I have officially arrived at site in Maganga, Salima! On Friday morning, I embarked from Kasungu with six other volunteers and all of our gear in a jam-packed bus. After dropping off three other people at their respective sites, we arrived at my humble abode. Because daylight was dwindling, my belongings were promptly transfered to my porch, quick hugs were administered, and the bus pulled away. I was left there in awe, reminding myself that the bus would not in fact be returning tomorrow and that this would be my home for the next two years. Since that moment (precisely four days ago), I’ve been busy unpacking, decorating, beginning a compost pile, digging a garden, building a dish rack, etc. Although I feel like I have so many anecdotes about my initial struggles here, I thought I’d share just one story about my first encounter with fire.
I woke up at 6:00am and decided that after a full day at site of eating only bread and peanut butter, it was time to delve into the world of cooking over a fire. For some reason, I decided to begin with pumpkin- a food that I had bought on impulse the day before and had no idea how to cook. After consulting a friend who suggested that I try to steam it, I cut the pumpkin into chunks, poured some water in a pot and went to put it over the fire. Realizing that I hadn’t even started a fire, I went behind my house to gather some wood and returned to a fat toad sitting in the frying pan that I was planning on utilizing as a lid. After shooing him away, it was time to get serious. The stove that I would be using was a clay pot with a small hole near the bottom for air intake and three notches on top to rest a pot. These “baulas” had been provided to us by the PC. Surprisingly, the fire caught on only my second try. “Yay!” I thought. “I’ll put the pumpkin on the fire and leave it to steam while I go bathe.” I soon realized, however, that this was not the case. Instead, what ensued was the creation of a billowing smoke signal and me running around the fire in circles (sometimes with my eyes closed to avoid the smoke), trying to get the best angle to blow/fan the fire. It felt like any way that I tried to position the wood was not going to work. The fire must have gone out at least 10 times. There was a lot of cursing. I wasn’t happy. To add insult to injury, at one point during the chaos with a half burnt stick in one hand and the frying pan in the other, I spotted that fat toad, hopping through my door and into my house.
By the end of my first battle with fire, I was covered in ash, had tears running down my face from the smoke, and was completely out of wood. BUT I had a (semi-cooked) pumpkin and fully cooked rice. Bon appetite?
*Note: Since this post was written, I have successfully made fire that did not go out until I wanted it to. There is hope after all! I think it’s just a matter of getting used to the baula. We shall see.