Mornings

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/ Plain yoghurt with a bit of honey, 1 peach, a couple of homegrown raspberries, coconut-cranberry müsli.
/ Orange juice with a bit of tap water.

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Travel Stories: Water & Food Culture

Let’s talk a bit more about food, water and food culture, okay?

Water:

I’ve been sick because I drank bad water before. It happens. I’ve never had something serious (thank God!) but it’s definitely annoying. Still, it’s very important that you stay hydrated. Especially in countries like India, Thailand or Nepal where it can get super hot! (Believe me, fainting twice in the middle of a sightseeing tour is not a fun experience!).

So what do you have to look out for? Again – most of this is probably common sense:

Don’t drink tap water. Just don’t. Maybe you’re not used to drinking tap water anyway, but in Austria we have great tap water, super clear. I usually always prefer tap water to any other drink if I’m thirsty so this is something I always have to remind myself of.

A lot of private households will have a filter installed and it’s mostly safe to drink the water. The occasional ice cubes in a drink won’t kill you either, but if you’re unsure, just say you don’t want ice in your drink. That problem is solved easily.

If you’re out sightseeing and you buy a bottle of water from street vendors or little shops, make sure that the cap is still sealed and cracks when you open the bottle. Sometimes people will collect used bottles and fill them with dirty water, put on the top and sell it again. Please pay attention to this!

When I discussed this with a group of friends, a different topic came up: namely the issue of waste. If you drink about 3 litres of water per day – that’s a lot of garbage. Especially in countries where the recycling system isn’t as elaborate as it is in Europe or North America.

We came up with a couple of alternatives:

1) Chlorine tablets: This may not taste so great and it’s probably also not the healthiest solution if you’re staying long term, but it makes the water drinkable.

2) Solar filter: This is a bit pricier but my friend swears by it. She said she traveled for months and always used this and never got sick and would recommend this to everyone who’s traveling for a longer period of time. It’s a small solar filter you can stick into a bottle of water for a few seconds and the water’s clean. I have no personal experience with this but it may be an alternative.

Food Culture:

Don’t waste food. Only take as much on your plate as you can eat – you can always get a second serving if you’re still hungry.

I know from my experience in Nepal and India that people sometimes can consider it rude if you don’t help yourself to a second serving. In this case it might be wise to purposely take less at first so you can agree on a second serving.

Be a bit adventurous. Try new things – you might like it (or you might not at all, but try it anyway!) I’ve had fish ice cream (there was this store in Singburi, Thailand that only sold food made from fish. Cakes, chips, ice cream… not my favourite but a lot of fun to try!) I’ve also tried scorpion (uhh…. what can I say? It tasted very bitter….). These things might not be culinary highlights but they’re fun and if you get the chance, why not give it a try?

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[Above: Fish ice cream | Below: Scorpion we ate on Khaosan Road in Bangkok]
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However, it doesn’t have to be stuff like that: Asian countries are well known for their great food. Try curries, salads, noodle and rice dishes. In touristy places they won’t be very spicy (if you ask them to make you authentic Thai food, they will be though!) anywhere else: spice is good. I love spicy Asian food because even though the seasoning is hot, it doesn’t override the actual taste. With European food, if you eat hot there’s the possibility that all you taste is spicy and hot and no actual taste – that’s not the case with Asian food (if you eat well, of course ;))

Keep in mind: spicy is healthy. It will quickly clear out a blocked nose, for example.

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[Above: a typical Thai-BBQ. The water heats up so you can boil vegetables while you can grill meat in the middle. | Below: Self made Papaya-Salad (Som Tam). Super easy to prepare and super tasty – However, take care, this can be extremely spicy!]
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[Above: Pad Thai. Personally, I don’t quite like the texture of the noodles. Nevertheless it is one of the most well known thai dishes and still very delicious. | Below: My lunch during my week at the beach in Koh Samet. Just some fruit – it was too hot for anything more than that.]
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Some more important info:
Thai’s like to decorate and season with peanuts. Be conscious of that if you dislike nuts or are allergic and make sure that you tell them when ordering your food.
In general vegetarians shouldn’t have huge troubles finding food they can eat. If you travel to places that are less touristy, ask a receptionist (who almost all speak English as well as Thai) to write down that you’re a vegetarian on a piece of paper in Thai script. You can show this paper at a restaurant and people will understand.
If you eat in a typical thai restaurant, you will probably never find a knive. Knives only exist in the kitchen. Cutlery consists of forks and spoons. This is mainly due to the fact that typical thai food doesn’t consist of huge pieces of meat that you have to cut (like a big steak). Most of the food will have the meat and other ingredients cut into small, bite-sized pieces. Not having a knive makes things like spreading butter or nutella or jam on a piece of toast kind of interesting, but it does work with a spoon as well. It just takes some time getting used to ;)

DISCLAIMER:

All opinions and recommendations on this blog, but especially concerning these travel stories, are solely based upon my own experiences and in no way imply that anyone else will have a similar experience. All travelers are encouraged to use good sense and to keep their eyes open whenever venturing forth into a new place. Please use your common sense and listen to your own instincts.  Each traveling experience is unique to the person having it and I hope you have many!

[If you think these posts are helpful, or if you think there’s something missing then please let me know! They’re part of a presentation  I gave with a group of friends and we will hold it again twice next autumn. If there’s something we can do to improve it I’d really appreciate some feedback! Thanks.]

World: Togo – Life in the village

If you’ve read my post “Reflection” you probably already have a fairly good idea of what my time in Togo was like. It was tough, yes, but also a great experience that I wouldn’t want to miss.

Here’s a bit more about my stay; more precisely, about how the life in the village was.

Our day started at 6.30am. We had breakfast before school started at 8am. We taught French and Maths until roughly 11.30am – and sometimes we also went outside to play a game. After school, we started preparing for lunch. In the afternoon we usually had “sieste” for… well as long as we wanted to sleep. Then we had to do our chores – wash the dishes, fetch water, or prepare dinner. Times was spent walking around the village or playing with the kids we had a tiny room within the village so we were surrounded by kids all the time. All. The. Time.

It doesn’t sound like much, but I literally fell asleep the moment my head hit my (makeshift) pillow. The days were incredibly exhausting and every moment I could crawl into my sleeping bag and get some quiet time was welcomed with open arms.

The people in the village were very welcoming. Once you get used to the customary “Yovo, Yovo, Bonsoir!” (‘Yovo’ is what white people are called in Ewe, the mother tongue of the people in Togo. This saying was yelled around wherever we went all day long – even at 7am. It followed us everywhere – from the tiny village to Lomé, the capital city).

As previously mentioned, we stayed in rooms within the village; for lack of better description, you could say we practically shared a hut with other villagers. We also shared our first room with a mouse and far too many massive, massive spiders. When we changed rooms we saw that the lock on that room was broken, so we changed again – again to a room with a broken lock. After a week we gave up.

Since we lived within the village, we were surrounded by children the entire time. You could barely go to the toilet(hole in the earth, used by the entire village) without someone following you around. They were lovely, sure, but I’m a person who needs some quiet time for herself. I need to be alone – without having to talk to people, or be surrounded – from time to, so this was difficult for me.

As I mentioned in the previous post we collected water ourselves, showered with buckets of cold water (hot water had to be boiled on the open “stove”), and brushed our teeth with water from the bottle. Living conditions were pretty simple and probably not for everyone, but I’m glad I had the opportunity to experience this. While I wish that I would have been warned about the living conditions before I left, I know that I might not have gone, so maybe not knowing what to expect was a blessing in disguise. Who knows?

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[Above: Packed and ready to drive from Lomé to the village! | Below: the stove.]

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[Above: the toilets. | Below: the shower.]

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[Above and Below: Floriane fetching water.]

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[Above: one of the classrooms. | Below: my room.]

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[Above: washing my clothes. | Below: candlelight dinner is a necessity when it gets dark at 7pm and you have no electricity.]

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[Above: our roommate. | Below: a life-saver!.]

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[More Togo-travel posts: The People | Activities | Reflection | All Around | More photos here.]

Reflection

What did I know – or thought to have known about life? About living standards? Adventure? Poverty? What did I know about myself?

I was in Kathmandu in February once, and I remember being so, so cold. The cold was inside of my bones, seeping through my entire body. I felt like I’d never get warm again. We didn’t have warm water for showers, no heating, next to no electricity, and I woke up more than once in the middle of the night because I was freezing.

So I thought I knew how to appreciate electricity and warm, running water. I thought I wouldn’t take it for granted anymore because I knew what it was like to have to live without it.

The reality is different, though. It’s frightening how fast and easily you adapt back to what you consider normal and take things for granted again once you’re home. And how, from that experience onwards, you think  “Oh well, I can go through anything now.”

How wrong I was.

My days in Africa were filled with difficulties: the language barrier was the most obvious one for me, but it was something I expected to be hard. What I didn’t know about was the complete lack of electricity whatsoever. The lack of plumbing or running water – never mind warm water took me by surprise, too.
I carried buckets of water from the cistern to the main house, making a ten minutes walk seem like eternity. If we wanted hot water for the shower, we had to heat it up over open fire. Toilets? Ha! How about a hole in the earth that was used by the entire village?

Cooking dinner? Awesome when you can’t see anything at all. We sat around a tiny bench, torches in our mouths trying to cut tomatoes and the chicken that was, until a day ago, still living right next to our room.

I thought I’d seen everything. I thought I was conscious of poverty and I thought I was able to handle it all. Culture shock seemed to be a word I thought I didn’t know.  And in a sense I wasn’t shocked, it just took me by surprise. Never once had anyone mentioned that this was how I’d spend those two weeks. Never once had I thought all these things would end up complicating my stay – adding to the already established difficulty I experienced because I couldn’t speak the language that well.

However, my days were also spent with playing with kids, “teaching” mathematics and French, cooking meals, washing the dishes or collecting water. I went on wild taxi moto drives up to a waterfall – the true speed never to be known because the speedometer was broken. I was in a car with four French girls when the driver got lost in the African bush at four o’clock in the morning.

I danced around the fire, clapping and laughing to the sounds of a drum, drinking Togo Gin, eating Fufu, and having a great time.

It was difficult, yes. More so than I ever could have imagined. Was it worth it though, in the end? Yes. A thousand times, yes.

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