Friday, March 9, 2012

One of the perks of living in the midst of a botanical garden is the fruit. We grew pretty accustomed to being able to pick fruit off the trees in our yard in South Africa, and here we are similarly blessed, but with quite a different selection of fruit. In South Africa, we had oranges, lemons, figs, guavas, grapes, mulberries, papayas, mangoes, and peaches. We also an avocado tree that failed to produce fruit and banana plants that never made it to ripeness before the first frost came. We successfully mooched quite a few pomegranates off of our neighbors. Here, though the area we have to work with is much larger, we don't have the gardening whiz Mma SB to plant trees so our selection is more limited. There's plenty of mango trees though as well as avocado (that actually produce quite a lot of fruit), starfruit, guava, papaya, banana, and passion fruit (which actually is a vine not a tree). We like to go on fruit gleaning missions and are generally successful though James often has to climb a tree, and I almost always get bitten by mosquitoes and/or black flies in the process.

So with less fruit freely available, I haven't really had the chance to do much canning here as of yet. In South Africa, I didn't do as much as I had hoped, but we were pretty successful in canning peaches, orange marmalade, and mulberry jam. I made my first attempt with starfruit jam the other day, and it turned out pretty well even though I could not find an authoritative recipe. I kind of just threw the pectin and sugar in there and saw what happened. I think I'll use a tad less sugar next time.

So the fruit gleaning and jam making have been part of our spring break activities. Having a week off and deciding not to travel has been great. We've done almost everything that we had wanted to do and not gotten around to yet. We bought a wicker couch for our porch and a blender, we traveled to the beautiful Kisantu botanical gardens about 2 hours out of town, we wove our way through the monstrous grand marche, we walked down to the ancient anthropology museum at the bottom of the hill we live on and touched Mobutu's chair/throne, and we took care of the details for our trip to Gabon during our second spring break. Overall, it's been a great week and a great chance to get to explore.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Learning New Things

Despite not being able to write about the Congo because I don't think I'm learning much new about this city, country, or continent of late, I have been learning quite a lot of new things in my own little corner of the world.

I learned what the word 'sinicized' meant this week. One of my favorite parts of teaching ESL is helping my 9th and 10th graders to wrap their heads around the college level textbook they use for AP World History. The 10th graders in general have an easier time as they've been doing it for longer and seem to be used to the text as well as better able to use their knowledge of French cognates to figure things out. For the 9th graders, it's been a challenge but one they are starting to excel at. We were working on comprehension strategies and summarizing when one of the students came across the word sinicized. Usually, I'm pretty good at getting them to figure out what the word means for context clues, but I was lost on this one. Looking it up in the dictionary, though, I had an aha moment. I shared with them that the prefix sino- means Chinese, and they figured out within seconds that it means to become more Chinese (in the context, it was about nomadic people settling down and adopting Chinese culture so it was quite the appropriate word).

I have been learning to use Photoshop. Photoshop has always seemed somewhat daunting to me as its tools are not like any other program I've used before. The whole idea of layers didn't make sense to me. Generally, I've opened it and then quickly closed it again because I don't even want to try and figure it out. My starting to understand it began with doing an after school photojournalism club with one of the other teachers. He was teaching the kids how to use it so I figured I would try as well. Then, we've been putting the yearbook together, and of the pages were made in Photoshop so I had to figure out how to tweak them. In the final hours of working on the yearbook, I even made some pages myself that kids did not get done in time for the deadline. I can say now that I no longer harbor a fear of Photoshop and can actually do a lot with it.

Finally, I've been learning to be a swim coach. One of the teachers who was coaching the swim team left the school, and I was not particularly surprised when the other coach approached me to help since I'm just about the only teacher who swims laps on a regular basis. I agreed to help out despite my definitely not seeing myself as coach material. I was never the greatest swimmer - well, I guess my form has always been fine, but my speed was the problem. Though I placed a few times in breaststroke, I can't remember if I was 13 or 14 when I quit the swim team. It's been a long time. At least I had some context for a swim practice somewhere in the back of my mind, and the other coach is a great mentor, but it's been on the whole far outside of my comfort zone. This past week, the other coach was not able to attend practice one day (we practice 2-3 times a week not everyday), and I think I pretty successfully handled the whole thing from deciding what the practice would entail to actually making sure the kids did it. It's been fun so far and given me a chance to reexamine what I'm capable of. Plus, we get to go to a swim meet in Morocco in May so that will be quite another opportunity to step out of my box.