Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The fermenting scent of cashew fruit once again surrounds my house. Since last year, I’ve found out I can make wine, distilled alcohol, jam and even marmalade from the fruits of the cashew. Narrowing these options down to the choices that are most appealing to me we come to wine or distilled alcohol. Narrowing it further, based upon what I believe would be the easiest choice – I have wine. Unfortunately, information sent to me last year about making wine from the cashew fruit includes ingredients I have no idea about where to get here, so - - - -- that means that the fruits continue to ripen on their own, fall from the tree, fill the air with their fermenting stench . . . while I just sip some coffee, water, tea, wine, cold beer, or martinis.

Narrowing down my sipping choices: water, tea or instant coffee, and wine are the most likely choices. Instant coffee is kind of out, though, because I feel like I've become a bit of a coffee snob and have some real coffee available. This requires very slightly more effort to prepare than a tea bag in a cup of hot water, though, so, if I'm considering my lazy options, then coffee is also out. I can heat up some water and sweat through a cup or two of tea (it’s humid these days, I don’t need the hot tea to help me sweat; I can do that while just drying off from a cold shower). I can bring a bottle or box of wine down to the house that lasts for a few days, whereas a bottle of Star beer, which is the same size as a bottle of wine here, only lasts for that one refreshing time after you open it. So, the easiest, most comfortable option is for me to sip wine while listening to the cashew fruit fall from the tree and speculating about how a cashew martini might taste. (Maybe I’ll get the motivation up to rip a few of those fruits from the trees, yank off the cashew nut and chunk it aside – too difficult to process that nut thing into something edible – and then sieve the fruit juice out via mashing and mushing techniques so as to try out a Cashew Martini. We’ll see.)

And it’s mango season again! Cashews and mangoes at the same time! Unfortunately, the mango tree behind my house only produces the extremely and excessively stringy mango variety - a version we’d never see in those frighteningly HUGE grocery malls in the states, [Not so long ago I was almost brought to tears, definitely to watering eyes, while home for a break and with good friends who were planning a meal for me. They took me to the grocery mall and asked me to choose the ice cream for desert – who knew the aisle would be a mile long and that the decision really didn’t matter that much? Any ice-cream would be yummy. (OK, I had only forgotten that the options would be a mile long, and I did know that the decision was important. It's ice-cream, after all. And I want everyone to be happy. And all of the options were delicious, especially when you're not normally faced with them – all of which contributed to making this a difficult to make.) So there I was, facing a mile of ice cream – the same 15-1000 flavors repeated in 3 – 5 different sizes per brand . . . and about 200 different brands – I think that brings me to 1 – 1,000,000 choices – or? (Even if the math is off, the feeling is accurate.) I finally, after 23.5 minutes, made a choice, only to be rewarded for what seemed to me as a humongous effort followed by a stupendous success (how could a Moose Tracks option be wrong – HOW? I ask you??) with the comment – “Wow! Such a large size!!” And this was followed by something along the lines of - “will you get the stuff we need for a salad?” What a relief to see the pre-mixed greens that are already chosen and even cleaned and cut up for us. But what a moment of stress to be asked, “ is that it? Don’t you want to add anything else to that mix?” (I know my friends wanted to add – “. . . of flavorful and delicious looking greens selection you have made?” This would have at least let me feel free to say, “oh no, this delicious, flavorful variety of greens mix, in a rainbow of green colors, is exactly what I’m wanting.” But instead . . . ) I was left looking at 124 different varieties of cucumbers to choose from, 223 tomato options – and that was in the non-refrigerated section alone – and I couldn’t even look at other vegetable varieties beyond these two and when I saw an equal number of options in the refrigerated section, my eyes seriously watered. But I held back the tears because I didn’t feel free enough to cry in public and perhaps the watering was only a result of the excessive bleach being used to keep the floors free of any possible contamination – I mean, who wants to be exposed to any germs while in public? (point is, there’s a chance the watering eyes were not from any emotional distress). So, I made my choices – and then my friends also chose to send me to the salad dressing aisle. By this point I’d been through the ice cream mile and 556 million vegetable choices – and I knew what to do ----- close my eyes, stick out my hand, and hope that whatever I grabbed would include garlic as one of its top ingredient and sugar as none of its ingredients – and that I would not hear over the loudspeaker “CLEAN UP IN AISLE TWO” as I knocked over a selection of Paul Newman’s.].

In the end, though, having a meal and, more importantly, some time with a couple of good friends made the trauma of the grocery mall worth it all.

I’ve become accustomed to choosing my vegetables based upon my mood, whatever’s available and whoever’s the friendliest or the least annoying in the market. My salad dressing consists of a mix of vinegar, oil, schmushed (the computer tells me this isn’t a word, but I know it is. Who doesn’t know the meaning of schmushed??) up garlic, a flavorful blend of the spices precariously balanced on the shelves hanging from the ceiling and a dash of local honey.

And my ice cream choices – Fan Ice says it all – because that is all there is here. Except, there’s a newly opened shopping mall in Accra – yes, a shopping mall – and I heard that they have a gelato place there! I have to go! – if only it wasn’t 8 – 12 hours away! I have fond memories of gelato. A few years ago, a couple of good friends got married in France and helped me with a frequent flier ticket to come for the wedding. And a couple of other friends from Taiwan came to the wedding and asked me to be their driver (if they decided to choose to rent a car) and their baggage handler in exchange for helping me with the costs of a trip through France and Italy. Let’s see – should I refuse such an offer? - - - ah . . . no. A little tour through France and Italy in exchange for driving and carrying bags from time to time – hmmm, seems more than fair. While in Italy, my two Taiwanese friends really wanted to shop – and I was extremely good about it. I’d walk into a shop with them, and then say, “hmmm, I think I’ll just wait outside.” I’d head outside, go to the gelato stand across from the shop – it seemed there was always a gelato stand across from the store – choose either a favorite or a new flavor, and have plenty of time to finish it before my friends emerged with their purchases. They’d come out and say, “Let’s get some ICE- CREAM!!” What was there for me to say, except, “OK, that sounds good.” Ah, it was a nice routine we settled into for a few days. But, before long, they started letting me know that there’d be no more gelato because I was getting too fat. Fortunately . . . there was still shopping that they needed to do.

A few weeks ago a psychiatrist from the UK, a psych intern from Japan, a doctor intern from Germany and a nurse from Germany all came from Kumasi, where they’re working in the hospital, for a visit during a weekend off. I usually have minimal contact with visitors – I greet them, maybe chat a bit, but then try to move on. This time ended up being different. I had just returned from Kumasi – another bead shopping trip – it was a little late and the volunteer who had gone with me (Greetje) and I were having a beer together. The other volunteers who are currently at Hand in Hand joined us, and then suddenly this group of visitors came and asked if we’d mind if they joined us. Of course my first reaction is, “yes, we mind,” because I was tired and I didn’t want to do all that social stuff: “where are you from?” “what are you doing here?” “how long have you been here” etc. etc. (We had started the day at 5:45 a.m. and now it was 8:00 p.m. and I just wanted to relax with my beer(s). But to be honest, my reflexive first response may not have been any different if I’d spent the day napping and reading.) I’ve become much better at being social since being here, but at the same time, if given a way out of it – I’ll jump at the opportunity. (A few months ago, one of the women who takes care of the restaurant/canteen at the front gate met me just as I entered the gate after coming from the market and the internet café around 7:30 p.m. and told me there was someone in the restaurant looking for me, and that she hadn't seen me come in the gate, so I could dodge it all, because the visitor would be here for a few days and I’d be able to see her another time, by quickly ducking off to the right and taking a minimally longer way back to my house. I thanked her, quietly and profusely, and slinked off to the right.)

But, of course I didn’t voice my thoughts of, “NO! Don’t join us; I want to relax; I don’t want to talk to strangers; I just want to enjoy my beer and question why it’s a Saturday night and these two beers we are drinking are the last ones in the fridge.” So they joined us, and brought with them WINE (that’s what the title on the label was, anyway – the UK woman thought it was wonderful, I thought it was quite a bit less wonderful) and OBAMA. Our president turns out to be named after the “Original OBAMA COFFEE LIQUEUER”.

Ingredients include: Genuine Coffee, Water, Ethanol, and Fructose Glucose, and it’s made by the Afua Mpo Enterprise, right here in Ghana, West Africa. (There’s something else in small writing, but my glasses got misplaced about 9 months ago, so it’s not likely I’ll be reading that while sitting under these energy saver light bulbs without any specs to magnify.)

And, as is usually the case after I get over my initial revulsion at social contact, I enjoyed talking to the strangers. Maybe Obama’s participation in the conversation helped – but at the same time, I’ve noticed that usually, after I’ve started talking to strangers, it goes fine and I wonder why I so desperately wanted to avoid the initial contact.

Anyway – a better update will have to come soon, because my excessive rambling prevents it at this time- and only one good picture to accompany all that rambling – but I’m sure the links will be interesting to check out and they have additional pictures.


At 8:25 PM, Blogger Nate said...

I think I share your stranger / social contact aversion a bit, and also your realization that it's usually not so bad once you do it. Hmm. But I still refuse to socialize in the grocery mall. :)

At 2:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A most excellent and entertaining post Steve. Thanks!! xo Christine

At 3:19 AM, Blogger Karen Solas said...

I have a similar reaction to grocery malls - and I don't even have the excuse of living in a country where things aren't normally like that! Can't deal with choosing from a million kinds of the SAME THING! So thankful for our wonderful little grocery co-op.

At 11:30 PM, Blogger Rick said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 11:31 PM, Blogger Rick said...

What a fun post to read! You are a good storyteller. Your experience in the grocery store reminds me of a book Justin told me about called "The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less". Too many choices can make us crazy! Also, I wanted to ask what wine making ingredients you might need, maybe we can find them for you. I'd love to sample some homemade cashew fruit wine!

At 5:01 PM, Blogger steve said...

Hey Rick - I'd have to look up the recipe for the cashew fruit wine - I can't remember the ingredients - so I'll let you know (although it might be easier to buy it at the monastery about 45 minutes away). Maybe I'd have better luck with that than the cheese making escapade (which I am ready with all the ingredients to repeat - hopefully this weekend - will keep you posted.

At 2:20 AM, Blogger MJ said...

As I recall wasn't part of the problem also the equipment you would need for making the wine?

At 4:16 PM, Blogger steve said...

probably, but I can't remember. I'd have to find that recipe you sent me - I'm sure it's somewhere

At 10:12 PM, Blogger p-mommy said...

i absolutely LOVE reading your blogs! i tried responding before and forgot my password! i'm gonna try sending this again and see if ti works..if not, i'll respond from my email address!

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