By Zachary Gately, MPH - zgately.com
I have been thrilled that many of you are enjoying my blogs at zgately.com and via email. Some of you have asked what I have been doing more specifically, what difference am I making in the lives of the people here, and how you can help out in anyway. I know many of you have been sending up prayers (even the small quick ones do wonders!) because it has now been 2 weeks since my last sickness! I’m still not gaining weight like I want to but after the daily banana shakes for the next few weeks, I’m sure I’ll look a bit healthier.
Like I said in my other post, it has been hard on all of us newbies these past 7 weeks (yes, I can’t believe it either!) as we have had to adjust to a different way of life than we were previously use to in the US of A. Today we were reminiscing that we would be crashing some sort of Halloween Party, following tomorrow with complaints of how product based Christmas has become but secretly excited that it is nearing that time of year! We have all began to love our families here and keep learning language, culture, and practical ways of living from them on a daily basis. Things have become a bit routine but we still continue to live and dwell among our new community.
For the past three weeks we have been trying to coordinate with our translator, Naomi, to join her for a Chadian meal. She was planning on teaching us how to cook and eat like a local but every week someone was sick and we couldn’t learn from her! Even so, Tammy wasn’t able to join us due to some recent issues with the school (check out her blog at parkers4bere.com) but we made sure to bring enough of it back with us for her to enjoy!
Our menu consisted of three things: boulle, l’oze sauce, and budu sauce. First, Charis and Shannice began cleaning the rice. The went over it thoroughly to pick out any unhusked kernels, rocks, bugs, or anything else that didn’t belong. Josh and I stemmed the l’oze leaves and cut them. Daniel and I also pounded the dried melon seeds into a type of flour, sifted, then added egg, salt, and garlic to make a dough. We started to make the budu sauce by adding oil to a pot on a charcoal fire, throwing in garlic, onions, tomatoes, peppers, and salt. Once that had simmered for a while, Charis and Shannice took the dough Daniel and I prepared and threw it in piece by piece, resembling boiled dumplings. Once cooked through, we added the budu leaves, cooked it down, and took it off the fire.
The rice was finished and we washed it in water, letting it sit in the sun to let it get soft. We started the l’oze sauce the same way as the budu but without peppers. Once the rice was soft, we pounded the rice into rice flour just like the melon seeds. We used a giant mortar and pestle but our weak Nasara bodies couldn’t keep up with Naomi and her sons. She has four of her five sons living with her at home while one is in Nigeria, attending high school. She is a single mother and also took in her sister’s daughter. Naomi and her middle son felt sorry for us and just continued pounding while we were getting tired just looking at them. Half way through pounding and sifting the rice, we began to add the l’oze leaves to the pot of garlic, tomatoes, onions, and oil to cook them down with some minerals to take the sourness out of the leaves. The sauces were basically done, with only the boulle to be finished. We pounded 2/3 rds of the rice into flour, leaving a third of the rice partially broken down. We had to stoke the fire to get a huge 15-20 liter pot of water to boil, then we added the partially broken down rice to the water. 10-13 minutes later, we added the rice flour to thicken it. Naomi was the only one who could brave the smoke from the fire to keep stirring the rice mixture so the boulle wouldn’t clump. Once cooked, she used nice gourd bowls to shape the boulle into pizza dough like balls.
Now we were done! We washed our hands, called the five of us, Naomi, and her five children over to have grace. We dug into our hard work without reserve! To eat, you must take a piece of the boulle (thick rice mixture) and dip it into the sauce. We all burned our finger tips as we rushed in without waiting for the boulle to cool. We were all smiling and laughing. It was 4:15 pm. We started cooking at 12:15 pm. How did it take so long to make one meal? It didn’t matter that there were 11 of us as each step would have taken just as much time to complete, regardless of the amount.
We talked about it on the way home how we are not Chadian women. They must work so hard to prepare such a simple meal. We had fun doing it but looking at how much we did vs. how much Naomi did, we were pretty close to useless. Naomi continued to unintentionally make us realize how lucky we were to be born in a country with Campels, Uncle Ben, Aunt Jemima, and Betty Crocker. She told us how she makes this meal 3-4 times a week. It helps put her kids into a food coma so they go to sleep early. Once they are taken care of, she gets out her head lamp to make mud bricks to build her new, two room hut since her current two single room huts have unfixable fissures down the walls. If she is too tired from working during the day, she’ll wake up at 4 am to make bricks. She also maintains a field of edible flora for those who cannot feed themselves.
She, like us, was once a Nasara. She was born and raised in Nigeria by her Nigerian mother and Chadian father. She was use to a normal teenage life, excelling at school and sneaking out to Michael Jackson concerts. When she became of marriable age, her father wanted to be sure she was paired with a proper Chadian husband. He arranged it all and shipped her here to Béré, where he was originally from. Being the man of the house, her husband expected her to cook boulle, clean, do laundry, earn money, and produce sons, all while he worked on and off, drank, and beat her. Four boys and one on the way later, she was a single mother, climbing mango trees and boiling water just to feel something warm down her throat. She had her last son at the L’Hopital Adventiste de Béré and someone realized that she speaks English quite well. She was offered a job as a translator and has been working with the hospital and its affiliates ever since.
You may think this sounds outrageous! Where are the social workers, the attorneys, or the police? How could her family allow this? Didn’t her neighbors see something to report it? But here in Chad, this is the norm. Naomi said she cried for weeks after arriving here. She cried from the smoke in her eyes from cooking boulle, she cried for her native Nigeria, she cried for her abusive husband. But she had to keep going. She had to feed her kids. She had to make money some how and finally knowing 9+ languages has paid off. Tammy offers her an umbrella or even a ride when she is headed home in the rain. Naomi just scoffs, saying, “Why? I am not salt! I will not melt away in the road. It is just water!”
This attitude of survival, determination, and reality is one many women here have embraced but many other have not. They allow their situation to role over them like their abusive husbands. We all should embrace this phrase as we go about our day. You can only wallow so much before you must stand up tall and realize you are not salt.
Today, one of my friend’s nephew’s passed away. He was less than a year old, the product of a shot gun wedding, leaving a young mother and father devastated. Yet, this is also not unusual. Many families do not name their children until they reach two years of age because the death of a child is so common. What can you do and what can you say in this situation? How can you make a difference when see people in these situations? Is health education going to make a difference if all they what is the demonstration food? How do you change a mindset? How do you show them that they are not salt?
I am not a Chadian woman. I cannot work 4 hard hours to prepare a simple meal. I cannot be treated lower than a husband’s whores or his liquor bottle. I cannot deal with having 5 children under the age of 4 years old, nor having 10+ births with only 4 living children. I see the struggle and it is more real than the chair I am sitting in. This week has been an eye opening experience. Emotionally, mentally, and physically draining, but rewarding nonetheless. Naomi is one of our closest friends. She opened her home, we beatboxed with her kids, and we shared a meal (preparation and all) together like family.
I am left this week with a deeper understanding of the lives we are trying to help. I was not born here, therefore, I will be a Nasara for many months to come, leaving me out of the loop linguistically, culturally, and every little nuance that makes life all the more interesting. Slowly, like a child, I am learning. Little by little, I grow and can connect with my new community on a deeper level. Keep us all in your thoughts and prayers as we are budding Chadians. It has been awesome thus far and I cannot wait to learn all the ways that I am not salt.