Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Dentist

Mary's had her fair share of dental work since we've come to Africa and others have told me horror stories, but I finally had my first experience which actually wasn't that bad. After looking in my mouth with a mirror for 30 seconds he declared that I didn't have any cavities. Then he proceeded to clean the plaque from my gumline with a high-pressure water pick which wasn't very pleasant on the nerves.

The whole process took under ten-minutes and when he was done he just got up and started browsing the internet. I just sat there not realizing it was over until he said "It is finished. You can go." in his strong accent. So, that was considered a dental cleaning and cost 150,000 GNF ($31). If I'm lucky I'll get another "cleaning" before I head back to the States.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Yard Work

During the rainy season the Guineans are really particular about pulling up all of the grass that grows around the house since it attracts snakes and mosquitos. So, they tend to "mow the lawn" a few times a month, which consists of using a hoe to loosen the dirt and picking it up with their hands. I personally like the grass, since it looks nice and the yard doesn't get as muddy. Some people actually import small red stones to lay down as a ground cover. I think the small red stones help keep grass and weeds to a minimum. The clay ground has moss growing on it instead of grass.

At the beginning of the dry season, people go crazy and burn everything. They burn all large fields of grass--I guess they figure that it's better to purposefully burn a field than to accidentally burn it and cause a wildfire. I think it's also good for the ground--maybe. But they tend to accidentally burn trees and bushes too.

Taking care of your yard during the dry season is actually pretty easy because the yard is just reddish-brown dirt that is swept with a grass broom everyday (or once a month in our case). They sweep leaves and trash into small piles to burn and the smoke fills the house on windy days.

We tried to have a flower box on the porch but the little kids tore it up and during the dry season it's too hard to keep watered. Overall, it's a lot easier to take care of the yard in Africa--there's not as much pressure to do nice landscaping and all of that stuff.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Bring on the Mangoes

Mango season hasn't officially begun, but there are a few early ones ripening on the trees and a few expensive ones for sale in the market which bring us a glimmer of hope and much anticipation.

Dan and I had a solar dryer made last month in preparation for this. (basically just a big, very low-tech food dehydrator.) We wanted to do this last year for mango season, but never got on the ball quick enough and before we knew it, the season was over. We were determined not to miss out this year.

While the Guineans continue to remind us that it's still too early for mangoes and that we're crazy to want to spend a whole 15 cents on one mango (in a few weeks you'll be able to buy a whole giant bowl full for that much...), we've gone ahead and splurged on some in order to try the dryer out. Here's some pictures of our first attempt:

This is what the solar drier looks like. We had a carpenter make it for us. The white thing on top is a digital inside/outside thermometer. (Yes, we know we're geeks) We had it inside to know how hot it got throughout the day. Highest on that day I think was about 120*F. This was our first peek inside at the end of a long, hot day. We put it out around 9am and brought it back in around 6pm. We tied it shut all day so that curious kids (or curious adults for that matter) wouldn't mess with it or open it up and let out all the heat. Basically all it is is a wooden frame with a black plastic roof, holes in the side for air flow and ventilation, and removable trays made of plastic screening to put the food on.

Look at all those yummy mangoes. This was about 5 1/2 mangoes if I remember correctly. We soaked them in sugar water with a little lemon over night (Since we used somewhat under ripe mangoes so they'd be more firm, they're not as sweet. The lemon is so they don't turn black on us.) They were delicious. We've tried a couple other treatments since this first batch too: honey water, honey lemon water, lemon water. All pretty dang good.

We've also tried drying bananas which were great. I'm just not as motivated to dry those though since they're in season all year round. We want to try drying other things just to see how they go. Tomato season is just slackening off, so we missed the curve on that one. We're planning on buying some carrots and green peppers while we're here in Conakry to dry when we get home for ourselves, since we can't find those in our town.

We put the dried mangoes in old mayo jars to save. These were gone though by the next day... but at least by then we had a new fresh batch! We have been trying to save a few in plastic bags from each batch, which we keep in another jar to see how they save over time. That is really our main purpose. They should be able to keep for 6 months or more if they're kept right. It's just so hard: when you have a yummy new treat, we just want to eat them all right then :)

Soooo, why are we doing this (besides having a yummy new treat) ? The mango season comes on quickly and ends before you realize it. In that short time, there are far too many mangoes for everyone to consume. We're trying to encourage people to dry some for storage so that they can enjoy them (and their nutrients!) throughout the year rather than for only 2 or 3 months. It is so easy to do too. Sitting out in the middle of our yard, the strange new thing has attracted plenty of attention and given us many opportunities to explain what we're doing and why. We've let all our friends and neighbors try what we've dried so far. Everyone loves it and says they want to try it themselves. This is what we were going for, but we'll see if we can actually get them to do what they say... That was one reason we wanted to start now - even though it is still officially pre-season - to sell the idea while we can.

One problem is that food storage is a foreign concept in this culture. They're used to going to the market and buying what they need for the day. If its not there, too bad. They use whatever is in season. You want an avacado? Sorry pal, you gotta wait for the avacado season. In a few months will come the 'hungry season' while they're waiting for the new crops to come in. They have no pantries, no canned goods, no fridges, etc. They eat what they can get now and finish it while they can. They do dry things like grains and tubers, but they do that by just leaving it out on the side of the road or on a mat in their yard, getting dirty, pecked at by chickens, and walked on by goats and children. This is a much more sanitary method as well as quicker and more efficient than just laying something in the sun. Plus, vitimin A, one of the main vitimins in mangoes, is destroyed by direct sunlight. These are some crazy new concepts for the community here, but that's one reason we're here, right? Promote new ideas and encourage smart and healthy changes. We'll let you know how this one goes.