Sunday, 23 June 2013

On the consumption of the Pea.

One week left of my first year in Burundi. I am spending a fair amount of time 'reflecting' about the past 10 months.
Needless to say, (but I will anyway) so much has changed!
Abby her hair all ready for her 2 month trip to England.
The most recent change being that of my capacity to chew. Yes, chew. As in teeth. When I left last August, I had unfortunately, been reduced to chewing on one side of my mouth. In June 2012, the crown came off on the right side and was promptly condemned by my dentist. At that point, that had been my chewing side. Because the other side of my teeth already had a bit of a disaster, in the form of a remnant root, left from an extraction a few years before. The fantastic NHS Dental system could not even begin to entertain the possibility, that I could have surgery to remove the remnant root and pathetic remains of a tooth, before my departure in late August. So I arrived in Burundi with a rather dodgy set of chompers. I have often had to turn down the offer of meat at meals, due to my feeble ability to chew. So, true to form in June 2013, my last crown decided to make an exit from my mouth. Now I have no chewing sides! Just an abundance of gaping holes in my gums! So it is mush for meals for the next few weeks. I am desperately hoping that the great British NHS Dental machine will be able to process me in the two months I have at home! If not.............. !!

My Year 6 class have changed enormously over the past year. It has been my first ever encounter of teaching, in a system that makes students repeat if they fail to make the grade at the end of the year. Of my 21 students about 1/3 are teenagers. The oldest is now 15. As we reach the end of the year, the teenage hormones really are kicking in, big time. It has confirmed my belief that I never want to teach in Secondary school.
Last week , we took the whole of year 6 to visit the Secondary school. We had a session of 'what do you want to be when you grow-up?' Of course we had a handful of footballers. But the range of aspirations was huge. Paediatric doctor and nurse, Architect, Designer, Worship Leader, Rapper, Statistician. Two Presidents! Who were duly asked to come forward and give an election speech. We were promised more comedians in Burundi and tougher laws on littering. My favourite, however, was a young man who has caused me some 'stress' announcing that his life's aim was to become a comedian! My first ungracious thought was, 'well you do anything but make me laugh!' He too was invited to the front to demonstrate his talents.  You can imagine my mixture of emotions when he proceeded to tell a string of 'You're-so-black' jokes. My English PC'itis, was turning cartwheels. I searched in vain, for someone to confirm whether or not I was actually allowed to laugh. Surely, not? But it appeared that everyone in the room seemed to think it was ok. As they were rolling around in stitches. So I am going to risk sanctions from the PC police and tell you my favourite of his jokes.
- You're so black, when you went to the charcoal merchant, a man saw you a said, 'can I have that big chunk there please!' !!!!!

Inevitably, my perspective on wealth and poverty has undergone the biggest change of all. As I have been pondering my return to England, it has been this, that has caused me the most angst. How am I going to deal with the wealth I know I'm going to face? How am I going balance what I have seen in Burundi with the lifestyles at home?
One of the things I love most about Burundi is the fact that, on the whole life is stripped back to the necessities. It has the potential to be so much more straight forward than life in the UK. The absolute poverty here, is not easy to face or understand. I am still very much in the early days of understanding what my role is, in acting to deal with the poverty I have discovered. But in a way there is a real sense of satisfaction in being in a position to actually face issues and have options of things to do. One conclusion I have come to, is this. The change in perspective has come because I am here and I cannot force that change on anyone else. I need to be sensitive in my expression of how I see things now.
And just to show that it hasn't turned me into a total zealot, here is my, 'Things I'm going to do when I get home.' list:
1. Have a fish finger sandwich (white, bouncy, sliced bread)
2. Go to McDonalds for breakfast/lunch/tea ( not all on the same day!!) with Katie, Robert, Evie, Bella, George, Megan and Andrew (not all together!!!)
3. Go to the cinema .
4. Go for a walk at Burbage common with Jake (( dog) if his mum and dad will let me.)
5. Eat at Cosmo's as many times as possible. ( I've not had a tiger prawn for 6 months)
6.Watch TV with Katie.
7. Potter round the garden, weeding and chopping and generally pottering.

I'll stop there. But I think it might get longer the closer the reality gets.

Another major change has been that of my ability to eat peas. When I left England in August 2012, I had very strict rules regarding the eating of peas. Yes, that is possible. Rules concerning the eating of peas were as follows-
- the peas must be small and bright green.
- peas must be moist and nicely rounded, never shrivelled.
- dull green peas may not be eaten under any circumstances.
- peas must not be mixed with any other vegetable, even sweetcorn.
- peas may be eaten with sweetcorn, but not mixed.
- ideally peas should not be touching any other food on the plate.
- the only liquid that can be introduced to peas is melted butter.

So have you got the picture? I know slightly, strange, but there you go, we each have our little oddities. It's just most people don't publish them! Let me tell you about the rules for eating peas in Burundi.
- peas are dull green, dark green, pale green, not really green at all, but never bright green.
- peas can be shrivelled, pasty, mushy, rock solid, but never moist and nicely rounded.
- peas appear in the middle of rice, floating in meat sauce, swimming in tomato sauce, next to carrots.
- peas never appear in isolation they are always accompanied by some other edible material.
On the majority of occasions I have sacrificed my 'Rules' and consumed any peas placed in front of me. I have however at one home, partaken in the ritual removal of all pea offenders from my meal. But as I explained to my hosts, that was because I felt very much at home there and hoped they wouldn't be too offended! On the whole I feel very proud that most of the time I can eat a pea from whatever situation I find it.

Well maybe that's enough pondering for now.
One last change. I used to only be able to eat 1 square of Cadbury's dairy milk at a time. Last week, I ate 6 squares one after the other. (The teeth situation, meant I sucked them, rather than chewed them!) It was from a bar I got at Christmas and realised needed to be finished by July 1st.
 It's still not gone, but I'm working on it.