Saturday, November 20, 2010

"Pastwatch", Laundry is Hard, Food Prep

November 6 – Romongo, 8:45pm

Book review detour: I just finished “Pastwatch – The Redemption of Christopher Columbus” by Orson Scott Card, of “Ender's Game” fame. I picked this one up a couple of years ago, having been a fan of his books when I was younger, but never got around to reading it. I'm kind of sad that I didn't, because it's a great read! It follows a future, seemingly-utopian civilization that has the technology to watch the events of the past in great detail. One woman has set her life goal to study the history of slavery, and comes to be obsessed by Christopher Columbus as the major fulcrum for the spread of European ideas to the New World, and the beginnings of the large-scale international slave trade. *Slight Spoiler Ahead* The Watchers pinpoint exactly when Columbus decided to sail west and why, and realize that it was due to the interference of a different advanced civilization, one that gave up their existence in order to send a hologram back to Colombus' time to change the course of history. When it is revealed that their own finally-peaceful world is about to be thrown back into chaos and war due to past ecological damage that makes it impossible to produce enough food for the entire world population, the people vote to do the same, to send three people back in time to change the course of history once again and try to prevent the exploitation of the New World, the rise of slavery, and the chaos and conquests that led to the destruction of the earth in the first place. It's very idealistic, but the characters are memorable and engaging and it's a great and interesting “what might have been” mental exercise, with all the personal imponderables like: if we have the ability, should we change the past to alleviate past suffering, or just to prevent current suffering? Who has the authority to decide that? Would the world really just wink out of existence or would reality branch to encompass the many paths that could have been taken?

Anyway, needless to say it was awesome. After a lovely long afternoon spent reading after our morning classes (we finish at 12:30pm, but after lunch we took a repose under the tree until 3pm) I returned home, determined to do my laundry (and rinse all the soap out!). I used the soap we made with Sara, although she was right in saying we should let it cure for a few days – the unreacted lye was burning the small cuts on my hands a bit. Ah well. Laundry is hard work, man! I totally didn't appreciate how much work Habibu did for me that first time. Some of my clothes are really heavy and hard to handle when they're waterlogged, and getting everything sufficiently soapy was difficult. Overall it turned out pretty well and only took a little over an hour, but my hands were shaking a little bit at the end and my grip had gotten weak from wringing out the clothing so many times. Some of my clothes smell a little musty, but I think that's from hanging them to dry and then having a few days of cooler, damp weather, not from a huge laundering error on my part. I do, however, understand why a lot of volunteers eventually give up and pay someone to wash their clothing – they will always be able to get it cleaner than I will, faster, and not feel the need to haul extra water for a third rinse basin for those last items that stubbornly remain soapy.

I went into my room to sweep and clean since for once I was home when the sun was out and could see things, but after asking a host brother to kill a few spiders for me my host father appeared with a can of bug spray and began to douse my room. While it wasn't an unpleasant smell in particular, I quickly realized that if I wanted to continue breathing I would have to vacate the room for a few hours. I went outside to read a little but was called inside by my host father to peel patates, a starchy root kind of like a yam/potato with a red/purple skin that you have to remove. It was nice to sit down and occasionally talk with him, although mostly we just worked. Somehow my hand became a mess of sticky, dirty starch-glue and it took vigorous scrubbing with the pot scrubber to get it off. They went into a ragu for dinner, quite tasty but I couldn't eat much after eating a raw patate earlier along with some tiny cooked potato-root things. Too much starch.

I also witnessed how the chicken was dismantled. While I appreciate and think it's impressive that they eat most every part, I also know that any chickens I cook will be cut up American style. The only things that didn't make it in the pot were the gullet, the contents of the stomach, and the gallbladder. The rest was cut apart and tossed in. I appreciate that it means more people get a piece of meat, but the bone fragments created from cutting the thighs, legs, shoulders, spine and neck into pieces are just not my cup of tea. Also, the head is cooked with the feet stuck in it's mouth. I guess you learn new things every day? I'm sure I will find appreciative neighbors who will want to share a chicken with me – even though these aren't force-fed giant chickens, I know I can't eat one on my own and a lack of refrigerator means that you make friends by sharing your leftovers. The idea of singeing off the pin-feathers was a good one and to my great surprise didn't really smell bad.

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