Reporting on my work lately, I am in the process of planning my first event as a volunteer. MOZaic has a functioning tree nursery that is loaded with great plants and trees that we are raising to distribute to communities. One of these plants is called Chaya, and is native to central America. (I actually saw it and ate it while I was in Guatemala) My South African counterpart visited ECHO farms in Ft Myers, FL, where they distribute plants to international aid workers and interested plant enthusiasts. He brought cuttings of Chaya back with him to Moz when he returned. ECHO is basically an experimental demonstration farm, and if you live near them I highly recommend you go there and take a tour. They have plants that you won’t believe! www.echonet.org. And if you are working overseas now they will send you free seeds!
Chaya has huge potential to add nutrients to the average diet which through my observations and talking to doctors and medical personnel is deficient in protein, iron and vitamins and minerals. Chaya is a large shrub that produces prodigious quantities of very nutrient dense (better than spinach), tasty green leaves and performs especially well during drought conditions. The plant is actually in the same family as mandioca (aka cassava), which here in Mozambique, is already heavily utilized for its edible roots and leaves. In one of my favorite traditional Mozambican dishes, the leaves of the mandioca plant are ground into a leafy pulp in a mortar and pestle, then cooked with coconut milk, onions, garlic and peanut flour. Chaya has the advantage of producing much higher quantities of leaves and withstanding drought conditions better than Mandioca. Once established, the plant basically needs zero care and in my opinion, the flavor of ‘matapa’ made from Chaya is better than traditional mandioca leaves. (I have made this dish several times and fooled all my neighbors into thinking it was mandioca leaves, only to surprise them afterword and show them chaya. They immediately asked for the plant, which I gave them.)
Anyway, we have large amounts of this plant in the nursery, waiting to be distributed. The hardest thing in introducing new plant species is getting people to accept the new plant into the diet. It is extremely difficult to break through the wall of cultural conditioning that is the food habits of a people. Where as most Americans I feel are fairly open to trying new foods (perhaps an effect of the melting pot?), I have experienced Mozambicans in general being very skeptical and even fearful to taste new foods or try different methods of preparation. So when trying to introduce a new plant, the most important thing to do is demonstrate exactly how to prepare the dish and actually get people to try it. This coming weekend we will be hosting a cooking demonstration with Chaya, where we will invite community members to come learn about Chaya. Everyone will receive demonstration in preparation methods, a small portion of the finished product and best of all a free plant to go sow in their yards at home. I have made up flyers for the event and handed them out to important community members and neighborhood leaders as well as using networking opportunities through my other organization to get the word out. This even is going to be a lot of fun and I think has the potential to benefit people who are interested in learning about new plants. It will be interesting to see how this event turns out.
This past weekend I rode my new bike to the town of Chibuto, about 45km away. The ride was quite pleasant, mostly dirt roads that pass through small communities and fields of corn and beans. Once in Chibuto I attended a soccer game with another volunteer and explored the town a bit. Chibuto is a bit bigger than Manjacaze and is on a main paved road. My impression was that it was a bit more impersonal and faster paced, and made me feel lucky to have such a great site in Manjacaze. Back to the football, there is a league of 14 teams in Mozambique that compete each year, and it is quite organized with jerseys, sponsors, coaches, etc. Chibuto scored in extra time to win the game, which was awesome because people absolutely went nuts in the stands. There is no shortage of excitement for football here in Mozambique.
Pictures are of a standard road scene while riding in the back of a truck (very standard method of travel) and me and my new bike that my counterpart purchased on my behalf in South Africa. This bike is awesome and is going to carry me all around Mozambique. I am already planning on riding from village to village, staying with other volunteers or pitching my tent and really exploring. Also pictures of the game and a beautiful overlook from Chibuto.