Disclaimer

Everything posted here is stricktly the opinion of the poster and shall not be taken to be the official position of UNMIS, UNMISS, UN, the Norwegian Armed Forces or any other organisation whatsoever.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

The Dinner Diaries

Over the last three weeks I've been keeping track of my dinners - just to give everyone a better idea of what passed for "normal" when you're cooking with very limited kitchen supplies.

Each entry have three subsections: What, How and Comment. Most have pictures, but some does not.

Sunday 07 November
  • Szechwan Hot & Sour soup with rice + one bread
  • Szechwan Hot & Sour cup soup, 4dl water, 1dl rice, cook until rice is tender. Use bread to clean pot and bowl.
  •  Reasonable hot and spicy. Not quite the Chinese I get at home, but not bad either. Worth doing again.
Monday 08 November
  • Three breads with honey, jam and “Tuna Lime & Pepper”
  • Slice in two, add spread, eat and repeat
  • Light dinner, since lunch was heavier than usual (dehydrated chicken in sweet and sour sauce, combat ration, 520 kcal) 
Tuesday 09 November
  • Rice and green lentils - African Curry style
  • ½ dl rice, ½ dl lentils, 4 dl water, a tablespoon of African Curry, a block of Lamb Stock, salt and pepper to taste. 
  • Planned as a light meal that should stay with me, since the Chief of Security asked if I wanted to hit a restaurant later. The place is a bit hit and miss as far as food goes, so better to eat a little first. Tasty, but go easier on the spice next time...Also, the restaurant had good food, but we opted for finger food so it worked out. Ethiopian is tasty.
Wednesday 10 November
  • Aromatic Thai Chicken & Lemon grass soup with rice + one bread
  • Aromatic Thai Chicken & Lemon grass cup soup, 4dl water, 1dl rice, cook until rice is tender. Use bread to clean pot and bowl
  • A variation on Sundays dinner, but with a different 'cup soup' as the main flavor. Smelled really, really good while simmering. Nice creamy consistency, good taste. Could be spicier, but that is true for most of my container cooking.
Thursday 11 November
  • Cod and Potato  Casserole
  • Prepare as follow:
    • Fold out bottom and tear off the top of the pouch
    • Add boiling water to the fill line (approx. 3.6dl) (water at a lower temperature can be used)
    • Stir thoroughly.
    • Close the pouch with the zipper. 
    • Wait min. 5 minutes (if using water at a lower temperature, the food must be allowed to rest for longer)
  • Yeah... it's dehydrated combat rations... I spent three hours talking to a fellow UNMO about everything from how to get fresh produce via learning English to the cost of housing, and then a bit more than an hour on the phone. It got late and I was hungry. Besides, it tastes pretty good.
 
Friday 12 November
  • Rice and Lentils a la Tamarind
  • ½ dl rice, ½ dl lentils, 4 dl water, one block of beef bullion, brought to a boil and let simmer until lentils are soft. Add tamarind to taste once on your plate.
  • Another variation on the staple food of rice and lentils. Pretty okay – would be interesting to combine the tamarind with meat of some description – probably goat, considering where I am.
Saturday 13 November
  • Southern Cajun Gumbo soup with rice and one bread.
  • Southern Cajun Gumbo cup soup, 4 dl water, 1 dl rice, cook until rice is tender. Use bread to clean pot and bowl.
  • Smells good, tastes good. Yet another variation on a theme I got going... but it's quick, easy and filling as well as tasty.
Sunday 14 November
  • Tex-mex rice and lentils.
  • ½ dl rice, ½ dl lentils, 4 dl water, one cube of lamb stock, plenty of tex-mex spice. 
  • Ye olde standby – but easy to make and very, very tasty. Now, where did I put the taco-meat, the home made salsa and the tortillas...
Monday 15 November
  • Ethiopian finger food
  • Eat out
  • Headed out to Addis Ababa restaurant (w/ pool table and bar) – TSL wanted to 'not have combat rations' for dinner, and invited me and the other 'wege out.
Tuesday 16 November
  • Lapskaus
  • Fold out bottom and tear of top of pouch etc
  • Yeah, it's combat rations again – except it ain't. It's the civilian version, which comes in more flavors and honestly tastes a little better (more spices). It feels like cheating, but I was on a SDP all day and had no lunch. Quick and easy and tasty too.
Wednesday 17 November
  • Medammes, Egyptian recipe, with rice.
  • One can of Egyptian style medammes (fava bean stew), 1 dl rice, 2 dl milk. Simmer for 45 minutes.
  • made with milk both because I had some milk left, and to create a milder flavour. Like most food I made, strangely tasty... probably a combination of being hungry, good raw materials, and home cooking.
Thursday 18 November
  • Ethiopian finger food.
  • Eat out.
  • Some of the other westerners in the area wanted to see the TSL before he headed out. I was more than happy to tag along – tasty food is tasty.
Friday 19 November
  • Chicken in Curry
  • Fold out bottom and...
  • Dehydrated dinner again – even if it feels like cheating. Trouble is, I was Duty Officer and all I had all day was two small breads, a bucket of coffee and two bottles of water. And it got late – dinner served at 2350.
Saturday 20 November
  • Rice and lentils, BBQ style.
  • 1 dl rice, ½ dl lentils, 5 dl water, beef stock and BBQ spice
  • Late lunch after a skimpy breakfast and little sleep. Made enough to leave a snack for breakfast. Different, but tasty.
  • "Real" dinner was buffet at New Tokyo - farewell party for our Danish TSL.
Sunday 21 November
  • Ethiopian finger food
  • Eat out
  • The TSLs last dinner in Yei. Planned (barely) partly due to a power outage in camp. Meet a couple of Dutch people at the restaurant and had a good time.
Monday 22 November
  • Hot and Spicy Rice and Lentils
  • ½ dl rice, ½ dl lentils,  5 dl water, chicken stock,  one (1) self picked tiny pepper
  • Yes, there is hot peppers growing in our compound.  I was warned by the Danish TSL just before he left that they were very hot, so just one made it into the pot this time


Tuesday 23 November
  • Lentil, beans and kidney beans stew
  • One can of beans and kidney beans stew, ½ dl lentils, ½ can water, simmer until lentils are soft. Paprika, salt and pepper to taste.
  • Not entirely sure where the can is from – most likely it was among the stuff I got from the departing TSL. And since everything is better with lentils and/or rice, I added lentils. Quite tasty, with a rich, creamy mouth feel to it.
Wednesday 24 November
  • Southern Cajun Gumbo soup with rice, lentils and one bread
  • Southern Cajun Gumbo cup soup, 4 dl water, ½ dl rice, ½ dl lentils, cook until rice is tender. Use bread to clean pot and bowl.
  • Slight variation on an earlier theme. simple, tasty, filling.
Thursday 25 November
  • Vegetable soup with rice.
  • Generic, no brand vegetable cup soup (UN rations), 1 dl rice, 4 dl water, spice to taste, boil until creamy.
  • Big lunch, since we're invited to a late dinner with the BanBat commander. Simple, tasty – but not as tasty as the cup soups I brought from Norway.
Friday 26 November
  • Pea and chilli "omelet"
  • One can peas (250gr drained), two tiny peppers, two eggs, dash of salt. Sweat the finely chopped peppers in a bit of olive oil, add the peas, whip the eggs in a cup and pour over, stir until all the egg is cooked through.
  • More scrambled eggs than omelet, this was a precursor to a more ambiguous dinner. If I'm going to get horrible sick eating eggs, I rather not spend an hour or more preparing a tasty dinner first... hence the idea of an omelet. Back home I would toss some ham or diced salami in, but down here the choices are more limited. Tasted quite all right, with a nice after burn. Just enough to make my lips and tongue tickle, but not to much.
Saturday 27 November
  • Various, including goat on the barbie.
  • Get invited to a birthday party at one of the local NGOs.
  • Omm nom nom. Got promoted to "the BBQ man", and had a good time too.
Sunday 28 November
  • Rice and lentils in chilli sauce
  • ½ dl rice, ½ dl lentils, 5 dl water, lamb stock, chilli/garlic spice, a dash of chilli sauce, let simmer until thick and creamy.
  • Yet another variation. One thing I like about rice and lentils is the versatility of it. This one was nice and spicy, with a real tingle to it.
 And that's it - three weeks of dinners from my kitchenette.

Friday, 26 November 2010

The close things

I think I have found out why the poem in the last post hit so close to home, despite the fact that I have never seen it before my better half pointed it out to me. It is, in fact, because the essence of it neatly echoes a poem I grew up with:
De Nære Ting

Ditt sinn monne flyve så vide omkring,
det er som du glemmer de nære ting,
det er som du aldri en time har fred,
du lengter bestandig et annet sted.

Du syns dine dager er usle og grå,
hva er det du søker, hva venter du på?
Når aldri du unner deg rast eller ro,
kan ingen ting vokse og intet gro.

Gå inn i din stue, hvor liten den er,
så rommer den noe ditt hjerte har kjær.
På ropet i skogen skal ingen få svar,
finn veien tilbake til det du har.

Den lykken du søker bak blående fjell,
kan hende du alltid har eiet den selv.
Du skal ikke jage i hvileløs ring,
men lær deg å elske de nære ting

Arne Paasce Aasen

And in my attemt at translatation, aided by Google:

The Close Things
Your mind was set to fly wide and far, 

it is like you forget the close things, 
it is like you never have one hour of peace, 
you long always to be somewhere else.

You think your days are grim and gray, 

what are you looking for, what are you waiting for? 
When not treating yourself to rest or peace, 
nothing can take root and nothing grow.

Go into your home, however small 

it holds something your heart holds dear.
 The shout in the forest will not get an answer,
 find your way back to what you have.

The happiness you are seeking behind distant mountains, 

You may have always owned it yourself. 
You should not chase restless around 
but learn to love the close things.

Some heavy thinking been going on

Yesterday was Thanksgiving for those of you who are in the US. For those of a non-US persuasion; Thanksgiving was originally a harvest festival, but has morphed into a mixture of family feast and an excuse pre-christmas consumerism (check out Black Friday if you don't believe me). Off course, when in deepest Africa, the perspective on thing changes somewhat... not only are we far from harvest season (or rather, harvest is something that goes on all year around) and I am far from my loved ones, but the concept of going crazy over cheap consumer goods is about as relevant to the people around me as learning to ski...

Related to that, my better half pointed me to a poem that was unknown to me, but which neatly sums up a large part of my life philosophy: Be honest, happy, cheerful and enjoy life. Stuff usually works out in the end And remember that there usually is a difference between what people want and what they really need, and that include yourself...

Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible without surrender

be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexatious to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,

you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.

Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,

gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,

be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,

whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,

it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Slooow days

It's amazing how long a day can be when you're stuck in an office - but someone have to do it.

The concept of Duty Officer is well known to me, even if we call it something else back home. But the end result is the same; stay in the office, mind the phone, monitor communications and in general be available if needed. But I much rather be out and about - doing stuff.

Not that I haven't been doing stuff. I done a lot today, but it's all been done while sitting down and in front of the computer. Not my idea of what going to Africa should be all about, but it is a task that needs doing. At least tomorrow should be better - I can get out and do things again!

Monday, 22 November 2010

Some like it hot!

 This cute little pepper bush grows by my neighbors container... looks innocent enough, right?
 Less than a minute of idle picking yielded this harvest - which ought to fill my needs at least until Christmas rolls around. Look big and plump, do they not?
Well, maybe not so big, but they do pack a powerful punch. Just the smallest one of these in today's dinner made me grasp my water bottle. Some people do like it hot, but this stuff is stronger than it looks...

The suggestion that these are jalapeños have been forwarded, but I wonder if they might be something else, seeing how tiny they are. The jalapeño should be 5-9 centimeters when mature, and these are a centimeter or less. Whatever they are, they are spicy. Having them growing outside my door should make cooking easier.

Making out like a bandit

As mentioned in the previous post, the TSL has left us and are starting to make his way home. The upside? The other 'wege and I are making it out like bandits.

A huge pile of things that TSL didn't want to bring home to Denmark was left for us to split up, and split up we did. My haul includes among other things a bread knife, a fair bit of chicken stock and spices, soy sauce, pasta, bread spreads, a bottle of olive oil, a glass, a mug, a plate, and much, much more...

There was even stuff neither of us had a need for - like a nice frying pan - but we're putting those in storage for when a new UNMO arrives and may need it. So to my Danish friend - I know you'll be reading this - a fond thank you, your gifts is most appreciated and will se much use. And I can promise you that when my time here ends, it'll be gifted to someone who needs it.
 My half of the haul... it's a big pile of useful stuff.
 My pantry is bulging - every shelf is full of food and kitchen gear.
 So full in fact, it needs two photos to show it all off.

Changes

Today was the day our Team Site Leader -  the guy who meet me at the heliport with a big smile and a outstretched hand - left us. His time in Sudan is over, and while I know he's happy to leave and go home to his family, I think part of him secretly wanted to stay just a little longer... at least log enough so he wouldn't have to spend three days in Juba.

I'll miss him, off course. Even if I only known him for a couple of months, I won't hesitate to call him a friend. Granted, living in the same camp, sharing the same core values and cultural background made it easy to get on the same wave length, but there is a fair bit from that and to calling someone a friend - at least is you're a 'wege

Let me highlight one thing that he did that I feel helps paint a picture of the man; almost the last thing he did before going aboard the helicopter that was to take him away from Yei was to go to the school I've mentioned previously, just so he could say proper farewell to the kids there.

 Speaking to P2 - Primary 2nd year - at the school, with the headmaster helping with the translations.
 The school yard as we walked through - it was lunch break and most of the kids were having their porridge.
 Our TSL getting on the helicopter and leaving Yei for the last time - still smiling, like he always do.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

A walk in the garden

The mine garden, that is.

As part of our On the Job Training, new UNMOs go to Mines Advisory Group (one of the demining groups that work in our area) for a walk and talk in their garden. Yesterday, I went there for a second time - and it was time well spent. Different guides in the garden focuses on slightly different things, thus increasing the learning potential for me...

Nice garden, right? But danger can lurk everywhere in here... if the danger hadn't been certified explosives free, that is. It's a very instructive walk...
The first device I spotted on my last walk through the garden - a fragmentation mine. I was somewhat shocked how many didn't spot it on this walk - to me it was obvious what it was. Or perhaps the problem was that the guys taking this walk didn't want to speak up... I hope that was what it was.
This little fellow will "only" blow your foot off, but you'll survice... if you can get proper medical attention quick enough that is. As most people can imagine, a few of this in a field will be more than just a nuisance to a farmer - it'll destroy his source of income. MAG focuses on clearing land based on the need of the communities.
Can you see it? This one is a lot more visible than it would be in the wild - this Anti Personnel mine is meant to be buried under an inch or so of soil. Unlike the mine previous photo, this one will probably kill you - by blowing your legs clean of.
The remains of a home made bomb, probably dating from the civil war. UXOs (UneXploded Ordnance) is a major problem in South Sudan - the leftovers from several decades of war is prolific, and as deadly now as the day it was fired.
Southern Sudan is one of the areas in the world most heavily affect by mines and UXOs, after years of civil war and unrest. Thankfully MAG and other deminers are working hard to reduce the risks to the populace and visitors.
All is not doom and gloom in the garden though - this tree is growing in the middle, and while I have no idea what it is it does look neat.

I don't want this post to give people the idea that I'm dodging death at every step down here. A bit of common sense on our part, a few basic rules and paying attention to the locals goes a long way in keeping us safe. And thanks to the tireless efforts of the deminers most roads and populated areas are as safe as they can be.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Some food for though...

This blogpost has been a couple of days in the making... thinking can be hard work.

The short version is; I think I have found myself a project.

The long version is, well... longer.

Two days ago, the outgoing Team Site Leader asked me if I would join him for a private patrol with a couple of the other UNMOs. Heading out of town, we made our way through the suburbs (read: barely built up areas) to a private school. Or at least, to the place where 210 kids, ranging from 3-4 up to 10ish received a free education that the local government can't provide. Like most schools down here there is a lack of everything except the will to try.

The school, being a private school, receives no support from the local government. Their parent organization - Youth with a Mission - provides the basic needs, but nothing more (they have more than 1100 projects going so money is tight). Most of the teachers work for bed and board, and only two of seven teachers have any education in being teachers. Most of the classrooms are filled to the brim and only about half has furniture - in the rest the kids have to sit on the floor. And while they over the last year have gotten enough donations to build a second building, they haven't gotten enough to put a roof on it nor installing doors and windows in it. And what really got to me; they only have enough pens for one third of their pupils...

My outgoing TSL though the school worthy of his support. I feel the same way - these people are tryig to give the local kids what they really, truly needs (an education and one square meal a day), and I think initiatives like it should be supported. And while I can't save the world, or even Sudan, at least I can make a difference to these kids. On my shopping list for when I visit Norway is the stuff I need to fix their swing set (minor things really - some chain and some eye-bolts) and perhaps a few more things like pens. To me, the cost of a couple of hundred ball point pens is minimal, but to these kids? Well, what is the value of not having to wait for your classmate to finish his writing so you can write your things?

But I think the most valuable contribution me and my fellow UNMOs can do right away is to just stop by now and then. Show that kids that there are people outside of Sudan, and that they ain't scary. Play some soccer, or shoot a few baskets. Goof around. Put a band aid on that scabbed knee - soccer can be dangerous like that. Help teach a class English, or basic math. Put some weight on a couple of the NGOs in the area and secure some seeds for the school vegetable patch.

I'm also going to look into other ideas I have... would be nice if I could do a bit more, something that would outlast my stay here in Yei. For starters; those of you who are reading this on the web are no doubt aware that I have ads enabled on my blog. So far they have netted me a little over 2 dollars... but from here on until I leave Yei (probably around early September next year) I will donate every last cent I get from the ads to the school. And one better - I'll match the funds raised with the same amount, up to a reasonable level off course.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Short Duration Patrol to the middle of nowhere

Today we went on a Short Duration Patrol again. Being the driver of the second vehicle, I grabbed the opportunity to take a few snaps of the ride. Well, more than a few - quite a lot in fact. But only to document any troubles we might run into... yeah. However, keeping in mind that ALL road descriptions down here starts with the phrase "take off the hard road", I did get quite a few interesting photos.
 My "office" for the next few hours - keep in mind that this is one of our Good Cars, and has seen a lot of use.
 How do you know your car has spent time in a hot climate? When the vinyl cover on the dash board is all bubbly!
 Out on the local highway - if it hadn't been for the half meter high speed bumps placed along the road, one could easily do at least 60 km/h on this magnificent stretch of dirt road.
 Don't get too close to the shoulder - those threes wont yield, even if you got a bigger car than them (right of way seems to be determined primarily by the size of your car - the bigger car wins)
 Notice how smoothly the road blends into the undergrowth... or in other words, how the road simply exists because cars drive there.
 Someone took the time to clear this patch of land at some point... you see quite a bit of these areas along this road, and you can never tell if it's a abandoned farm (because someone moved or got killed during the war) or a sign of refugees returning and wanting to start farming in the near future.
 See that cloud of dust? Somewhere in there is the other car of the patrol... in the dry season you can - I'm told - hardly see anything along this road due to the dust.
 The road forks, and we will - off course - take the road less traveled... 
(Note the mountain in the background - when we fly the helicopter to Juba we fly between those peeks.)
 ...which means we take of the soft road onto the non-road. Still, the track looks good so far.
 More nature, even closer to the car. What you're missing out on here is the sound of the tall, unyielding grass brushing against the underside of the car.
 Still looks good... and I'm sure the other car is ahead of me somewhere. It's not like he could take a wrong turn anywhere.
 Nice dry roads also means nice, brown grass. I'm curious to see how green South Sudan is towards the end of the dry season.
 Is it just me, or is the track getting fainter?
 No, it isn't just me - the track is pretty much hidden in the tall grass, along with every rock and gully. Thanks to the bad suspension I can still feel every last one of them though.
 I wonder where this track goes? What's behind the next tree, the next turn?
 So it goes here - and stops with little warning. But look! a footpath leads on, and up ahead we can hear voices... so off course we head down the footpath.
 So there, out in the middle of nowhere where the track ends, a family lives reasonable happily. They were quite surprised that we came to visit, not even the local government bothers to come all the way to where they live.
 I think our language assistant has a photographer in him... the first shot wasn't quite to his liking, so he made a second one - more artsy.
 Down this track lies a stream, which is the border to the next municipality. Apparently there was talk a few years back of bridging the stream and make a proper road here.
 This is what happens when you walk through subtropical forest and try to snap photos  - you slip (but I didn't fall).
 Further into the forest... the area was strangely quiet, but then there was about a dozen guys scaring the birds and beasts away.
 Yupp, that's a stream alright. Note the lack of bridge, road and traffic - which I got the feeling suited the family living there just fine.
 In addition to marking the end of their land, the stream also provide drinking water, water for washing, a bit of fish and mud to build their houses from.
 Back on the road again... well, track. Which crosses a dried up riverbed, almost too steep for our vehicles to cross.
 Four low and first gear was the only way to climb this bank - the photo don't do it justice.
 Dust and grass... it was hard enough to spot the first car, never mind the odd bump in the road.
 It's a little hard to see, but behind that tree is the same mountain as in one of the previous photos.
 Sometimes you just glance out the window and realize that there is a house there...

Needless to say, we made it back safe and sound, having gone to a spot we hadn't been before. We never made it to the village we were aiming for, since there was no road leading there. But we got the information we were looking for and quite a bit in addition - plus I got to see what life an be like in the bush. All in all a quite nice SDP - sore back and all.