People often ask me to describe a ‘typical day’. I don’t know that there is a really typical day here as everything seems in a slow-motion constant of change. I will endeavor to describe my Tuesday this week, as it was a crazy and productive day that will give a taste for how things work on a household level. It is not mundane. It is never mundane. Something new every morning! [*FYI: This is quite a bit longer than I intended. Read when you have more than a minute…]
This was our first week of summer break, but Tuesday really didn’t feel like my picture of ‘summer’…
6:30am Alarm clock rings and I jump out of bed, make it quickly and grab all the dirty laundry (and soap and iron) to put on the back porch before our handwasher Faustin shows up. If I can get it out there and not have to meet and greet him face to face in my jammies it is better for everyone.
7:00am Kids straggle out of their rooms and need prodding to get on with the morning ‘jobs’ (making beds, setting the breakfast table)
8:00am Yesterday’s milk is skimmed from the fridge (cream kept for making butter later), granola and yogurt are on the table and everyone is eating. Non-fat yogurt for Kent, whole milk yogurt for James and I, semi-skimmed milk for Joel and Anna. Vitamins and medicines taken.
8:43am Just as I notice that our cook Rachele hasn’t faithfully arrived at 8:30 (she is very faithful, but her son was ill yesterday so maybe she’s back at the clinic with him and will come later)… I get a text message from her but in very bad French (someone had written it for her obviously) saying she was ON HER WAY to the mission hospital with her very ill son when they were in an ‘ACSIDA MOTO’. In case you didn’t get that, it is bad French for ‘motorcycle accident’. They were already nearby ‘L’HOPITAL BLAN’ (white hospital) and were both admitted there. We have no idea where the ‘white hospital’ is and pray it is a decent place. Faustin says he knows where it is.
9:00am Having resigned myself to trying to manage the kitchen on my own today, I realize it is baking day and we are due to make 3 loaves of bread and at least one batch of cookies to cover the next few days of lunches. Usually we pick the chaff out of the wheat berries and put them through the electric mill 3 times for fresh whole wheat bread. But the power is off today. And our solar panels only had clouds to work with. And the generator ran out of gas (then after Kent bought more, it ran out of oil and after he bought that, it broke). Kent went to get some, but the car wouldn’t start and the battery needed charging. Ugh.
9:30am Impromptu family prayer meeting on the front porch where there is enough light to see well. We feel under attack and pray protection for us and our workers and their families as well. Kids commit to being extra helpful for a couple days and we all feel strengthened by singing ‘A Mighty Fortress is our God’. Look on the bright side – we have plenty of water!
10:30am I ‘jerry-rig’ some bread (can I say that?) by soaking raisin bran flakes (raisins carefully picked out for another occasion) and oats before adding my 8 cups of white flour. The recipe suggests sifting, but I could care less right now. An extra bug won’t hurt. Hopefully it will work. It’s rising, however slowly, on the stove.
11:00am I start on cookies, and given the kind of day it is, I decide to get out those precious carepackage chocolate chips to make my absolute favorites: oatmeal chocolate chip! Oops. No eggs. Oh well, the Wycliffe cookbook says add a little extra oil and water and call it good. Hey, now I can shamelessly eat the dough! Anna and I decide a lot of quality checking is necessary.
11:30am Loud banging down at our gate signals that the milkman is here. Oh yeah – him. I rush around to find the right pot and filter and go to greet him. Between his French and my meager Swahili we communicate next to nothing very well. But we smile. And we get the milk. He pours us our daily 3 bottles through the filter to get bugs and hair out. I then take it and stick it on the stove to pasteurize/cool/skim/store it in the fridge for the next day.
12:00 noon Water filter is running low and slow. It’s really hot and our drinking water is down to a few liters. James fills the bucket with dirty water from outside (commonly known to carry typhoid, but locals drink it straight anyway). Kent hauls it into the kitchen and hefts it above the fridge where the filter can siphon down into a jerry can on the floor. From there I fill up the drinking water in the fridge, and backup storage and kettle with clean drinking water. Right about now I start to realize just how much Rachele does each day! (And start praying more fervently for her full and quick recovery.)
12:30pm Bread almost done in the oven, lunch table set. Twice a week we eat hot bread for lunch with honey, our own ground peanut butter, jam, or fresh-roasted peanuts, or like today some diced avocado from the yard with salt and garlic powder – yum! Oops. I forgot that Rachele also makes Faustin lunch and coffee. Better get going on that… The coffee he likes smells like tar. Yuck.
1:00pm Joel is Mr. Helpful and sets the table for me. We finally eat. We are encouraged – this day is going to work.
1:30pm Lunch is cleaned up. And yogurt needs doing. Our fridge food is dying having been off for several hours now. I take out things that will not survive and toss them in the compost bucket (life without a garbage service can get interesting). Find the yogurt recipe and need hot water. Kettle is empty again. Find more filtered water. Try not to stress about how little drinking water remains. Heat it and search out the yogurt starter. It’s in the bottom drawer of the freezer. It’s now frozen shut and I can’t get to it. An upper drawer has new starter packets. I go for those. I use two because last time one did nothing. After mixing, I wrap it up in a local wrap and leave it to do it’s happy yogurt thing on the counter.
2:00pm In forming my dinner plans, I decide to use bread again, since it went well. I pull out a can of hummus and decide to make a cucumber/yogurt salad (because it’s what I have on hand). This means washing up the cucumbers we bought yesterday. This means scrubbing the dirt off and soaking them for 20 minutes in potassium permanganate to kill germs – because we’re going to eat them fresh not cooked. Okay, cucumbers, green peppers, green beans and rubharb soaking.
2:30pm Kids are in their rooms napping or having ‘quiet time’ and all I want to do is curl up with a book. Most places in the house are too dark to read and there are still cooled loaves to find bags for storage. We wash our ziplocs and reuse them, but that means I have to find them in the sea of plastic bags. One worker leaves for the day (he will tell us the next day how he visited the hospital on his way home) and another arrives. He is finishing some painting and gardening outside, so I try to explain in a way we both understand what needs to be done. Vegetables need to come out of soaking, be rinsed with drinking water (by now there is a bit more in the jerry can – yay!) and dried before chopping and storing in the nearly warm fridge.
3:30pm Friend arrives for a haircut while kids are still down. So much for time to read a book. The house is quiet and this is the best time frame for me. I seem to have become the local hairdresser for about 4 ladies. They usually compensate me with goodies, or in today’s case, free babysitting. Score!
4:00pm Hair cleaned up. Kids getting up. Warm cookies eaten. Ironed clothes distributed for kids to put away for the day. (We live in a mango fly region where all wet clothes hanging outside have to be ironed at high temperature to kill the eggs. Don’t get grossed out. It just means lots of ironing, and without power, it means lots of charcoal ironing – which I don’t do myself.) How cool is it that we are done ironing cloth diapers?!
5:00pm It’s getting pretty dark in the house, and tonight is bath night, so I need at least two big pots of hot bath water to get the kids clean. I start lighting candles and putting pots of tap water on the gas range. With a pretty quick dinner plan I decide I have time to make dessert for a change and remember that I almost like rhubarb pie when mixed at least 3:1 with apples. Rhubarb chopped. Apples chopped. Topping made. Why not try for whipped cream on top? Someone sent me this powder that is reputed to make a cool-whip-ish thing. Just add milk and whip in the mixer. Hm. Lots of whipping later my arm is dead and the stuff still looks like milk. Then again the directions are in Italian, so maybe I didn’t guess it right with my rusty Spanish…
5:30pm Dinner went fine (other than kids complaining about having to eat hummus with a garlic bite to it) and dessert was a big hit. Rhubarb is redeemed for me. I will buy it again. We pour the non-cool-whip-ish stuff over the top and stick the rest in the fridge. We also turn on the batteries after a bit of sun in the afternoon so the fridge can get cool again.
6-7:00pm The busy blur of bathtime and bedtime. The bathwater wasn’t as hot as I’d hoped, so washing hair is not a popular idea. We eventually get everyone snuggled and warm after their cool baths. With 4 candles lit we can read altogether. My headlight comes in really handy for cleaning up the table and kitchen. Then Kent reads to the kids while I start cutting out another dress for Anna. Maybe tomorrow I will have power to sew it with…
8:00pm Yogurt actually worked! Will be great cold after a night in the fridge. Food gets brought out to our night guard with coffee in a thermos. We recheck our battery levels to decide how much we can afford to have on all night. Ideally the fridge could stay on, the security lights outside and the fan running in our room to block out noise and help us sleep. On good nights we leave computers, router and internet on as well. Tonight we have to choose one of these three essentials. We decide to turn off fridge and fan and keep lights outside.
9:00pm After reading by flashlight a while, we call it a day. It is exhausting to have a day of changes. But it was beautiful to see the kids pitch in to get everything done!
The daily management of resources like power and water is much more time consuming than we hoped. If you haven’t lately, now is a good time to thank God for your power company! =) Believe it or not this was the first of 3-4 crazy days without power, and there were many more adventures of burning the beans, or giving up and serving noodles with parmsean cheese. We were all extremely happy to see Rachele feeling better and able to work yesterday!