Two years ago, I set out to a city called Kabale in Uganda to participate in a medical brigade with a group of health professionals brought together by a common desire to help provide healthcare to those in tremendous need. This was a mission to rural Uganda was to provide medical and dental care, improve healthcare delivery systems and train local healthcare workers. My role in this mission was to provide nutrition education to caregivers of malnourished children. I was told before I went that there was a rehabilitation centre for these families in which I was to help out in the day-to-day activities. Upon landing in Uganda, I was taken to the nutrition rehabilitation centre, where five families were currently staying, working with a local healthcare worker. However, the local healthcare worker, also the only person who spoke English at the centre, was gone for the week. As well, when I got there, they expected me to run a program, even though I was told I would just be helping with the daily activities, and had no experience with this type of work.
After a couple days of feeling panic, and lost, invaluable, and a failure to these families and this program, I forced myself to snap out of it. I realized, perhaps, that they had much more to offer me, and this was my moment of illumination. I started sitting in the rehabilitation centre and talking to the women caregivers and workers. Something as simple as conversation taught me so much. I learnt about their family dynamics, what life is like in Kabale, and what they needed the most. Once they revealed to me their needs, I was able to develop a simple program that would allow us to share our experiences, grow, and learn at the same time. Cooking together! I decided that an informal format of cooking together would the most universal way of learning. Instead of me telling them what to do, we would share in the experience together. Here I learnt the value of learning through experience, and the transformative process that this brings about and how this can play an important role in community development.
So by reflecting on this experience, I was inspired for the theme for my personal learning network – cooking. Growing up Jewish, cooking was a way we bonded, that we shared stories, a way that I learned a lot about my heritage. However, when I started to think how important I felt cooking was to my sense of self, creativity, and spirituality, I quickly realized that there was a disconnect. I know about Jewish food, I helped my mom cook it, but I really did not know how to do it myself or really its relevance to my heritage. All four of my grandparents are from Poland, however, I do not know much about their life in eastern Europe, but food was always a connection to this life they once had, that they shared with us to help us develop a sense of what their community was like. I feel this connection of my heritage slipping away, and I want to reengage. For this reason, I have decided to explore Jewish cooking, and reflect on this learning process that has been passed down from generation to generation, drawing us together.
I have titled my project – Becoming a Balabusta. Balabusta is Yiddish for describing a good homemaker, something that my grandfather always described my grandmother as. Perhaps some feminist would take issue with this notion of homemaker, but being a feminist myself, I have always thought the notion of cooking with the family was a very valuable shared experience with positive connotations; a way bringing the family together. So, I plan to critically explore this, through a feminist lens, because I always felt a sense of empowerment, bonding, and learning by sharing the kitchen with the women in my family. I also have always felt that women play an important role as manager in the home, and as such has the utmost capability to impact change, something I learnt from the women in Africa.
Join me as I venture into Becoming a Balabusta