I posted previously about efforts to encourage solar cooking in Riemvasmaak.
The Rotary Foundation has a Sutainability Trust which encourages green projects to benefit the poor. They have partnered with Solar Cookers International in an effort to equip township residents with solar ovens. The advantages are: 1) Sunshine is FREE! (yearly savings of R500?) 2) Safer and Healthier (prevent fire, disease), 3) Green, 4) Cheap to build
Last month, I gave a presentation at the PE Rotary Club, and they agreed to sponsor the materials to build eight solar ovens.
Two days before I left, I held a workshop with eight people in the community, discussing the advantages of solar cooking and teaching them to build a solar oven out of cardboard and tin foil. Despite my lack of experience, the community members were excited and passionate about the opportunity, three women even showed up early—unheard of. Several mentioned the opportunity for job creation, building the ovens and selling them to other informal settlements. Others were ready to have more workshops and teach more people. This is the key to development projects, I’ve learned—local ownership. It was fun to see how much fun they had and how many innovative plans they “cooked” up (no? well, I thought it was funny).
The day I was scheduled to leave was the culmination of months of planning by the Riemvasmaak committee, the Bethelsdorp Police Department, and the councilor: a 5K Fun Run “Against Crime.” Sixty people ran, at least half were under the age of twelve. I finished first in the “American Division” (created by yours truly), 24th, and practically last of the adults, overall. The Committee was very happy with the results. Getting anything like this off the ground in an informal settlement is quite a success.
I prepared for the run in an unorthodox way. It came out in the Solar Oven workshop that I had never had “umpokoqo,” or African Salad, so one of the women invited me for dinner that evening. I had heard so many wonderful things about the dish. Many people told me it was their favorite African food. I was excited about the opportunity to try it and had already convinced myself I would love it. I was not adequately prepared. Nandi emerged from the kitchen with a giant cauldron (seemed so to me) about the size of four normal soup bowls. Huge. When you’re trying something for the first time, “huge” is not ideal. Pokoqo is made of dry flaky pap mixed with sour milk. The last ingredient should have been enough to temper my expectations. The first bit was quite a surprise. I immediately began praying that I could somehow finish the massive bowl in front of me. It’s basically sour mush, and I’ve got a King Kong bowl in front of me the night before a 5K.
I almost tried to sneak some to the puppies, Two Face and Bling Bling. I took small spoonfuls at each bodyslam of WWE on the television. An awful variation of a drinking game.
Eventually, I turned to Nandi, horrified by my lack of cultural sensitivity, and told her I didn’t think I’d be able to finish. Her brother laughed and said he was just telling her it was too much. Apparently, pokoqo is notorious for killing an athlete’s fitness on gameday. Then, they offered me beer.