on the job: in the kitchen

Posted by on Apr 25, 2010 in in the kitchen, on the job, pc-romania, veronica | No Comments

Much like my first job in the VA, my Peace Corps placement hasn’t been what I expected.  I know, I know — we’re told constantly not to expect anything specific in PC service.  My expectation was that my host org would have a place for me to use my skills as a therapist.  I don’t think that’s a crazy expectation.  I think it’s completely relevant for a mid-career therapist to want to continue to use her skills (and as an aside….  if Peace Corps really is interested in mid-career volunteers, the agency should address how to provide mid-level positions where appropriate).  But I digress…..

My mom said, “Veronica, bloom where you’re planted.”   Heeding Mom’s wisdom, I decided to put aside dreams of sustainable collaborative uber-PCV projects and go for something meaningful for beneficiaries and me.  And that’s where my weekly alternative/expressive therapies group comes in. Each week we focus on one modality — music, art, dance, games, gardening (in appropriate seasons) and cooking.

The cooking group has been a HUGE hit.  We’re doing one recipe each month and by request, they are “American” recipes.  The day before cooking, a small group of us head out into town to shop for ingredients.  The beneficiaries handle money, pick out produce, and figure out what items are the cheapest.  These are life skills that we use so automatically, but many of the beneficiaries I work with need to learn how to do these things. Many of them haven’t been inside a grocery store.  Many don’t know what the Romanian currency looks like.  So it’s good for them.  And it’s good for the town — people see us walking, walking, shopping — and to be honest, most Romanians aren’t used to seeing people with special needs integrating into the community.

On our cooking day, every beneficiary is involved — chopping, cleaning, stirring, pouring, measuring.  We’re a bee-hive of activity and everyone wants to be a part of it.  I mean, there are several kids “fighting” to wash dishes because they aren’t allowed to do this at home.   In addition to the “life skills” aspects of the group, there are tasks like following multi-step directions, working together, practicing patience.  And while when I cook/bake solo, I’m pretty good at multi-tasking, cooking with beneficiaries has made me break each task into its baby-est step and then learn how to explain that in Romanian.   I think the most surprising aspect of the group has been that the staff (who don’t get a lunch break) adore having a snack that the beneficiaries make. The staff look forward to our cooking week with anticipation about what crazy American food we’ll be making and they immediately request recipes. In a way, I think that the cooking group has gotten me more “in” (or integrated as PC would say) with the staff more than anything I’ve done.

My “hope” is that in December, we’ll print a small cookbook with the recipes for the beneficiaries’ parents.  And maybe even have a bake sale to raise some funds.  But we shall see….

Our group has made the following recipes. (Note: I’m usually so busy and the beneficiaries so excited, that I don’t get a ton of picture of them working or of the finished products!)

December 2009 — Brownies

January 2010 — Radu stirring

January 2010 — Cornbread

February 2010 — Pasta Salad

March 2010 — Fried Rice

April 2010 — Banana Bread

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