Monday, November 4, 2013

What Are We Working With?

In this area of the world AC is rare. Not many have cars. No running water- bathing is done in the river or with the jugs of water someone has carried back home. Electricity in the little shack? Nope. 
Interestingly, everyone has a cell phone, but it'll only be re-charged if an extra outlet is found when people are out and about.

Children don't really have many toys, and in fact we saw some playing with trash. Taking a walk and trailing a plastic bottle on the ground which was connected to a stick. Maybe it was a car, maybe a boat, perhaps it was a pet...
Although sad, it made me think about "the occupation of being a child" from what should be considered my "real" job. Being a child involves filling time with play, activity, and imagination. That's their job, and it's how they learn.
Toys do have a purpose, though they don't require plastic and bright colors. Really, with a little imagination a simple stick can be a fine toy.
Even more sad, some children didn't seem to play at all, but just sat around outside in the dusty red dirt all day.
Many of the adults don't present a good example of keeping themselves occupied during the day either.
In my own American life, I can't say I could do that. Not doing something, not getting anything done all day every day would drive me crazy.

You might think that people would be bothered by this, but from what I heard they don't consider themselves poor or pitiable in any way.

Some people only eat once a day, and even then, it may only be manioc.
Mixed with water, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed, it's pasty and grey-ish, without much flavor at all.
In fact, a lot of the diet seemed to be starchy. There was rice, green plantains, taro, the manioc... at least one African meal had all of these things along with chicken and a condiment of very hot crushed fresh peppers.
Yes, lots of flavor and pain in those peppers. 

My purpose in Gabon, as I had said before, was to teach simple baking, and I really wanted to use what was easily available for that purpose.  I wasn't really sure what I would find.

Amazingly, baking soda (bicarbonate) is available only in the capital, Libreville. 
Baking soda can no longer be taken for granted- it made me think about how I couldn't just run out to the store and pick up even something that simple. If you don't have baking soda, there are a lot of baking options that suddenly disappear.

In Mouila, the grocery stores are not packed chock-full of your wildest supermarket shopping dreams.
The couple stores we did see were far more basic than what we're used to. Bags of rice, flour, sugar, butter, shelf stable milk, red palm oil, eggs, cookies, cans of applesauce imported from Belgium (in fact, most everything is imported, some from Brazil (!?) of all places, but much of it from France... and I'm going to assume this is the case because Gabon is a former French colony).
As small as these bare bones stores were, they did have a very impressive array of liquor for sale.
Chocolate? You can choose between Nesquick and a Nutella knockoff.

When I saw there was Nutella-ish-ness available, I thought I could make a chocolate-hazelnut cookie with the inspiration from good old peanut butter cookies. Although it didn't turn out like a peanut butter cookie, they were successful in their own way as thin and crispy chocolate wafers. Leavening turned out to be completely unnecessary in this case.

The nice thing about this area of Africa is that the fresh fruit is literally growing right outside.  Depending on the time of year there choices could include papayas, mangoes, lemons, limes, bananas, grapefruit, pineapple, and coconut.

I had initially thought that shredded coconut wouldn't be such a hard thing to find.
Think again: you'll probably have to do it yourself.

First thing's first: find someone who's handy with a machete.
Coconuts right off the tree need to be peeled with a machete so the husky brown shell is exposed.

Then the top is cut off so the coconut water can be drained. And wow. It's so much sweeter and flavorful than the boxed coconut water you find at the grocery.

The next step is to whack the shell with the back of a knife so that the shell cracks, and then wedge the knife blade between the shell and the meat to get the meat off the shell in large chunks.

The coconut is grated by hand, then dried a bit in the oven before the coconut macaroon batter is mixed.
Coconut macaroons are so much better when made with fresh coconut as compared to the dessicated stuff from the store back home...


  1. Wish I could taste those cookies!

  2. Does coconut milk right out of the coconut taste good?

  3. Yes- it tastes much richer and coconut-y than the packages coconut water you can find.