Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Nuthin' Special

I just finished my morning run, went to take a bath, and found there was no water. Not an ideal situation, so I decided to write a post as I listen for water to coming rushing from the tap. Unlike other days when there is simply no water to be had, today the cause is the college has been turning off the water at night so that students don’t sneak into the science labs and turn on all the taps – apparently recently a frequent pastime.

Tuesday, after a “normal” day at CMS, I went over to Mandirim, Becca’s site, via the back of a friend’s motorcycle (much more fun than a bus). We were joined by a girl from California, Kacee, who was traveling in Thailand and decided she wanted to volunteer for a few weeks in India, so she’ll be staying at Mandirim and helping out. As many Malayalis did, we stayed up quite late to watch the President’s inauguration. It’s phenomenal how important the rest of the world, from the looks of things, and especially India, from firsthand experience, sees this moment in history.

I was impressed with the inclusivity of President Obama’s speech; reminding our country and the world that our nation is one of “Christians and Muslims,” etc. is powerful in reminding people of the identity of a democracy that claims to represent all its citizens. I also appreciated that he bluntly told the nation we can no longer afford to be “indifferent” to the relative poverty of other nations as we continue to selfishly consume. Apparently, he agrees that all of God’s children deserve fundamental necessities. I know that these are things that many people don’t want to hear and/or don’t agree with, but I believe it’s crucial to have leaders who will faithfully challenge the complacency we often slip into.

Wednesday we spent a lot of time sitting with the grandmothers and grandfathers at Madirim, which has begun to confirm what I learned through my senior project on Older Adult Ministry – I really love old people. That afternoon Becca and Kacey joined me for my usual hour of talking in English over coffee with a social work student. I was really moved when I watched him interact with Kacey (who, unlike Becca, he was meeting for the first time); his confidence in English has grown exponentially since coming to me last Fall for help.

I’m now back at CMS, but will be leaving today to travel to Wayanad for the weekend with the other volunteers. We will be meeting with a tribal community there to learn about their struggles and joys. I’ll probably save that upcoming story for my January Newsletter, so you can look forward to that!

Monday, January 19, 2009

I'm Back... For Now

I'll admit it. I've been a terrible blogger these last couple months. Both of December's post were taken directly from my November Newsletter. Just shameful, John. I've reprimanded myself and hope to be blogging in full force again soon. I've just posted a couple picture-heavy blogs that I thought might interest a few people who are interested in either beef or food in general.

My blogging pre-YAV wasn't reflective enough, I felt. And my blogging during my time as a YAV has felt a little overly serious, which isn't my style. So, yet again, here I am trying to strike a healthy balance. I'm hoping if I allow myself to be a little lighter here, I might feel like blogging more often - instead of making myself feel like my blogs are under the scrutiny of an admissions committee (which my seminary application is about to be).


I can't believe I'm actually doing this. But my father, being the cow connoisseur that he is, requested pictures of cows. Enjoy!

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A Lesson in Food

I thought I’d treat you to an assortment of foods that I’ve eaten since coming to Kerala. With riveting commentary, of course!


That’s right. We just call this “meals.” Basically, this is about as traditional Keralite faire as you’ll ever get: an assortment of curries and other random, sometimes scary, goodies [not labeled] to mix with your rice [A], all lain upon a freshly chopped off banana leaf [F]. Also included is a banana itself [B] and something that I can’t spell that sounds like “pop-a-dumb” [E] – a very tasty (as in salty), crispy item that I usually save for the end and eat separately instead of breaking into the rice as most people do. And don’t forget your pickle! [D] “Pickle” is any kind of random fruit (mango is the safest) that has gone through some kind of process – maybe be pickling if I dared to guess – that creates one overwhelming flavor in your mouth; it’s an intricate fusion of sweet, sour, and spicy that I stay away from. Also in the same not-so-tasty category is (don’t know how to transliterate this one either) “pie-a-sum,” a thick drink full of rice that is so sweet you’ll pucker.

Tender Coconut – Stage 1

You can find vendors along road selling these. They’ll simply chop off one from their little bushel, then take a hatchet and create a hole in one end, stick a straw in, and then present to you for your drinking pleasure. The vendor will tell you that the coconut water will cure anything from insomnia to both types of diabetes, but I’m not convinced. However, I do believe it when they say it’s hydrating and about the purest water in Kerala.

Tender Coconut – Stage 2

After drinking, the vendor will chop open the coconut for you to eat the meat. Now, the meat was definitely an acquired flavor for me, but I’ve learned to enjoy it. You scoop out the meat with a sliver of coconut the vendor will provide from your very own coconut. Quite the process!


If the picture I took weren’t so washed out, I’d trust you could figure out this one on your own. Pineapple grow all over Kerala it seems (there’s a farm just outside of CMS). The pineapple tastes pretty much like you’d expect, but it’s always a fun, tasty experience whether in liquid or solid form.

Christmas Cake

Oh, Christmas cake. So, I’m not a fan of cake at Christmas; I feel like it should be reserved for birthdays. Maybe this is because I’m not really a fan of cake in the first place (I usually ask for an alternative for my own birthday), but at Christmas?! It kind of tasted like a carrot/fruit cake hybrid. You do the math. I survived, but this won’t be something I incorporate into my Christmases in the future.

Kappa and Meen

This is a personal favorite! Kappa is Malayalam for tapioca, a yellow, potato-like root I’m sure you’ve heard of, and meen is fish. The fish curry is arguably the spiciest that I’ve had, but it goes great with the mashed potato like consistency of tapioca. Also included here is what we call “small fish fry, ” a whole plate of fried fish so small you eat them whole without the bones bothering you, but large enough to see their beady little eyes. These fish, with curry leaves and onions atop, can be dipped in some kappa or simply popped into your mouth. Now, if you know me well, you’re aware that whole fish being something John now enjoys placing in his mouth is what we call “growth” – or possibly regression – I’m not sure. And don’t forget your discard pile for curry leaves and the tough fiber that runs down the middle of the tapioca.

Chicken Biriyani 

I saved the best for last! Easily one of my favorites here in Kerala, biriyani [D], whether chicken [B], beef, or vegetarian, is delicious. Very similar to fried rice, the difference, a Malayali recently told me, is that biriyani is cooked with the meat and/or vegetables. This biriyani came with a few personal favorites, a hard-boiled egg [C], “salad” [A], and a “pop-a-dumb” [E].