|Chef Erum from Shef.com|
The New York Times recently interviewed a 30-something couple about their hopes for post-Covid summer travel in Italy.
Their plan: "We will rent a house so we have our own space," the woman said. "I imagine we'll interact with the community less than we normally would."
I can't think of a worse plan for anyone hoping to experience the culture of another country. Until the notion of "restarting" travel moves away from the idea of building a wall between ourselves and the people around us, I prefer to focus on finding ways here at home to connect with people and places in far-off destinations.
This is how my husband and I found ourselves sitting down to a dinner recently prepared by Erum, a young Seattle-area home cook who prepares Hyderabadi-Pakistani fusion meals delivered by Shef.com, an Airbnb-like platform for immigrant cooks who earn money by sharing the cuisine of their cultures.
For around $45, including a tip and delivery to our home, we sampled Erum's mother's recipes for aaloo palak, a vegetarian dish of soft spinach and potato blended with tomato paste; chicken achar gosht, boneless chicken cooked in a tomato and chili sauce; and sheer khorma, a traditional dessert, made with milk, vermacelli. My only regret is not requesting one-star heat. The spicy meal literally fired up memories of our travels in India some years ago where we enjoyed local cooking in three different homestays.
Perhaps best of all, ordering take-out from Shef.com provided a connection with an enterprising young entrepreneur from a part of the world that needs the support of travelers who can't yet travel. Finding more opportunities like is a good way to spend some of our travel dollars while we wait out the pandemic.
This is the reason I support Boston-based tenLocals which charges participants a small fee (around $14.90-$19.90) for a live virtual tour with a faraway guide out of work due to the pandemic. We've so far visited India, Bhutan, Russia and Ukraine along with small groups of other travelers, all connected to the guide and each other live on Zoom where everyone can interact and ask questions. Upcoming trips include a tour of an urban forest in Tokyo; a day in the life of a Venice citizen living on the island of Murano in Italy; and a tour of an artisan chocolate factory in Quito, Ecuador. The video and sound quality vary with the guide, but I've found all to be generous with their time and willing to answer any questions that come up.
New York's Museum of Food and Drink uses food as a lens for cultural understanding. It's Kitchen Without Borders program connects participants with recipes and stories from refugee and immigrant chefs in one-hour online sessions ($15) sponsored by Eat Offbeat, a catering and meal delivery service staffed by chefs from Syria, Iran, Eritrea, Venezuela, and other countries.
Free are interactive Zoom programs sponsored by the Abraham Path Initiative, a nonprofit established to develop walking trails for tourists to to connect with people in the Middle East. Since Covid, API has focused on webinars called "Meet us on the Abraham Path." The most recent featured Vivien Sansour, founder of the Palestine Heirloom Seed Library where she works with farmers to recover threatened heirloom varieties.
Making a small loan through Kiva.org has long been one of my favorite ways to support third-world entrepreneurs in need of help to start or support a small business. Kiva organizes lenders into groups, and uses non-profit organizations to find and vet borrowers who pay back the money on a monthly schedule. Once a borrower pays back in full, the money is available for Kiva lenders to reclaim or lend again. So far, I've rolled over an initial $125 investment 59 times for a total of $1,475 loans in 16 countries.
I nearly always look for an opportunity to make a loan in a country where we plan to travel. Farmers in Peru and Myanmar were the most recent. Another focus has been female entrepreneurs in Cambodia where we traveled some years ago. Recently, however, I began to think about the number of immigrants coming to the U.S. from Central America, and what we could do to help prop up their local economies.
This how I came to find Madelin, Jose and Maritza, bread bakers in rural Nicaragua, in need of a loan to buy flour, yeast, margarine, firewood and sugar. I joined 21 other lenders, each us contributing a minimum of $25 towards a $1,025 loan to be paid back over 14 months. So for, success. Despite Covid, the bakers have paid back 60 percent of the loan amount, with $400 more to go.