split pea cook-up

Today, me and my host family worked together to make lunch. Mom made Split Pea Cook-up, my little sister smashed garlic and cut tomatoes like a pro, and I made seasoned-baked fish and a salad to go with it. It was a good Saturday afternoon learning from each other and sharing what we all love–food.

Like I’ve mentioned before, I’m learning recipes simply by watching. This is my first attempt to write it down so bare with me. Come, leh we go!

SPLIT PEA COOK-UP

What is cook-up?

Cook-up is an Afro-Guyanese dish made of rice, coconut milk, some kind of legume/bean, and any rank (aka meat) of your choice. People eat this on several occasions: a baby shower, birthday, BBQ, or just because. It’s a Guyanese home favorite. There are many ways to mix it up and make it taste how you like, but what doesn’t change is how delicious rice is cooked in coconut milk. So freaking good.

IMG_1786

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dry split peas (or use 1 can if you can find some)
  • 2 cups of rice
  • 1 2/3 cups of coconut milk (or 13.5oz can)
  • 1 cup of water
  • onions (diced)
  • 5 stems of celery w/ leaves (diced)
    • if you’re in America, use about 3.
  • 1 hot pepper (diced)
  • salt/all purpose seasoning (in Guyana, you can use cook-up seasoning)

Directions:

  1. I’ve never pressurized anything before, but that’s how people do things in Guyana. My host mom gave me these sweet directions to share with you: place pressurizer on med-hot heat, add about 1 to 2 cups of water into the pot, add your peas, cover with lid, and let it pressurize until you hear the first whistle. Host mama says it shouldn’t take long. I’m going to guess between 5-10 minutes.
    • Of course, if you don’t have a pressure cooker and don’t want to boil your peas for a long time, you can just buy the can.
  2. Sautee celery, onion, and hot pepper in some oil on medium heat.
  3. Add split peas.
  4. Pour coconut milk and water.
  5. Add rice into the pot with everything else until it is fully cooked.
  6. Add salt and all purpose seasoning to taste.

SEASONED BAKED FISH

IMG_1785

Ingredients:

  • 1-2lbs of fish (cut into fillets)
    • Sorry, I don’t know what kind we used… but the flesh was white.
  • 3-4 stems of celery w/ leaves
  • 4 tomatoes (diced, large)
  • 1 whole garlic (minced)
  • 1 lime
  • salt
  • soy sauce

Directions:

  1. Marinated the fish with lime, garlic, oil, and a little bit of salt.
  2. In a one or two large pans, bake the fish (skin facing up) at 450F (or 240C) for 20-30 minutes.
  3. While the fish is baking, cut your celery and tomatoes.
  4. Once the fish is fully cooked, add the celery and tomatoes to the pan.
  5. Lightly pour soy sauce onto the fish. I don’t use much because the fish is already salty. We don’t want to over do it so make sure the fish ISN’T drowning in it.
  6. Place back in the oven for another 10-15 minutes until tomatoes are soft.

IMG_1789

Enjoy!!!

Love always,
Mel

Advertisements

food in guyana: part 1

RECIPES: As I learn how to make several Guyanese dishes from friends and families here, I can’t quite figure out how to get the recipes because well, they don’t have any. In Guyana, you cook based on your memories from watching your mother and your mother’s mother in the kitchen. It’s the same way I know how to make Filipino food–you put this (pours the bottle for 10 seconds) and this (dumps unmeasured amounts of ingredients) and a little bit of that (it’s actually a lot) and then you stir it until it’s done! A lot of my work here in Guyana will be to write down these recipes and modify them for patients at the hospital so… I’m gonna have to figure something out.

SEASONING: There’s a lot of seasoning that goes into their simple cooking. Curry isn’t just curry. It’s curry seasoning, masala seasoning, chicken seasoning, fish seasoning, green seasoning, garlic seasoning, pepper seasoning, and any other seasoning you honestly feel like throwing in there. Oh, and don’t forget, aghee (also known as MSG). To be fair, Guyanese food taste delicious. And that’s not just the MSG talking. However, hypertension is a serious problem in this country. And although people are aware they shouldn’t add “salt”, they are not always aware that there is plenty of salt in the other seasonings they are putting in their foods.

CHURCH’S CHICKEN SANDWICHES: Wow, ok. Let me not be a nutritionist for just a quick paragraph. I don’t know what it is, but the Church’s Chicken Sandwiches here are… Gosh, I don’t even have words. Specifically, the ones in Parika (Region 3). I don’t pass through Parika unless I’m going to and from Essequibo (Region 2), but holy moly, biting into one after a long day of traveling is everything I need to forget that I’ve been on a bus and a boat for the last 5 hours.

CHIPPING: This is how you cut things in Guyana. You could use a cutting board, but as I like to describe it, most people cut things in the air. They chip everything under the sun effortlessly (and quickly, might I add) as they pull the knife upwards through the food into small, sometimes even pieces. It’s really an art and I’m not very good at it.

HOT PEPPERS: They are hot. Like the hottest bearable peppers I’ve ever come across eating. When you do cut the peppers, your fingers will burn. I don’t know the names of them, but they come in different sizes. A friend of mine ate a large pepper whole and from what I’ve heard, I’m almost sure his entire body was on fire. I’ve only ever cooked with the little, round red peppers that look like the tiny berries my cousins and I used to put up our noses when we were kids. Disclaimer: don’t put these up your nose. You’ve been warned.

BUGS: You will probably eat some and you won’t even know it. Mostly ants because they get into everything. I think I ate some this morning with my jam. I’ll live though.

ROTI: I love roti for multiple reasons. It not only taste amazing with pretty much all my favorite foods here (pumpkin curry, dahl, and belanjay choka), but it’s also a great way to make friends in Guyana. I’ve learned that telling someone I know how to make this round, flakey piece of doughy heaven is a perfect shoe into friendship. Instead of breaking the ice, you clap the roti.

CHEESE: It’s really oily and I think it’s cheddar (*update, it is cheddar). Other volunteers are pretty skeptical about it, but I don’t care what anyone says, I eat it everyday and it makes me happy.

VEGETABLES: Some things are called differently here: bora (green beans), belanjay (eggplant), calalu (spinach). People in Guyana eat vegetables, they just don’t eat them raw. My host mom in Essequibo was always shocked to see me eat our vegetables before we cooked them. To my knowledge, almost everything is thrown into a pot, stewed down, seasoned up, and then eaten with rice. Although this is a good way to kill bacteria, people are also killing the nutrients. There are ways to make raw vegetables taste good and I hope to show more people what I mean by this. Mixing different types of veggies together to compliment the sweet and the bitter, adding lime to make it sour, or maybe some peppers for a little spice–the possibilities are endless.

FRUITS: I’m not saying everyone has mangoes and coconuts and papayas and guavas growing right in their backyard (I certainly don’t), but someone has something and I can bet they’re more than likely willing to share with you. As a fruit lover myself, I’m in my own personal heaven here. Not all of them taste good (sorry, I’m not a fan of awarra), but trying new fruits I’ve never had or heard of before like soursop and sorrel have been one of my favorite experiences since moving to Guyana. There’s really nothing like eating a fruit right off the tree. Nothing.


It’s been almost three months since I’ve been in country and I’ve learned so much already; things in and out of the kitchen, of course. Cooking, however, continues to be my way of connecting with people in Guyana. Feeling like I belong here has been difficult at times, so I thank God for this way of being loved and loving others.

Love always,
Mel

dear guy 30

Let’s go back to when we started our application. The fear, the uncertainty, the bravery. The moments before hitting submit, are we good enough for this? We waited for a word, a call, a sign… wait, an interview?! Breathe.

Of course the video call doesn’t work. But here we go. These are my hopes and dreams… please, just like me! We waited again. And a little some more. The wonder, the doubt. But congratulations!!! You’ve been invited to serve… after you fill these documents, sign these papers, read these emails, go to these appointments, buy all these things, and get these shots. Got it?

After (for some of us) a year goes by, finally, we’re in Philadelphia. The cheesesteaks, the three little ghosts, the snow, the bus ride to New York, the sleepless flight.

Greeted by a hot, humid hug… mama, we made it to Guyana. But wait, our ferry isn’t leaving for another four hours?! Just. Keep. Smiling.

Finally, we reach Mainstay. Our first dip in the beautiful black water. Our first taste of rice and roti and pumpkin and curry. Our first feel for the next two years of our life. Yea, those five days were special. And on the last, we all felt it, didn’t we? This is where we are meant to be.

Now we’ve been here for two months. It wasn’t easy, but look how we’ve grown. So much has changed, even our pants size, and we’re still all here. There were times we didn’t know if we could, times we weren’t sure if we were ready, times we felt like we were done. But look! See! A million PACA presentations, memes, and coconut water bottles later… Today, we are no longer trainees.

So congratulations, GUY 30. We did it. We’re officially Peace Corps Volunteers.
I’m proud to call you not only my friends, but my family.

38, we came. And 38, I hope are here to stay.

Love always, Mel

new amsterdam and new expectations

I had this idea that I’d be somewhere in the middle of a green, luscious wonderland. I was fixated on taking a boat to work every morning, peeling cassava in my backyard with my aunties, eating everything right off the tree, throwing back in my hammock until the sun came down, and helping people live healthier lives in the meantime. That was the dream, right?

But that’s not the Peace Corps story I’m here to tell. This week, I’m in New Amsterdam to get a feel for my new home before I make the big move in April.

New Amsterdam is located on the eastern coast of Guyana with a population of about 33,000. This is where everyone along the Berbice have all of their fun and get everything they need.

There are 3 main roads–Waterside, Backdam , and Main Street–with other intervening narrow streets in between. The market is massive and it has every fruit, vegetable, and meat you could possibly think of. It’s open everyday from 6am to 4pm, with the exception of Wednesday when the market closes at noon. But even then, there are grocery stores and shops and stands and restaurants and plenty of people out on the road at all hours of the day to keep you busy.

I live in a beautiful blue, wooden house with a fun family of seven that I love so much already. My home has running water, electricity, wifi, a washing machine, and is conveniently located in front of an ice cream shop (yesterday, they served banana).

Instead of waking up to roosters crowing and cows mooing, I’m woken up by a moving city and Becky, our rude flightless parrot. Mornings are busy with breakfast, bathing, and mama bustling tired little booties out the door by 8am. So much of this routine reminds me of life back home.

In a lot of ways, New Amsterdam is unlike many towns in Guyana. I have friends in other areas where all you can see is bush, where buildings are much smaller and more spread out, where fruits and vegetables are not as abundant, and where people travel by ATVS because roads are rougher and places are harder to reach. But even so, New Amsterdam faces its own set of struggles–many that I see in the hospitals I’ll be working at.

In my experiences living in large cities it’s hard for people to get out of a restless routine and make the simple things matter again. Things like health and happiness. I see it all the time in the US. There’s also social and sanitation issues to consider, but we’ll get into that just now. Although New Amsterdam isn’t a big place (it only takes about 10 minutes for me to walk from one end to the other), it has what every big city has: big buildings that cut into natural things and busy streets that don’t slow down for anyone. I’ve always struggled to thrive in places like this and I wasn’t sure if that was going to work for me.

I was really afraid of how large my community is and the challenges I’d face trying to help it (let alone living in it) but one moment, one person, one thing at a time. I’ve already stretched my social capacity from talking to 5 people in a day to 50 so I’d say I’m getting there. Just 32,950 more people to go.

Sitting out on the veranda tonight, I started to realize that even though this is not the experience I thought I’d be having in the Peace Corps, it’s still going to be good and I’m still going to do well here. Why? Well, because I’m here for a reason and I refuse to let it unfold any other way.

Welcome to New Amsterdam.

IMG_0867

Love always,
Melanie

ready as I’ll ever be.

Just a few days ago, the other GUY 30 volunteers and I received out site assignment. For the next two years, I will be living in New Amsterdam in Region 6. It’s one of the largest cities on the coast of Guyana with about 33,000 people currently living there. Let’s just keep in mind that Guyana has a population of just 750,000.

I will be working at the New Amsterdam Regional Hospital, which has the capacity to hold about 300 patients at a time. My primary assignment will be to assist the kitchen staff with healthy food initiatives and help develop new patient appropriate meals. Other projects will fall into place as time goes by, but my main focus will be to see forth the nutritional objectives for maternal and child health.This is the part where most of us jump up and down with excitement, but I also think it’s normal to feel unqualified and worried at a time like this, right? Things like “Wow, they’re going to see right through me. How did I get here?!” and “Big city, small person. Not good.” have been running through my mind all weekend. 

Since moving to Guyana, I have been praying for faith to trust God’s plan and protection over me–faith to trust I’m enough to be here–and I guess as the weeks have flown by, I’ve felt uneasy and a little unsure of it all.

After I got home from training today, the last things I wanted to do was sit and anticipate what the next two years (or even the next week) were going to be like. I was desperate to stretch out the hours of the day so I asked my little host siblings and their friends next door if they wanted to walk with me through town. Nico (my 8 year old little host brother) led the pack across the street and to my surprise, brought us to the ocean.

Staring out into the sea as the sun began setting behind us, it was like finding hidden treasure. The breeze felt cool against my skin and my soul, and I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. I didn’t know the ocean was so near to my house, and in a way, I guess I didn’t realize how near Christ was either.


Being given a great opportunity doesn’t make me any less human. I didn’t suddenly become immune to hardship, anxiety, or fear. But I was reminded today that I’ve been given bravery despite those thoughts that try to cripple my potential, courage to stand tall before anything that’s bigger than me, and strength in every place I am weak.

And so, here’s to New Amsterdam and the next two years of the Peace Corps ahead of me. I’m ready.

Love always, Melanie

hello from guyana!

So far I’ve endured the bus and speed boat journey to Georgetown (the capital of Guyana), I’ve met with the Ministry of Public Health, I’ve become friends with a few merchants at the market, I’ve shadowed midwives at the health center in my township, I’ve proposed a few project ideas related to child nutrition and cooking, and I’ve observed a day at the nursery. But for the most part, this is what my days in Guyana have looked like:

In the morning, I am woken up around 6am to an alarm clock of birds singing, dogs barking, roosters crowing, cars honking, babies crying, and peas cooking. Once I’ve had a moment to really get up, I crawl out of my mosquito net and start boiling my water for coffee. Most people in Guyana drink “tea” which could be Milo, Ovaltine, or actual tea if you say “tea bag”. I was fortunately placed in a home where coffee is an important part of their day because having coffee withdrawals is one less thing I have to worry about. 

For breakfast, I usually eat “Chana” (seasoned chickpeas), toast, a boiled egg, or whatever I’m having for lunch. It doesn’t take me long to get ready in the morning, but I like being able to talk with my host mom in the kitchen or watch the news with my host dad before heading to training.

At about 8am, I walk out to the main road and wait for a hired car (kind of like a taxi) to pick me up. From where I live, it’s about a 15 minute drive to the training site, which costs me about $140GD one way (about 75 cents). I love these drives. Not only do I get a perfect breeze and a beautiful sunrise, but I get to listen to different music everyday that varies from Caribbean jams to Celine Dion. It’s a perfect way to start my day.

Pre-Service Training (PST) runs from 8:30am until about 4:00pm. Some days we’re done earlier and some days (unfortunately) we get done much later. Everyday is different, but the people are all the same and they’re pretty great. I feel very fortunate to learn and work beside incredibly hilarious, inspiring human beings.

I like to hang out by the sea wall or go on a walk before I go home. Let me just say, I couldn’t have been matched with a better host family. I live with two young parents in their 30s with two wild children. Once I get home, I take a cold shower and gaff (which means “to chat or talk) with my host mom before we start cooking dinner. It’s no surprise that this is my favorite part of the day , but I’ll save that for another post.

Around 6 or 7, my host dad comes home from work at his barber shop and we eat. Our evenings are never the same–we’ll watch a movie, play cards, go to a Chinii (Creolese word for Chinese) restaurant, or sometimes get Rum Raisin ice cream down the street.

For the rest of the night, I’m usually out on my hammock in the veranda (the front porch) to relax. The cool air does my body and soul some good after a long day. When the kids settle down, my host mom will join me and we’ll gaff the night away (sometimes with rum and cake) until we become weary.

By 9 or 10, I’m ready to crawl back under my mosquito net and wait until it all begins again the next morning.

Guyana is more beautiful than I imagined. Everything is green and lush and so full of life. Like any country, it has its problems and everyday I learn about their needs. However, I’ve only been here a month so I’m still trying to figure out a normal life in Guyana. I will say though, I’m clapping Roti like I’ve been here forever… so there’s that.



Love always, Melanie

a peek into the process.

Dear Potential Peace Corps Applicants (or anyone applying for anything),

Some days you’re going to feel really excited and confident about the journey ahead, but then other days you’re going to feel really stressed and anxious about the possibility of it all being wrong. 80% of the time, you’ll probably question if what you’re doing is the right thing, but don’t let time or difficult circumstances distract you from achieving your dreams. Stay committed to your cause.

Your reason for applying in the first place is not limited by any organization. So if it takes you on a different path, it’ll still get you to where you’re going. But if you’re left to endure the Peace Corps process, then I hope my insight will help you feel a little more normal and encourage you to hang on.

DURING THE WAIT: 
Once you’ve been invited to serve in the Peace Corps (pending legal/medical clearance), the wait isn’t over. It’s definitely a small victory of sorts, but honey, you’ve got a lot of expenses and appointments and emails and visits to CVS, Walmart, REI, and Target ahead of you. My advice? Take every doctor’s visit, every bill, every panic filled moment one at a time. Soon five months will become five days.

ORGANIZE SMORGANIZE: I’ve never been an organized person. I’m the kind of gal who fills the first week of her brand new planner with punctuality and productivity, but for the rest of the year, those sad little squares remain blank. However with the amount of paper work, medical appointments, and deadlines involved in joining the Peace Corps… I had to become one. If you like to make lists and your brain is tightly organized all the time, then you’re already ahead of the game. If you’re not, well, you’re about to learn.

PACK YOUR SANITY: I’ve packed and re-packed my luggage at least four times. It sounds pretty excessive (because it is), but I am the queen of under-packing. I’ve also had more internal wars with myself in the middle of stores than a normal person should in a year. Now I don’t encourage this kind of behavior, but if you do end up standing in front of the socks section for more than 30 minutes because you can’t decide which pairs are cheaper and better for 90 degree weather, just know you’re not crazy. It happens.

BREATHE, IT’S IMPORTANT: In the days leading up to my departure, I’ve started feeling very unprepared for my service. Some serious fears of failure were sinking in. I mean, what the heck have I been doing these last couple of months?! I’ll tell what I’ve been doing—I’ve been enjoying these last little moments I have with my friends, my family, and my favorite food before it all changes. In a brief moment of panic, a sweet friend of my reminded me that I’ve already been chosen for the Peace Corps. That includes what I don’t know and can’t do. With that said, just breathe. In and out. We’re gonna be fine.

I’m really excited for what you’re about to begin. I think that you’ll learn a lot about yourself and how impactful it is to share it with the world. It’ll be tough, but it’ll be worth it. At least that’s how I see it just days away from my own Peace Corps experience in Guyana.

Good luck!!!

Love always,
Melanie Zimmerman



PEACE CORPS TIMELINE

  • january 2016: I started my Peace Corps application
  • february: The Peace Corps was my little secret during this time.
  • end of march: I finished my application + personal statement.
  • april: I finally told people and panicked a little.
  • may 27th: I was selected to interview to be a Health Volunteer in Guyana.
  • june 8th: MY INTERVIEW!! It was supposed to be a Skype interview, so you can imagine my the horrifying panic I had when it wasn’t working. However, it went well and it was casual. Did I mention it was 90 minutes long? Yea…
  • june 29th: I was officially invited to serve with the Peace Corps (pending medical/legal clearance). If you cry and scream and don’t know what to do with yourself, it’s ok. I did.
  • july & august: medical appointments, vaccinations, writing out to-do lists, online forums/education, and more tedious little things before the peace corps.
  • september: turned in all of my medical documents, visa requirements, and legal kit. But then, the worst part of the waiting began…
  • october: waiting impatiently and anxiously. ANY DAY NOW, PEOPLE!
  • november: ugh, still waiting and still freaking out about my future
  • december: finally received my medical clearance!!! I was a normal person again.
  • january 2017: spend time with friends, family, and my favorite foods while getting ready to depart for staging at the end of the month.