It is 10:30 P.M on Monday and the rain has been pouring for the last 2 hours, the thunder is loud and lightning flashing, but this morning and afternoon - oh what fantastic cooking weather! (This evening’s bad news I will send in a separate email.) I spoke to Ray at 8:00 who told me the weather being called for Maseru was thundershowers. Obviously, showers is a relative word.
We arrived at Mokethoaneng (Hope you have been practicing the name. There will be a test on my return.) at 8:00 to the sound of shouts and trilling. We hit the ground running. Christiane put 18 sunstoves out into the sun, Mpho measured and poured water into pots and placed them in the stove while Setloke & I went to the Chief’s house to collect the day’s ingredients: flour, oil, sugar, salt, yeast, raisins and the 17 other sunstoves and lids. Again the grandmothers and young uncle arrived in the nick of time to save me from schlepping anything.
I’m getting so spoiled that by the time I get home, we’ll need to have hired help.
The grandmothers jostled for position inside the community centre, each trying to sit closer to the front and if that wasn’t possible, then at least in a close second row. We asked them to spread out - making bread is serious business and they would need room to maneuver. Everyone eyed everyone else to see who was going to sit where, but just like at home, there are some who manage to get the ‘best’ seats while the rest just sigh and sit somewhere else.
Measured bread ingredients were distributed to each basin, starting at the back of the room to make it up to those who lost the seat grab earlier. Each cup of flour or teaspoon of sugar or salt carefully counted by the grandmother, to make sure the ingredients were exactly as stated on the recipe help tightly in one fist.
The group was sent outside to check on the sunstoves. You could hear the voices shouting. “They are facing the wrong way. They need to be turned to face the sun!” Grandmothers rushed to right this terrible wrong. Test # 1 was passed with flying colours.
We then explained in detail how to make the bread, adding the sun-warmed water & oil and gently mixing and kneading the dough, using the analogy of handling a baby. Pounding and squeezing will have dire results but gentle handling and turning over will produce a happy and wonderful baby. There was a lot of laughter as grandmothers were being accused of killing the baby, including the young Chief, who was caught over-squeezing the dough. Some dough had to be pried out of fingers and gently re-mixed. It is really interesting to feel the difference between dough balls made from the same ingredients, but only handled differently. You can tell which ones will rise and which one will not. That is why we put raisins in the dough, if the bread doesn’t rise and is more than a bit chewy, it will at least be tasty.
There was a mad dash through the door to be the first to select the sunstove in which the precious pots of dough were to be placed. The women fussed over the acrylic lids, some showing others how to take them off and put them on in the most efficient manner, dusting off the ever-fine red soil and making sure the sunstove was receiving optimum sun.
The bread was an amazing success, cooking in approximately 2.5 hours. On being offered a taste of the delicious bread by one grandmother, Christiane said she had to control herself from making off with a quarter of it! I should have checked her pockets just to be sure. The hillside was full of the sound of ‘yum’, ‘ooo’, ‘aie’ and trilling that can damage eardrums if you stand too close.
While waiting for the dough to transform into delicious bread, we received a large number of letters destined for Canadian sponsors. Some have even included personal pictures. These have been carefully stashed into my backpack. They cannot be trusted to the cargo hold.
We held a question & answer session with one grandmother asking the question of the day. She wanted to know what other food could be cooked in the sunstove and whether it could be used for drying fruits. Talk about serendipity!
On Sunday, I had dragged Halieo almost kicking and screaming to her first day off in her lifetime. Christiane and I took her to Ficksburg in South Africa following the annual Cherry Festival which had concluded the day before. We had a great day browsing in an art gallery, guest houses and a fantastic metal scrap yard arts and craft shop cum restaurant cum guest house. I think Halieo has concluded that having a day off isn’t so bad after all.
On our way home to Maseru, we stopped in Mapoteng where we have trained 50 grannies in 2 previous sessions. We visited with Malira & Ntate who were the hosts for these sessions. Malira told us that she recently dried carrots and peaches in the sunstove with great results. She gave us a taste of the shriveled up carrot bits and yes they do taste better than they look. She says that if you add them to soup or stew, they swell, regain their colour and taste as fresh as if they have just come out of the garden!
Her peaches were so tasty that she had none to offer us, they were gobbled up by all who came by. But one batch of the peaches burned black, for which she blames her husband for not caring for them while she was away from the house.
Malira gave us a step-by-step description of the process. This I used to answer the granny’s great question, referring to my notes taken in Mapoteng and telling them about Malira’s success and failure. They loved the fact that her only failure could be blamed on someone else.
We had refreshment of cookies, apples and oranges. Again the grannies asked to be served. They held out their hands with upturned palms, people in Lesotho don’t put out a hand to take something. A gift is expected to be placed in the hand of the recipient, not taken by an outstretched fist as we do at home. It is seldom that someone will put their hand into a box or bowl of food without being directed to do so. In Halieo’s house, food can be left on the counter or in the fridge and not be touched by anyone without an invite or direction.
We then asked each person their age and how many children they care for. We were shocked to discover that 1 granny is raising 11 children at the age of 82. 2 grannies are raising 9 at the ages of 72 and 57 respectively. Because we have to buy some foodstuffs in bulk, there are a few extra packages from each. These were divvied up for these extra large households.
Grandmothers and the uncle gathered outside for photos and the graduation exercise because of course everyone had passed the final test with the loaves to prove it. Each was called forward to have a flowered hat pin, made by Bea Brewer of Salt Spring Island, pinned onto their collars. The uncle was the last to be called forward. We asked if he should also receive a hat pin to hoots of laughter. I planted a Canadian maple leaf pin on his collar and a big kiss on his temple while Setloke took a picture. He was so bashful and the grannies screamed with laughter.
The prayers, dancing and singing always takes a long time on the last day. Everyone is so grateful and joyful, no one more so than the grandmother with the crippled arm. She sings the loudest and dances the fiercest, not letting any infirmity get in her way.
We asked who would be cooking tomorrow in the sun and all shouted they would be and they will every day the sun is shining. As one expressed it so well, ‘We are so tired of the smoke and fumes burning our eyes and it is difficult to find anything to burn.’ The valley veld is expansive with wide-open fields and the hillside has too few trees for fuel.
A super ending to another exciting Cooking School session in Lesotho.