2.     What is the point then?  Well, they are getting people used to the idea of emissions testing.  First, it creates jobs.  Second, in the future as the country can afford more, based on its testing of the companies operating here, it will put the smackdown on smog.  Rwanda in environmentally aware but too poor to do anything about it just yet.

So, why do I enjoy picking my nose?  Over the course of the day, I breathe in so much smog and dust and it's really dry here.  So in the evening I pull blackened hardened hell out of my nose.  Why don’t I do this before?  First, there are no public bathrooms anywhere and no toilet paper or paper towels, generally, in the private bathrooms I am allowed to use in the course of the day.  Second, I am muzungu.  Therefore, EVERYONE is STARING at me all the time.  I look in front, to the side, behind me, and there are bright eyes in dark faces point at me ALL THE TIME.  Can you imagine that?

If this seems too personal or uncouth, perhaps you shouldn’t read my blog.  The idea of looking forward to picking your nose is both personal and sociological and this is exactly what my blog advertised.  Do you have issues with manners?  I can point you to a really great socio-history of the evolution of Western manners.  Thank the French (the Sun King in particular) and the increasing, over the whole of humanity, accumulation of wealth among a smaller portion of society for ridiculous rules regarding shame and bodily functions.  You can read a synopsis here in one of my (fabulous really) lectures for first and second years in this Prezi presentation of one of my lectures:

Um…actually, I have this really great Prezi lecture, but it only makes sense alongside my lecture notes – which are not with me in Rwanda.  If you want to know more, you can look up stuff like Norbert Elias, his book The Civilizing Process, and it's first and most important volume for these purposes: The History of Manners.  Perhaps in the future I can post something about these manners and stuff.

Oh, you don’t want to learn something?  You just wanted to read a blog?  Well, what did you think you were doing with this blog?  My father used to say, albeit fatalistically as was his way, “The moment you stop learning you might as well be dead.”

Look, all I’m saying is that most things are made up…including what we think is appropriate to post for all to see FOREVER on the internet.  (You can tell I care or I wouldn’t have spent this long and even brought up evidence justifying my position.)
And the winners for best nose picking online photos, in my humble opinion, go to, in this order:



One last, and totally inappropriate given the last topic, side note.  One of most  Rwandese’s favorite food is chips = French fries.  They are huge and fat and generally served with some sort of “salad” (more on that some other time but it consists usually of tomatoes and onions and mayonnaise) and a meat brochette (grilled hard as rock but tasty meat of some variety on a stick).  This is served with mayonnaise first and ketchup second.

In another related, you’ll see in a second, issue, I bought, at extremely heavy expense and to share with Nicole while she was here, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Dinah asked me what this was for?  I told her for salad dressing.  Tonight, after the last time we ate chips and I was excited for the salt, my friend made me a salad with onion and tomato and balsamic and olive dressing and…the absolute, no kidding, BEST chips I have ever eaten.  It would be a shame to put any sauce on them.  I love my friend (you have heard of her before, btw), she is very good to me.


P.S Why were the chips that best?  Rwandese potatoes?  Or Rwandese heart?  Can't tell.


  1. I Love love Love love love lOve LoVE love LOVE YOU!!!! Mwah!

    1. Sweetie, I think I made you sort of spaz out there...

  2. Can I persuade you to post a recipe for this cassava bread? Please! Or beg...

  3. Of course! But, it is really simple. You get a bag of cassava flour. You boil some water, not sure how much. Also, have some more boiled water on the side in case you didn't have enough. Then put in some largish amount of the flour and stir and beat and stir to get all the lumps out while the heat is still on. If you run out of boiled water, put more in that you had on the side. And, voila! Cassava "bread" or "dough" or whatever it is!