Friday, May 29, 2009

four whole years

Moses celebrated his fourth birthday this week--our second born, our VBAC, our talker. He's just distinctly Moses in every way.

In the morning, he opened presents (with a lot of help from Isaac) from family, including this set of living room furniture
for their playhouse from grandma and grandpa maya.

Moses took a cake to school to share with his class.

His teacher, Titsha Sibongile, helped him cut it.

After school, some of the boys' friends from the neighbourhood came over and we played Pin the Tail on the Zebra.
Moses and Bayanda take their turns in these pictures.

We broke a not-yet-dry-pinata. Only two heads got accidentally bashed in the process. And we removed the blindfold and stopped spinning the kids when we moved to using the aluminium bat.

Jesse came over and made them all dizzy by having them spin around a bat.

Moses was pretty tired (and getting cranky) by the time the cake came out but he managed to get those candles eventually.

And just for good measure--here are all three boys.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Xhosa-inspired Bread

People all over the world have ingenious ways to make bread without an evenly-baking oven--tortillas, naan, cornbread in a skillet, to name a few. The Xhosa have two kinds of bread made in a pot over a fire or over a paraffin heater.

One is a bread baked in a covered cooking pot and flipped part way through cooking. I absolutely cannot make this bread without burning the outside and leaving a doughy centre. But done right it has a soft centre and a beautifully chewy crust.

The other common kind of bread is steam bread. The risen bread dough is put in a plastic bag (traditionally in tightly wrapped banana leaves or a clay bowl) and placed in a covered pot over a few inches of boiling water. There it is steamed for about an hour. The end product is a moist, chewy bread with a soft crust.

But the revolutionary thing about Xhosa bread-making for me is the consistency of the dough. I was taught to make bread with just enough water to bind it but dry enough to turn it out and knead it. If it began to stick during the kneading, I added more flour. The Xhosa make a very, very watery dough. Kneading is done in the mixing bowl and leaves the hands very sticky.

This change in process has made the difference for me between making bread twice a year and making all of our bread. The dough is easier to knead and requires less of it. It also uses less yeast and rises really well. There is no salt used and I am afraid to try adding it as I am afraid it would reduce the excessive rising. Here is my attempt at a recipe, adding ingredients like oatmeal which the Xhosa would not use and baked in bread pans in the oven. Times and numbers are very approximate but I find that this bread is hard to mess up.

8 c. whole wheat flour
5 c. white flour
2 c. oatmeal
1/4 c. sugar
1T. yeast

Mix all ingredients. Pour several cups of water over and mix with a wooden spoon. Add more water and keep mixing. Add more water and move to mixing with hands. Stop adding water when dough is a medium thick paste. Knead (squish around in bowl with your hands) for several minutes. Pour into a large, greased bucket or pot to rise. Dough will triple so be sure your receptacle is big enough.

Rise for 1 - 2 hours. Punch down and pour into well greased bread pans, 2/3rds filled. Let rise while oven heats to 350F/180C degrees. Bake for 35-40 minutes.

If you want to try steaming the bread--follow directions up to the point of putting in bread pans. Instead, find a plastic grocery bag with no holes (put in some water to test). Pour dough into bag and tie top tightly. Boil 3 inches of water in a pot large enough to hold your grocery bag. Put a plate or baking pan in the bottom of the pot to keep the bread off the heat. When water boils, place bag in the pot with bottom down. Turn heat down to a simmer and leave for 45 minutes - one hour. Open pot a few times and add water if level drops below an inch.

Test bread by opening and looking for non-doughiness on outside. This indicates doneness. This method is really hard to mess up as oversteaming is not a big deal and does not leave bread dry or burned. When in doubt, keep steaming.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

dog days

We were reminded again today of the tortured relationship people in this country have with dogs. Our first experience of this phenomenon occurred back in 2006.

We were on vacation near a game park in our province, Eastern Cape, staying at a lovely guesthouse on a large citrus farm. One day, we decided to take a walk around the premises. One of the farm dogs accompanied us. As we passed by a farm worker, a Xhosa man, the good-natured dog suddenly turned into a snarling beast, yapping at the man while guarding us. It was an awkward moment, and one which would be repeated once or twice more that same day. We came away appalled by the phenomenon of what we called “racist dogs”, undoubtedly reflective of the training of their owners.

We also have a dog, having acquired her from the time she was six weeks old. Marley (named after the children's book, not the movie), is good-natured, loyal, and gentle with our children. She also barks incessantly at visitors—in particular, though not exclusively, at black South Africans.

Today, as we opened our gate to leave for school and work, Marley dashed out. At precisely the same moment, a local domestic worker, a Xhosa woman, was passing by. True to form, Marley pulled up a few feet away from the woman, barking. True to the pattern, the woman began to shriek and make flailing, defensive motions with her arms, which, of course, only intensified Marley's response. She quickly returned when we called her.

The scenario is maddening. We're sick of the seemingly inbred color-consciousness of South African dogs. We're also annoyed by people's (sometimes near-phobic) reactions to our dog, knowing that if they would remain calm and suppress their defensive, and to a dog's eyes, threatening, posture, Marley will back off.

Today, I called our pastor. “I am fine,” he said, “except that two weeks ago, I was bitten by a dog. I didn't take it seriously, and now I am sick. I'm at the clinic getting some injections.”

I don't know the whole context. And, once I witnessed the pastor's three-year old son whipping a mangy, rural mutt for sport. Clearly, there exists a tortured relationship in this country between people and dogs. But perhaps this latest bite is one further reminder of the lingering brutality of a deeply racist past.


Monday, May 11, 2009

two kisses

At our May teaching in Mthatha on the History of Christianity, I elaborated on the early Christian practice, also attested in the New Testament, of "the holy kiss." My point was as follows.

In the Roman society in which the early church grew up, people greeted one another with a kiss. The kiss, however, was exchanged only within social boundaries--not across them. Consequently, when members of the church, drawn from "Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female," began to exchange the kiss as a sign of their unity in Christ, they drew the ire of their pagan contemporaries.

This is all interesting in and of itself, but that is not my point for the present.

One of Bethany Bible School's most inquisitive students wanted to know what "the holy kiss" had to do with Absalom's kiss (2 Samuel 15).

"Did you even know that there was such a kiss?" a visiting North American friend asked me later that evening.

I hadn't.

She went on to say that, when she and her husband, former missionaries in West Africa, reported on Africans' propensity for knowing portions of the Bible obscure to many western readers, some North American supporters "wondered what [they] were there for." The Africans, after all, knew their Bibles better than the westerners.

In one sense, yes. Her husband, however, had responded, "I think I am there to give some perspective."

I would view my job, as an American whom South Africans call "Teacher", in exactly the same way. Though many of my students are more likely to know than me that Absalom had a kiss, they are less likely to know what that kiss, if anything, has to do with other parts of the Story we call the Bible.

Hence, the student's question. I had been talking about, aside from the few references at the end of certain of Paul's letters, post-biblical material. The student heard about the "kiss" and thought of Absalom (I might point out here that he did not even think of Judas). His associations were free, unbound by time (of which elapsed more than 1000 years, between Absalom and the early church), or text (Old vs. New Testament or even second and third-century CE writings from the Graeco-Roman world).

Did he even know (and this is not ridicule!) that, at least in the sense of time, it is impossible that "the holy kiss" and "Absalom's" were one?

I take such a distinction for granted. As a result, I look to answer the question by finding out what the purpose behind the respective kisses was; only then can I compare them.

Another student, however, simply chose as his answer the simple narrative facts: "Absalom was using that kiss to overthrow his father. [Therefore] that kiss has nothing to do with ["the holy kiss"]." Case closed.

Still, I had to add: "Yes . . . Absalom used his kiss for the purpose of betrayal, the early Christians used theirs for love."