Tuesday, March 20, 2007

"The Replacement Feeds Cooking Show" - What I was up to last Saturday, Part 2

(continued from Part 1)

“So?” I asked Eileen as I stepped out of my car. “Why am I here?”

As I mentioned in my previous entry on th 17th of March, I had been recruited with some haste to drive a half hour from the Baylor clinic to the “set” where an informational video on infant nutrition was being shot.

In so many words, I had been told that my services were to be critical to the success of the film, that I was the only one for the job.

“Come have a look.” Eileen said, leading me to the large tree beneath which scene one was being filmed.

There were about a dozen people beneath the tree, and all attention was focused on a reed mat at the base of the trunk. On the mat there were two women in traditional Swazi clothing. I recognized them.

Cameras were rolling, and the actors were speaking animatedly in SiSwati.

Filming scene 1.

The dialogue (borrowed from the English version of the script) was as follows:

“Yes, I have been trying to introduce solids foods, but I am finding that Mfana doesn’t always like to eat the things I give him.”

“Oh, there are easy ways to make nice healthy tasty meals for Mfana. This way he will grow nicely…Let’s go into edladleni [i.e. hut] and I can show you how to make a good meal for your baby…”

“Yes, I would like to learn.”


The voice came from the film’s director, who was looking intently into a TV screen. The screen had a parasol and cardboard shades taped around it to block out the midday glare.

“Nice job, Eunice. Well done, Nomsa. Do you want tea?” One of the film crew said.

The actresses politely accepted the offer for tea, though I suspect what they wanted more than anything was an excuse to sit for some moments indoors. Their garments, though both attractive and undeniably Swazi, appeared heavy, and the Saturday sun was set to broil.

Me and the actors.

If they minded the heat, they did not say, for Eunice and Nomsa are not complainers. Nor are they actually actors. Their real job is to interpret for the English-speaking doctors at the Baylor clinic. They do their job very well, and always without complaint.

Today, they were starring in a film about infant nutrition, and they had just completed the first scene. The third member of the three-person cast (playing the infant Mfana) was still in his dressing room.

The name of the film is the “Replacement Feeds Cooking Show.” It is being produced to address the complex problem of safely feeding young babies in resource-limited settings like Swaziland.

Failure to do this, of course, can lead to malnutrition and another preventable death. As I have discussed in recent entries, this is all too common in this part of the world.

The film is sort of an “infant nutrition 101”, addressing the timely introduction of solid foods, water hygiene and safety, appropriate food choices (see photos below), cup feeding, etc.

Healthy, calorie-dense, vitamin rich foods.
More healthy, calorie-dense, vitamin rich foods.

The final product, which is likely to end up approximately 15 minutes long after editing, was undertaken by a group of Waterford students in collaboration with two Baylor physicians—Eileen Birmingham and Julia Kim.

Waterford is short for “Waterford Kamhlaba United World College of Southern Africa”. It is a private international school linked with other United World Colleges (in Italy, Venezeula, New Mexico, Singapore, Norway, India, Hong Kong, etc.). The students participating in the project were similarly diverse, self-identifying as Portuguese-Angolan-Mozambican, Mexican-American, Kenyan, Kenyan-American, Ugandan-Rwandanese, North American, Israeli, Zimbabwean, etc.

The cast and crew.

They were part of the two-year pre-university international baccalaureate program, and they were an organized bunch. Not only had they printed digital images of each scene’s layout for the shoot (see photo), they all had special Hollywood-esque titles, from “director” to “sound technician” to “set designer” to “producer” to “lighting specialist.”
They left little to chance.

Illustrated script.

Everyone in position for scene 2 (around the edladleni).

As the film crew calculatedly mulled about and the actors had a tea break, I asked Eileen again. “So, why am I here?”


I was getting a tad suspicious.

“…We need you to barbeque the meat for lunch.”

Okay, so grilling meat is not an emergency, per se. It never has been and never will be. I would have pointed this out to Eileen, but I was actually flattered that she associated me with high-quality barbequing. Moreover, I am a Texan, and I like to barbeque, especially under extreme conditions.

These were extreme conditions. The sun was a heat lamp. The grill was a mere three square feet and missing two legs. The “pit” where I was to barbeque was a concrete foundation for a future residence of some kind. There was meat for 20-30 people in the refrigerator, and lunch was in less than an hour.

It was the perfect challenge for a guy like me. That is, it was an ideal opportunity to prove to myself that the three decades of watching my father feed millions of family members with his XXL smoker and XXXL grill was not wasted, that I had not fallen too far from the tree…the exotic, towering masterful-cooker-of-meat tree, that is.

Heck, now that I have had time to reflect on it, maybe it was sort of an emergency. No nutrition video can reach its full potential if those involved in its production miss lunch.

In addition to cooking, I was also quite interested in the filming of the cooking show, and was looking forward to observing after completing my official duties. After all, a film of this sort, if carefully put together, is an important and effective tool for grassroots education.

Besides, its well-planned creation promised to be quite a spectacle in its own right.

In short, the film was the sort of thing that I felt proud to be involved in, even if my involvement was peripheral and involved baking in the sun while roasting in the heat of a nearby fire.

“I am going to need some sweat-proof sunscreen,” I told Eileen.

As you can see from the photograph, I got the job done.

Me "getting the job done".

The actors and film crew were running a bit behind schedule but eventually had lunch. They seemed to like it, which made me happy.

I read through the script of “Replacement Feeds Cooking Show” as the group ate. The final line of the film is as follows:

“Feeding babies is like building a traditional hut. If you want it to be strong enough to protect you from the storm you have to build it with the best material and tie it tightly even if it will take you longer. In other words, you should be patient!”


Even more than grilling meat, my father loves to smoke it. He cooks it so slow that, when he finishes, you can cut it with a fork.

It takes several days to do this well.

While I am not sure that I inherited my father’s talent for grilling and smoking, I know why he likes doing it.

He enjoys ensuring that people are well fed.
The cast in the edladleni .


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