Riemvasmaak Big Events

Solar Oven

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).

Fun Run

the Fun Run winners with their medals

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.

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This Week in Riempi

I have been given a “portfolio” by the Riemvasmaak Committee.  I am now responsible for Gardening, Recycling, and Rubbish Pick-up.  My days are now quite busy with projects.

One involves trash pick-up.  The municipality services the community haphazardly, only driving two of our five main lateral thoroughfares.  Since I have lived in Riempi, my trash has never been collected.  Full trash bags are eventually torn apart by dogs and carried by the wind into the bush, where it decorates the landscape like confetti.  Pastor forwarded the brilliant idea of building holding bins to prevent this occurrence.  Ford donated old wooden palettes to use as fencing.  Next week, we will tackle the monumental challenge of finding volunteers to build the “dumpsters.”

Another project that I am excited about is introducing solar ovens to Riemvasmaak.  This project was initiated by my Rotary counsellor in Cape Town.  I have approached the Rotary club of Port Elizabeth about funding the material.  The next step is setting up workshops to train Riempians to build and use them, as well as equipping Rotarians to continue the project after I’m gone.

I ran out of airtime and walked up to Gaba’s Spaza one morning to get a refill.  Airtime is sold in pre-packaged amounts.  I told Phillip that I had R 20 to spend.  The only thing he had less than R20 was R12.  I was prepared to buy just one (about 9 SMS’s) when Philip told me to take two and he would pay the extra R4.  I was shocked and just slightly uncomfortable.  There’s no reason for him to spot me R4.  I can afford it, I just don’t have it.  I scrambled and began to pat my pockets in search of extra coins.  It just so happened that I had extra change to cover.  I extended my coin and Philip replied, “You don’t want to be blessed, hey?” followed by his disarming Dr. Hibbert chuckle.

November 5 was Guy Fawkes Day, commemorating a guy who tried to blow up the British Parliament and failed.  Kids burn tires and swing them around in the bush, while families have amateur fireworks displays.  I enjoyed the cheap cylinders of fire and light for a time and then visited my local shebeen for a couple of Black Labels passed through metal burglar bars.  A shebeen is an illegal establishment selling liquor without a license; usually, it’s simply a home with beer for sale from the ‘fridge.  When the owner of the house saw me coming, she shut the door in a hurry.  A white man coming is nothing but trouble…

I took the beers down to my neighbor’s house, where I sat and chatted with him and his girlfriend in the humid evening.  We quickly finished the ice cold bottles.  I love the camaraderie of the large 750 ml beers shared in small glasses (typically eight from a single bottle).

Our halftime show (i.e. between bottles one and two) featured yours truly.  I armed Bessie with a bucket of water and lit my fire poi for the first time (look it up).  The fire whizzed by my ears with surprising ferocity.  It felt very dramatic.  I only hit myself once and nailed most of my tricks.  Compared to the teenagers managing heavy tires on a thin wire, my feat didn’t seem so impressive, yet it was nice to feel I had contributed something to this South African holiday.