A week of food in Vanuatu, part two

i) pounded roasted breadfruit with cream of coconut

ii) oatmeal and bananas

iii) breakfast cracks for life

iv) boiled crabs

v) watermelon

vi) crabs with taro, sweet potato and coconut milk

vii) breadfruit, roasted

viii) laplap - grated taro baked in banana leaves and topped with island cabbage and tin fish

ix) the worst thing i’ve ever eaten in Vanuatu: a heaping plate of rice topped with a stew of chicken flavored noodles, onions, peppers, tin tuna and flying fox (bat) 

x) the cucumbers are huge here 

Vanuatu island food culture Peace Corps Volunteer reblogs coconut oatmeal bananas rice fruit

Happy First Day of Spring!

"In my small village in Ukraine, The Meeting of Spring is the single largest public celebration held each year around March 1st. Each Street creates a float-type submission and everyone who lives on the street passes through the town before doing a skit on the main stage. In these photos, I’m with my host mother Laryssa and her street neighbors who were dressed as aliens!"

- Peace Corps Youth Development Volunteer Jessie Park


Ukraine Eastern Europe spring First Day of Spring culture cultural exchange Peace Corps Volunteers host family host community celebrations costumes fun

what do you go home to?


“Women here always feel they must do things; they must clean the house, they must cook, they must forgive their husbands.” And so I dove straight into the world of women’s rights, gender roles and healthy relationships here in Kyrgyzstan.

One thing I want to make very clear is that the problems women face here are not unlike things we experience in the United States. Some things, bride kidnapping for instance, are a bit different but the overall themes of domestic violence, sexual assault and discrimination are the same, if maybe just on a slightly different scale.

This was the topic of our most recent Mom’s Club session and while encouraging in some respects, it has also left me feeling numb, confused and unfortunately, a little hopeless.

While it doesn’t upset me as much as it used to, I am still taken aback, frustrated and angry every time I experience the gender inequality first hand here. I have been blatantly ignored by men, especially when I am with a male PCV, and I experience some form of verbal harassment at least every other week. Many people are confused when I tell them I am a business volunteer and not a teacher, calling me “businessman” which is humorous but annoying at the same time.

All of this, however, if nothing compared to what locals experience here. I was quickly brought back to my days of working at DVSAS (Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services) during our session. Our discussion of healthy relationships quickly took off into a debate over what to do in an abusive relationship. Should the woman leave? What would she do if she did? What would her family think? And worst of all: maybe she did something to deserve getting hit.

Domestic violence and sexual assault are topics that are hardly discussed in the United States. Here it is almost unheard of, sexual assault in particular. I have heard of some of the worst cases, which only makes me wonder how much is going on under the surface. The enormity of this situation all over the world feels like an unbearable weight I have no idea how to move.

The only thing I feel I can do at this point is encourage women to talk about it. This is not something to keep quiet, hidden within the household. It needs to be brought out and discussed, so that hopefully, someday things will begin to improve.

The one point of hope at the end of the session was the oldest woman in the group pointing out that “We only feel this way because of how we were raised. If we raise our children to think this is wrong and that they should expect more from their spouses, then things will begin to change.”

kyrgyzstan reblogs gender equality sexism women's rights gender roles gender issues culture domestic violence International Women's Day

This photo was taken in the small village of Ain Chaib, Morocco, just east of Agadir, on my host grandmothers farm. It is early morning and Jdda (grandma) is sitting on a grain bag, sifting through argan nuts as she pours them into a hand operated grinder made of stone. I return to the U.S. in two weeks and she is making Argan Oil for me to take back to my family in America. She wants me to remember her and the two years we spent together on her farm. She is the only grandmother I’ve ever known.

- Peace Corps Business Development Volunteer Leslie Mansour

This photo was taken in the small village of Ain Chaib, Morocco, just east of Agadir, on my host grandmothers farm. It is early morning and Jdda (grandma) is sitting on a grain bag, sifting through argan nuts as she pours them into a hand operated grinder made of stone. I return to the U.S. in two weeks and she is making Argan Oil for me to take back to my family in America. She wants me to remember her and the two years we spent together on her farm. She is the only grandmother I’ve ever known.

- Peace Corps Business Development Volunteer Leslie Mansour

Morocco aragan oil grandmothers culture Peace Corps volunteers host family business development


Things I’ve Learned in Ecuador: #6 You Can Never Have Too Many Parades

About two months ago were the fiestas de la parroquia in my town of Tonchigüe. There was a rodeo, the election of the reina (more to come about that!), bailes and last but certainly not least were the desfiles. Parades are seriously underrated in the United States. Yes, we have Memorial Day parades, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, and the infamous St. Patrick’s Day parade in Scranton… but here in Ecuador they really, really, REALLY love parades. Just a rough estimate but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen about twenty desfiles since arriving here in Ecuador which averages out to about two parades per month.

All the local schools participate in the desfiles and there’s lots of marching, baton twirling, and military-looking outfits, but by far the most important and distinguishing characteristic of the desfiles are the drums. I’ve only ever seen about 4 different instruments in the parades: drums, xylophones, trumpets… and more drums. There are about 15 drums to every one other instrument and they can be heard for miles around. There are big drums, small drums, medium sized drums, any kind of drum you could imagine. Goldilocks would certainly not have a problem finding her dream drum here in Ecuador during fiesta time. The drumming is always accompanied by some dancing with batons, inappropriately short skirts and sometimes berets.

There are also the costume desfiles. The marching of the schools I can somewhat understand but these costume parades still blow my mind. I’ve asked around town and there seems to be no rhyme or reason to how or what they decide to dress up as. I’ve seen children in Scream masks, dressed up as gangsters and Native American Indians. There are always all different sorts of animal costumes, traditional costumes from different regions of Ecuador but there’s also sometimes children wearing huge cardboard boxes painted like aquariums and some dressed as migrant farm workers. My favorite was the high schoolers walking around on huge stilts and dressed up in bright, multi-colored clown-looking costumes. Again, I have no idea why and I don’t think anyone else does either.

The best/worst part of these desfiles is that they last about 1 and a half hours minimum. I waited for about two hours in Atacames during one parade to see the kids from my high school and there were still about 15-20 schools yet to pass after them! And since all the towns in my area only have one major road, it’s always fun to see the buses lined up and stuck behind the desfiles for hours at a time. Luckily, I haven’t been stuck in a bus behind a parade yet!

Please someone come visit me! I can almost guarantee you will see at least one desfile!

Ecuador reblogs Peace Corps Volunteer parades celebrations culture cultural exchange

Peace Corps Volunteers Lead Gender Equality Discussion in Azerbaijan

“The goal of the presentations was to promote social awareness as well as critical thinking in local community members,” said Wiersma, a graduate of Liberty University who has been living and working in Azerbaijan since September 2011. “We want to get the young members of rural Azerbaijan to start thinking outside of their daily scope of how men and women are seen and valued in Azerbaijan and move into what is possible for the future of their country.”

Azerbaijan gender equality education community development Peace Corps Volunteers gender women's rights social awareness culture


Things I’ve Learned in Ecuador: #4 How to Make Empanadas

A little less than a month ago, I moved out of my host family’s house and moved in with Dani just until I finally move into an apartment of my own ya mismo. I was lucky enough to arrive in her site, Galera, on the week of their fiestas de la parroquia. The reggeaton was on full blast and everyone was out celebrating and drunk. Lots of cerveza going around!

Dani’s host mom, Esperanza, runs a little restaurant out of the house and since Dani and I are the brilliant, young PCV minds that we are, and because two heads are better than one, we came up with the idea that we should make and sell empanadas during the fiesta. First of all, it would give Esperanza a little extra income (PCVs are not allowed to make any money in country) and basically we just really wanted to eat some empanadas. Dani had already made some with her host fam a couple months earlier but it was going to be my first time making empanadas and I was super excited (and hungry).

We pitched the idea to Esperanza and she was all for it, she even suggested that we sell bolones too. We also promised to be her ayudantes and sell the empanadas and bolones after we all made them since gringa salesladies can never hurt in this country. So we made up a list of ingredients and supplies we needed and the next day Dani and I headed off to Tonchigüe to buy everything. We ended up spending $26 in total for the verdes, flour, butter, cheese, napkins, pork and salad supplies that we needed.

That night the cooking began! We started by making bolones con queso. To make bolones, you first peel the verdes (green plantains) which is quite a challenge… unless you’re Esperanza and can peel a verde magically in .4 seconds. Dani and I struggled a bit more with the peeling process and by the time Esperanza had peeled 10, we had just finished with our first. After the verdes were peeled, you boil them with some achiote, which, going to be honest, I have no idea what it is. When the verdes are softened up a bit you mash them with a machacador (try saying that five times fast!). You can also mash them with your hands if you can handle the heat and boiling water that Esperanza added to it. You then mix a heaping tablespoon (or two) of butter into the mashed verdes so it’s more like a doughy texture. With this verde dough, you form the bolón then make a little indentation to add some queso to the middle. Once all the bolones are formed and stuffed with queso then you heat up your aciete and fry ‘em up! Top it off with some ensalada made from cabbage, carrot and onion drenched in lime and you’ve got a delicious little snack. We sold them for 25 cents each and within a few minutes they were all gone… a testament to Dani and I’s great sales skills.

Since the first day was so successful, the second day Esperanza, Dani and I upped our game and made bolones con chanco. This was más o menos the same process except after mashing the verdes and adding the butter, we simply mixed in the fried pork and served them up! According to Jeff, a fellow American (and very nice guy) who was living in Galera in September, they were delicious! Since Dani and I didn’t actually end up trying once since we sold them so fast (cha-ching!), I guess we all just have to take Jeff’s word for it.

By this time, Dani and I were starting to wonder when the hell we were going to start making the empanadas. Don’t get me wrong, bolones are good and all but they’re no match for empanadas. By the time we started making empanadas, word had gotten around what a successful little micro-empresa we had going on and Esperanza’s daughter Monica helped us to make empanadas and her son Kevin helped us sell them. To cook empanadas, first you mix the flour with eggs and butter to make the dough. The best part is when you have to smack the dough as hard as you can off the counter to get out all the air bubbles, which Monica is an expert at! Once the dough was made, we separated it into little balls, rolled it out, added some cheese then folded them over so they were ready to fry. Frying empanadas is also an art form. First you have to heat up the oil and make sure you have bastante in the pan then push the hot oil onto the side of the empanada that is face-up to make sure both sides are cooked well.

When the empanadas were done, Dani and I first ate some ourselves and then went out selling with Kevin and Jeff. Literally within five minutes we had sold about 20 empanadas. Not too shabby! People even came knocking on the door later that night asking to buy some. The next day Dani and I went for a walk on the beach with a teacher and some students from the colegio. When we arrived back at the house, we saw Esperanza, Monica and two more women cooking up more empanadas. Our little business idea had really taken off! The women had even made morocho, a corn-based drink with cinnamon, milk and a lot of sugar… it kind of reminds me of rice pudding except with corn. Once again, Dani, Kevin, Jeff and I went out selling and about 15 minutes later were all sold out.

By then the week-long fiestas were finally coming to an end so we took a break from our slaving over the stove and counted up the earnings. Overall, Esperanza made over $35 out of our little business, which we like to call Empanadas de Esperanza (or Empanadas of Hope). Not too shabby for a few hours of work here in Ecuador!

But sit tight, America! No worries, Empanadas de Esperanza is now considering how to sell and export to the States. Ya mismo, ya mismo

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