Sunday, April 29, 2012

ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA: THE FOOD


This was a meal that required a lot of time. Not so much that I really had, but it managed to work out in the end. It all started with trying to find conch. The first place I went to was out, but I did manage to find it at the Saraga International Grocery Store for $10/lb. (That place is huge! I wish I had more time to look around.)  And then we promised the kids we’d buy them their own bikes with some of the tax refund – no hand-me-downs this year. But needless to say, it set my start time back a couple of hours.  No problems though.

The first thing I started was the bread since I knew it would have a lot of resting time involved. It seemed like after every step, it had to rest for an hour or something. (Sounds like my dream job…)

Shhh... it's resting.  
While it was resting, I got started on the ducuna.  It starts out with grated sweet potato, which also seemed like I’d never get to the end of that task. But then after I added sugar, it –of course—had to rest an hour.

Grated sweet potato and sugar. It's also resting. I feel like I just walked into naptime at the culinary daycare.  
I made a Caribbean tarter sauce for the conch fritters. I’m not a huge fan of tarter sauce in general, but this one didn’t add horseradish, one of the very few foods I DON’T like. So, I thought it wouldn’t be too bad. It was way more tolerable than regular tarter sauce, but I’m still not a fan. Tarter sauce ranks right up there with Monday mornings, stepping in mud puddles in sandals, and the Twilight series.

Then I ran back to the bread to kneed it (or as we called it, punching the dough) and formed it into the rolls.  After that, you guessed it, it had to rest another 45 minutes to an hour.

Beat on the bread, beat on the bread, beat on the bread with a baseball bat. Well, ok, the Ramones did it better. 
Which then gave me time to start chopping the vegetables and conch for the fritters. (The word is still out on the correct pronunciation of the word conch: some say /kahnch/ and some, like in south Florida, pronounce it /kahnk/.  Maybe they're both right. I pronounced it /kahnk/ in the store and they had no idea what I was talking about. Then they said "Do you mean /kahnch/?")  I made the batter and mixed everything together. And –can you believe it? —it had to rest in the refrigerator for an hour.

By now I was ready to put the bread in the oven.  Yeah! After 25-30 minutes, it was ready! (Finally…)

Mmmm... woo-hoo! 
 Then I was able to wrap the ducuna into foil balls and put them in boiling water for 50 minutes. The directions said that it has to cool completely, or it’d be sticky. Well, I cooled it down, and it was still a little sticky.  Maybe I didn’t have enough flour in it or something. I thought it was supposed to be more solidified.

Putting the ducuna in a foil bed and dunking it in boiling water. Hmmm, sounds a little like a spa treatment. 
The fritters turned out really well at first sight, but I had to put some of them back in the oven because the insides weren’t quite done. But after that, it was really good (minus the tarter sauce, that is). 

That's $8.99 in a restaurant. Just leave your tip on the table when you leave. 
 Overall, it took a lot of time to make this dinner. It taught me patience and planning in making this. And for a meal that had to constantly rest, I certainly wasn’t able to. The bread turned out amazing, but to be authentic, it was missing an ingredient, besides the vanilla extract I forgot to put in.  In Antigua, this is known locally as a bun and cheese. They take the bun that I made and put a sort of cheese spread on it. I think it's made with cheddar cheese, but I forgot the research to find a recipe for it. So, I was only halfway authentic. But that’s ok. The kids enjoyed the conch fritters (which to me, the conch had the chewiness of octopus and the taste of a scallop). And when the kids eat it (and I’m including my 3-year-old whom I sometimes call Mikey [from the old Life cereal commercial: “give it to Mikey; he hates everything”]), it must be good.

Not sure if this is what it was supposed to look like, but it was good nonetheless. 

Up next: Argentina

Resources:
Antigua raisin cheese bun –

Friday, April 27, 2012

ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA: MUSIC AND DANCE


The music of Antigua and Barbuda has a lot of similarities to and is heavily influenced by the music of nearby Trinidad and Tobago. While there are several types of music heard and played here, there are three main types of music found in Antigua and Barbuda: steel pans, calypso, and soca. Others also include reggae and zouk (another type of music from the Caribbean).

While the correct term is steel pan, many people call it steel drum. However, it is not a drum at all, as most people know it. A drum by definition is called a membranophone, meaning an instrument that creates its sound from a membrane (like the head of a drum, made of various materials). A steel pan falls under the category of an idiophone, one that creates its sounds from vibration.  It gets its name because it was originally made out of used oil drums that were made of steel which are then formed into the instrument. The “notes” are arranged using the cycle of fifths. There are many different sizes of steel pans, some are quite large while others are smaller to give an array of range.  A famous steel pan band from Antigua is the Brute Force Steel Band. The Hell’s Gate Steel Band and the Big Shell Steel Band are two others. The video is of the Antigua Carnival Panorama 2011 champs, the Hell’s Gate Steel Band. It’s really something to see all those people performing together. It really makes me want to buy a steel drum next (side note: I just purchased a Zimbabwe [of the Shona people] mbira today – I’m still excited, and I haven’t even received it. I have a long time before I even get to Zimbabwe to blog about it. But by then, I should be good.)


Calypso is an integral part of Antiguan music because it is closely tied to other forms as well. It also came from Trinidad, created by slaves at a time when they were not allowed to speak to each other for fear of planning to overthrow their “owners.”  In Antigua and Barbuda, calypso has been used as a means to express social and political ideologies, often using metaphors and symbolism, much like Rai music does in Algeria. Calypso bands often will have two guitars and a bass guitar, but will add other instruments, like drums as needed. Every year, there are calypso contests, especially during Carnival. I really like the musician Claudette Peters (from the band Taxik). There isn’t a lot of information on her, and only a few YouTube videos. One famous calypso band is Burning Flames. This is a video of the song “Swinging Engine.”  Ok, it's not much of a video per se, but the song is cool.


Soca, which is probably the most well-known form, is closely related to calypso. It’s actually a combination of calypso and cadence (another genre from the Caribbean) with certain Indian instruments, like the dholak (a type of drum), the tabla (another type of drum, I mentioned it when I wrote on music from Afghanistan), and the dhantal (a long metal rod struck with a smaller U-shaped metal rod). It’s once been thought that the term “Soca” stood for “soul calypso” (as in SOul CAlipso), but it really was a misinterpretation of a quote from Soca musician Lord Shorty, which actually was supposed to be that “soca was the soul of calypso.”  Soca is also very popular around Carnival time as well. It’s mostly a pretty upbeat style of music. One famous soca band is El-A-Kru; this is the song “Expose.” 


There isn’t a lot of information on traditional dance. I did however manage to find a video for the Xephorae Dance Theatre performing with the Da Vibez Steel Band. I don't know if it's traditional to Antigua or not, but it's still good. Although I am wondering what the significance of the baskets on the head are. [The first part is announced in French, so I'm not sure where they're performing.] I also found a video on YouTube of some guys doing what they call a Bakka dance on Market Street. But I can’t find any more information on traditional dances. There are several dance troupes, including several videos on YouTube of the Antigua Dance Academy.  There are also several dance contests during Carnival festival.


Music and dance go hand-in-hand in Antigua and Barbuda. When you hear the music, you can’t help but sway to the music. Even if you’re not a dancer, like me. I totally wish I were a dancer though (partly because most dancers have really awesome bodies).  Perhaps that’s why I can’t find any information on Antiguan dance – dancing is so engrained into the music that it’s not known by its own genre.  It’s more of an expression, of something that comes natural, rather than a deliberate move. Whether you give it a name or not, you can tell it comes from deeper than the heart – music and dance is built into the fibers of what it is to be from Antigua and Barbuda.

Up next: the food!

Resources:
Wikipedia: “Music of Antigua and Barbuda” “Steel pans” “Calypso” “Soca”

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA: ART AND LITERATURE



Antigua and Barbuda is an artist colony of sorts.  With its gorgeous scenery, many photographers are based here. There are a number of other types of arts that are popular like textiles, basket weaving, and painting.  But no matter what the type of art it is, there is one thing that is the common denominator between them all, and that’s bright colors.  Certain arts use natural materials such as pottery, bead jewelry (and jewelry in general, including gems and pearls) and certain kinds of sculptures. 

There are a number of art museums dotting the islands and create a Mecca for artists. One of the largest and most well known is called Harmony Hall, thought of as the center of arts in Antigua by some.  Throughout the year, there are a number of craft, trade, and art shows all over the islands where people can meet and share their arts.


A number of authors have arisen to fame who have originated from Antigua.  Two of the more well known are Jamaica Kincaid and Marie-Elena John.  Jamaica Kincaid was born and raised in St. John’s, but now resides in the United States, dividing her time between her home in Vermont and teaching in California. Her first novel “At the Bottom of the River” was published in 1983, and she’s written many since then. Some of her more famous novels are “A Small Place,” “Lucy,” and “Mr. Potter.”  I actually downloaded a sample of “Mr. Potter” on iBooks. It was pretty good; I might go back and buy it to finish it. Many of her novels surround life on the island of Antigua, and are pseudo-autobiographical in nature, although she does claim that basically there are many parts that are true and many parts that aren’t.


Marie-Elena John is another Caribbean writer from Antigua whose first novel, “Unburnable” came out in 2006. This book is mostly a historical fiction but also a little bit of a mystery novel as well. I read the first chapter of the sample that I got off of iBooks, and I’m intrigued. I think I may have to buy this one as well. Or at least try to find it at the library. She does a lot of work with various nonprofit and governmental human rights organizations and focuses her work on various African nations. She also divides her time between residing in the United States and Antigua.


One thing I noticed in both samples I read and in looking at the art that comes out of Antigua is the attention to detail. But it’s not always the meticulously cleaned up detail to make everything right, it’s an attention to detail that shows things how they are: like a giant magnifying glass. It’s almost as if they are celebrating, or rather conveying, to the world the beauty that is, not the beauty that is in the corrected.

Up next: music and dance

Resources:
Wikipedia: “Jamaica Kincaid” “Marie-Elena John” “Unburnable”
iBook samples: “Mr. Potter” (Jamaica Kincaid); “Unburnable” (Marie-Elena John)

Monday, April 23, 2012

ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA: HOLIDAYS AND CELEBRATIONS


Antigua and Barbuda certainly do not have as many public holidays as other countries, but there are many local festivals that take place all year round, including the Antigua and Barbuda Literary Festival (I would LOVE to attend!).


January 1. New Year’s Day.  Antiguans bring in the New Year with a huge gala affair. There are barbecues on the beach, lots of food and drinks.  Decorations are usually still up from Christmas. Most bars stay open extra late, usually until dawn. Fireworks and live music fill the night. On New Year’s Day itself, there is a costume parade that takes place.  It seems that New Years is almost as festive as Carnival. 

First Monday in May. Labour Day.  Most people take this time off from work to spend with their families and friends.  Many people enjoy a barbecue on the beach with a lot of good food and drink. Some also prefer to travel to the sister-island of Barbuda (about 30 miles northeast from the island of Antigua). There are also parades going on during the day as well that are hosted by various trade union organizations. 

July 3. CARICOM Day.  CARICOM stands for Caribbean Community, an organization and agreement among 15 Caribbean nations, mostly members of the English-speaking countries.  It celebrates the signing of the Treaty of Chaguaramas (1973). There are TV specials on and a lot of political speeches regarding the state of nation as a CARICOM member.

Late July-early August. Antigua Carnival. This is a HUGE festival in Antigua. It’s filled with talent shows, concerts, parades with lots of elaborate costumes, food, drink, and partying. It’s practically non-stop for 11 days. I guess if you were going to head to Antigua, you’d probably want to go for Carnival.


November 1.  Independence Day.  Antigua and Barbuda gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1981. Everywhere in Antigua and Barbuda, businesses and schools start decorating for the holiday weeks in advance. Many people will celebrate with barbecues, parades, and lots of traditional food and drink. People will also wear traditional clothing and the national colors of yellow and red around this time as well.

December 9.  National Heroes Day.  There are four people designated as National Heroes, to which they are honored: Sir Vere Cornwall Bird (first prime minister of Antigua, you’ll find his named attached to a variety of buildings, the airport, etc.), King Court (led a slave rebellion), Dame Ellen Georgian Nellie Robinson (leader in education), and Sir Vivian Richards (great cricket player).

December 25.  Christmas. Christmas is celebrated around food and drink. Many people prefer stew pork as the traditional Christmas meal. There are usually several other side dishes and desserts that surround the main dish. There is still decorating and Christmas lights and caroling, but there is also a lot of other music and outdoor activities as well. However, this is still a holiday that is spent with family and friends. A lot of the traditions in Antigua were brought over from the British, except with a notable island twist.

December 26.  Boxing Day. I have seen this holiday listed as a Canadian and UK holiday, but had no idea what it was. Apparently, it’s traditionally the day that you take your Christmas boxes and share its contents with the poor. (A Christmas box is a wooden or clay box used to put gifts in.) These days, it’s customary to tip those who provide services and to donate gifts to charity. Some employers would give bonuses to its workers, and schools will sometimes create a Christmas box with items to send to poorer countries.

Up next: Arts and Literature

Resources:
Wikipedia: “Public holidays in Antigua and Barbuda” “CARICOM” “Antigua Carnival”

Saturday, April 21, 2012

ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA: THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE



Sun. Beaches. Caribbean breezes. The island nation of Antigua and Barbuda lies in the middle of all this. It’s been inhabited by several different groups of people throughout its history, starting mostly with the Arawak and Carib Indians, then the Spanish and French, followed by the British who brought African slaves with them to work the sugar plantations. (Slavery was abolished here about a decade before the United States could even get their act together on the issue.)

The name Antigua comes from the Spanish word for “ancient,”possibly a shortening of Santa Maria la Antigua, ultimately referring to a sacred icon in a cathedral in Seville, Spain; Christopher Columbus bestowed the name himself. The name Barbuda comes from the Spanish word for “bearded,” possibly from either the way the fig trees looked or possibly from the beards the natives sported. And apparently, I have been pronouncing it wrong all these years: it’s an-TEE-guh and bar-BOO-duh (although Wikipedia says it's also pronounced bar-BYOO-duh. If you know which is right, or if they're both acceptable, please let me know!) 

English is spoken in Antigua and Barbuda, although Antiguan Creole is more widely spoken. While most people can speak Standard English, in most social situations, people will choose to speak creole. This is especially true after gaining independence.

Antigua and Barbuda are located just southeast of the island of Puerto Rico. It’s roughly the size of Tampa, Florida when it comes to area. The entire country has about 89,000 people, which is roughly the same as Reading, Pennsylvania. The island of Antigua is the main island and the one most populated. The capital, St. John’s, is here. (As a grammarian, the use of theapostrophe bothers me. It’s like, I’m constantly asking, “St. John’s what?”)  The island of Barbuda is to the northeast a bit and is much more rural; it’s largest city is Codrington. There are actually several other smaller islands that also belong to Antigua and Barbuda.

The country itself has a fairly high percentage of clean water and sanitation, even in the rural areas. Only about 86% of the people are literate though, and there is high unemployment. Antiguans’ main industry is tourism, although there is light manufacturing and construction also contributes to the economy as well.

One of the problems that Antigua and Barbuda has is a problem with offshore banking. In 2009, Texas billionaire Allen Stanford wasarrested for a $7 billion multi-national Ponzi scheme involving 30,000 investors. He was recently convicted of 13 of 14 counts last month, and I think he’s facing around 20 years in prison. He based himself in Antigua and fronted a lot of money to the island nation. In return for being allowed to stay there (after he was forced to leave the island of Montserrat after authorities closed his offshore bank back in the 1980s), he did pay his workers first-world wages, which they, in turn, used to pay other people for services, such as gardeners, nannies, etc. When Stanford was arrested and brought back to the US, the people who worked for him were fired, and they were forced to fire those who did services for them as well: a trickle-down effect to stagnant waters. After all that’s said and done, thousands were left without jobs, and the money dried up.


But Antigua and Barbuda’s natural beauty and tropical climate will continue to attract people from all over the world. The fusions ofcultures and laid-back auras of the Caribbean continue to perpetuate a fascination with Antigua and Barbuda.

Up next: Holidays and Celebrations

Resources:
CIA World Factbook: Antigua and Barbuda
Wikipedia: “Antigua and Barbuda” “Etymology of country names”

Thursday, April 19, 2012

FOLLOW UP: ANGOLAN ART


This was a recent article posted today on my local newspaper’s website, the Indianapolis Star. I thought it was a pretty cool article.  Apparently through CT scan technology, art experts-turned-scientists have found that in these figurines from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it shows they have created what looks like outlines of the digestive tracts inside the figurines. Even though it’s not from Angola, it is nearby, and they really do resemble the Chokwe art I talked about. And it’ll be a while before I get to the DRC, so I thought I’d post it now. It makes me wonder if any Angolan figurines have the same digestive tracks created inside. Who knows?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

ANGOLA: THE FOOD


This meal went over WAY better, surprisingly, than some of the past meals (even though I’ve enjoyed all of them, the other members of my family have had some varying opinions on various dishes). And I do have to say myself, that this was one of my favorites.

My daughter helping stir the batter. And, yes, those are cat ears. 
First of all, we turned on the soulful sounds of Paulo Flores, an Angolan musician I forgot to mention in my previous post about music (how did I forget about him!?). We started off, as usual, with the bread: a corn and rice bread. It was a lot less complicated than other breads I’ve made. You mixed all the dry ingredients, and then mixed all the wet ingredients separately, which included me making rice before I got started.  I usually use basmati rice, but this time I used jasmine rice. It was a little stickier than the basmati, at least the way I made it I guess. It did call for coconut oil, which I actually did find. The organic version was $8 and the regular version was $6, but it came in such a huge container, I couldn't justify buying it if I couldn't guarantee I would be using much of it again. Instead, I mixed melted butter, a little sugar, and some pure vanilla (I didn't want to go back out of coconut flavor). After that, you pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir it really well. I wanted to use a loaf pan, but the one I had seemed really small. I’m not always the best foreseer of what’ll fit into a space, but for once, I listened to that small voice of reason: I used the larger round pan instead. It didn’t brown that much, and the consistency was denser than regular cornbread, but the flavor was slightly lighter. It’s definitely a dipping and sopping bread. 

The bread as it came out of the oven. Just about perfect.  
Next came the stew. It starts out with its base: onions, garlic, and ginger. Then some added chopped jalapeño. I tasted some of it, and it really didn’t seem all that hot to me, which was good if I had any chance of my kids eating it. After that I added the chicken, spices and vegetables. I actually used the stalks of the Swiss chard I used with the Andorran food from a couple weeks ago to add some color.  I used water instead of broth (I was too tired to go to the store).  After it’s simmered for a while, you add the peanut butter and some sugar and have it simmer some more. The recipe called for optional lemon or lime juice: I squeezed half a lime into the soup while it simmered. I went with lime, since it always seems to be a garnish whenever I order anything with Thai peanut sauce on it. The smell was amazing, and the taste was even more so. Definitely a favorite in our household.

The stew just prior to serving. Don't worry, I didn't drool into it. But I came really close. 
 The third thing on the menu was the prawns with raw sauce. I used cocktail shrimp since 1) I already had it in the fridge, and 2) it’s practically the same thing.  The raw sauce basically consisted of chopping green onions, garlic, white wine vinegar, water, and some spices. It called for the shrimp to be grilled, but not only did I forget to buy new charcoal and lighter fluid, but the grill needed to be cleaned since we hadn’t used it since last summer/fall. And that’s a job for my husband to do. So, I placed the skewers on a cookie sheet and put them in the oven. It was still good. So good in fact, my kids ate them all up. Every single last one of them.

Grilled prawns that are neither grilled nor prawns. But the raw sauce was right on. 
 I would have to say that this meal was an enormous hit, as enormous as the Angolan sky itself. It was a meal that stuck to your ribs, that requires stories to be told over it, and shared amongst friends and family. I mean, even my 3-year-old ate part of it, mostly shrimp though. It still embodied the complexity that we encountered in African food when we did the food from Algeria. I remember when I was in college, we had a dinner where we had to bring something from the country we live in, and there was a woman from Africa who made a dish with chicken and peanut butter. I forget which country she was from exactly – I’m thinking she was from Ghana. But she said how amazed she was at how cheap peanut butter is in the United States, because it was a lot more expensive where she was from in Africa. Dishes made with peanut butter were served for special occasions and holidays. I don’t know the price of peanut butter in Angola, but it made me think that certain ingredients in one place may be so common, it becomes a euphemism for cheap items (as in “you have a caviar taste, but a peanut butter budget”), while in other places it’s a coveted item. (I wonder if they use it in euphemisms too?) It makes you think about your own community a little differently. We’re close yet so far away, and vice versa.

The finished product! Kudos to me for making bread that looks like Spongebob. 

Up next: Antigua and Barbuda

Resources:

Friday, April 13, 2012

ANGOLA: MUSIC AND DANCE


While there are several types of music that are popular in Angola, three main types come up: semba, kizomba, and kuduro. In many of these styles, the dance and the music are one and the same.

Semba is a traditional style of music that actually has led to other types, including the famous samba style of Brazil, as well as the other two popular Angolan styles, kizomba, and kuduro. Its origin is from the word “masemba” which means “touch of the bellies,” referring to moves in semba dancing.  The rhythms are led many times by guitars, rather than drums alone. Although there is a variety of percussion that is still used, mind you.  African music without drumming is like college without drinking (as in, it can be done, but why would you want to?). One really famous semba musician is Bonga. Because of his political view of Angolan independence, he was exiled from Angola during the early 1970s. He ended up fleeing to Europe and traveled between several different countries, yet kept up his music and recordings. His album Angola 72/74 is a great collection, which includes the song “Sodade” that was later made famous by one of my favorite musicians Cesária Évora (who I could’ve sworn was from Angola all these years and was really excited to show her music, but then I found out she was really from Cape Verde. So you’ll all have to wait until next year or so). I found it on iTunes for $19.80, although you can buy them separate (Angola 72 or Angola 74) for $9.90 apiece.


Kizomba is a blend of semba and zouk, a music style that originally came from the French Caribbean. Kizomba itself seems to be popular mainly in the lusosphere (a fancy word for all the Portuguese-speaking countries) and mainly in the larger cities, such as Lisbon or Luanda.

The last one, kuduro, is something I knew of before I got to Angola but didn’t know it originated from Angola. And since I’m a huge fan of various degrees of separation of everything, here how it goes: we got the movie “Fast Five” for Christmas because it was set in Brazil, and I went there several years ago, and it had awesome cars in it (not to mention Vin Diesel), and one of the actors/musicians featured was Don Omar who had sung the song “Danza Kuduro” that was also sung with Lucenzo, a Portuguese musician (which was on the soundtrack and happened to be my ringtone until I got an iPhone today and can’t figure out how to change my ringtones to something I want). So, that brings us back to kuduro. Kuduro itself takes traditional semba and kizomba, speeds it up and puts a house/techno/electronica beat underneath it.  One popular kuduro band is Buraka Som Sistema (which are actually from Portugal), and I just downloaded their album “Black Diamond” this morning. Very good album, complex with variety. I got the deluxe album (with the remixes) off of iTunes for $10.99, but the regular album version is available for $5.99.

Kuduro dancing is a wild, athletic dance style that goes hand-in-hand with kuduro music. It’s reminiscent of the styles of pop and lock, capoeira, and breakdancing. (Although, breakdancing does have its origins in Brazilian capoeira.) It’s really something to watch. My daughter was imitating what we were watching, and I realized that I really find her some dance lessons. I would’ve put up a video, but every time that I actually looked at her, she got embarrassed and stopped. Le sigh. Anyways, this video by Buraka Som Sistema not only highlights kuduro music but also has a lot of dancing.


Up next: THE FOOD!!


Resources:
Wikipedia: “Music of Angola” “Semba” “Kizomba” “Kuduro” “Bonga” “Breakdancing” 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

ANGOLA: ART AND LITERATURE


One of the most recognizable pieces of art styles in Angola is the native mask. There are different kinds of masks for different purposes, and of course different tribes have their own versions. There are masks for births, deaths, marriages, seasonal changes, and other milestone ceremonies. Most of these masks are made of different kinds of wood, ivory, ceramic, and other materials. Shields, drums, and small sculptures are also popular mediums as well. Some of these can be fairly elaborate. Some of the most common ones are from the Chokwe tribe. I thought some of them looked pretty scary, but my husband thought those were the best ones and wanted to cover the living room with them. He would think that.

Today there is also a lot of painting and sculpture of various mediums. Because a lot of cultural arts went by the wayside during the years of civil war and were highly censored as well, a lot of contemporary art portrays a pro-Africa and pro-Angola sentiment and many are a reflection of their social and political views.  Today there are many local and national art shows that display artwork from various Angolan artists. Other forms of art that are also quite popular are basket weaving and textiles. One of the identifying common threads I notice among Angolan paintings is the wide array of color and contrast. I think the use of contrast is important to Angolan art, showing one way of life that coexists with another way of life. This is also true in literature (keep reading!).

The art of story-telling goes back many generations, long before the ability to write down these stories. Of course, this is true for most areas, so Angola is no exception to this. But in recent times, one of the most widely known and prevalent poets is Angola’s first president Agostinho Neto. It was really hard to find some of his poems, but I finally searched “poemas de Agostinho Neto” and came up with a lot of websites in Portuguese. (See, it pays off to be bilingual, or trilingual, or well, I suppose I could probably call myself a quasi-polyglot.)

I did find out that I do have something in common with him: we are/were both part of interracial marriages. After he was studying in Portugal, he married a white Portuguese woman named Maria Eugénia da Silva the same day he graduated. 


One of his poems called “Fogo e ritmo” [“Fire and rhythm”] really struck me. I loosely translated it, more or less, to understand it better (although there were a couple words that didn’t quite make sense to me; perhaps there was a different meaning I don’t know of? Perhaps a difference between Angolan Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese perhaps? Perhaps just the result of not studying for a while?):

“Sounds of shackles in the streets/ Songs of birds/ Under the humid greenery of the forests/ Newness of a sweet symphony/ Of the coconut trees/ Fire/ Fire in the pasture/ Fire about the heat of the plates of Cayette/ Wide roads/ Full of people, full of people/ In exodus from all parts/ Wide roads for the horizons closed/ But roads/ Open roads above/ Of the impossibilities of the arms/ Bonfires/ Dance/ Tam tam/ Rhythm/ Rhythm in the light/ Rhythm in the color/ Rhythm in the movement/ Rhythm in the bloody cracks of bare feet/ Rhythm in the nails stripped/ More rhythm/ Rhythm/ The painful voices of Africa!”

To me, this represents the perseverance of Angolans. To me, this poems talks of the hardships of the people: those who are prisoners, those who are displaced, those who have lost loved ones, and their belief in a higher source to get them through all of this on their journey to finding peace and a better life. But there is the rhythm of life that keeps them moving. The use of rhythm as a musical term goes to show how music is also so engrained in the lives of Africans on a whole, sometimes to the point where they don’t even think of it as music, just a way of life. (Keep reading when I write about music next.) But his use of seemingly opposite comparisons and descriptions creates a dichotomy of Angolan life between its people and land (“Sounds of shackles in the streets/ Songs of birds” or “Newness of a sweet symphony/ of the coconut trees/ Fire/ Fire in the pasture”). It’s a glimpse at the fire of life that even though there are hardships of unbelievable depth, the rhythm of life keeps them together and keeps them pushing forward, that even though things are bad, you can still enjoy the beauty of the land, the notes of a song, the kindness of a smile.

Up next: music and dance

Resources:

Monday, April 9, 2012

ANGOLA: HOLIDAYS AND CELEBRATIONS



Angola has several public holidays during the year; however, only a two of which are religious-based (Christmas and Easter). A little more than half of its population practice some form of Christianity introduced from the Portuguese, while the remaining 47% follow various indigenous belief systems. Two holidays celebrated in Angola are movable holidays: Easter and Carnival (celebrated the days before Lent starts).


 January 1: New Years Day.  Many of the same holiday traditions are found in Angola as the rest of the world. There are lots of parties with friends and family, lots of food and drinking. These festivities are still going on from Christmas.  There's not a whole lot of information out there on real Angolan traditions for celebrating New Years. 

January 25: Luanda’s Day. Luanda is one of the oldest cities in Africa (436 years old this year [2012]). The day is celebrated with lots of music, dancing, food, art displays, and several walking and bus tours of the city.

February 4: Day of the Armed Struggle. This is held in memory of the Baixa de Cassanje revolt (1961). Workers at a cotton plant started to protest for better working conditions. While this was going on, some of the workers started burning their ID cards and even physically assaulted the some Portuguese traders who were on the plant grounds. Instead of dealing with those who were directly involved, the Portuguese authorities responded by calling for an air raid – on twenty nearby towns, killing a vast number of people. Most estimates are between 400 and 7000, depending on who’s giving the estimate.


Usually mid-late February: Carnival.  Carnival in Angola is celebrate much the same as in other locations, probably more closer to how it’s celebrated in Brazil or like Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Louisiana (USA). There are parades with floats and people dance and are dressed in quite elaborate costumes. At night there are huge parties all over, and from the looks of it, people will dress in all different kinds of costumes – making it look more like a Halloween party. And of course, the less clothes the women wear, the more popular they seem to be.

March 8: International Women’s Day.  A day acknowledged and celebrated in 176 countries, it’s a celebration aimed at supporting women and women’s issues and connecting with women all over the world.

Late March to late April: Easter. Like most Christians in the world who celebrate Easter, Christian Angolans will celebrate by attending Easter service at church. Many families spend the time with each other, eating, and celebrating much like other areas that celebrate Easter.

April 4: Day of Peace and Reconciliation.  This marks the end of the Angolan Civil War. There are usually soccer games and religious services. It’s a day surrounded by talks of peace and especially for peace in the future as well.

May 1: Labor Day. Businesses are closed on this day.  It’s a time to spend with families and friends.

May 25: Africa Day.  This is a day in remembrance of the colonial days and for Africans who have died in the struggles for independence. Many of the Africans countries that partake in the Africa Day celebrations will have a number of cultural arts displays, music concerts, and soccer games. 


June 1: International Children’s Day.  Many non-for-profit and government organizations help to promote good health, literacy, and education while trying to fight the problems that poverty, homelessness and orphanhood that has arisen from years of civil war.

September 17: Agostinho Neto’s Day/National Heroes Day.  This is in celebration of Augostino Neto’s birthday. He was the first president of Angola and was also a reputable poet as well.

November 2: All Soul’s Day.  This is a day of giving alms and spent in remembrance of those who have already passed away. Many churches will pray for the dead with the intention of helping them to get out of purgatory.

November 11: Independence Day. Since many of the indigenous arts were banned during the war, there are often displays of music, dancing, and visual arts.

December 25: Christmas. You’ll find many of the typical European Christmas traditions in Angola as well. Schools close, and you’ll find carolers and decoration-clad buildings.  Angolans love to celebrate with many parties lasting from Christmas on through New Years. One of the traditions around this time is to eat a sweet cake called bolo-rei (king-cake) that is formed like a crown. It’s full of raisins, nuts, and fruits and was introduced by the Portuguese. The cake is usually made with a fava bean (whoever receives this slice has to make the cake next year) and a surprise (whoever receives this slice gets good luck for the next year). It sounds to me an awful lot like a fruitcake. Maybe the surprise is that this was actually last year’s bolo-rei??

Up next: Art and Literature

Resources:
Wikipedia: “Public Holidays in Angola” “Agostinho Neto” “Angolan literature”"Carnival"

Saturday, April 7, 2012

ANGOLA: THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE



Angola: the land of both rainforests and grasslands, of both age-old African traditions and contemporary European modernities. Where for every one kilometer of paved roads, there are nine kilometers of unpaved roads; where you are closer to nature only to witness human destruction against it. Situated in southwest Africa, it’s surrounded by Namibia, Zambia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Atlantic Ocean.

Angola is a former Portuguese colony, so most of the people speak Portuguese (the official language), and that makes me happy since I’ve studied Portuguese for years. However, many Angolans also speak native languages as well, the most widely spoken being Umbundu, Kimbundu, Kikongo (all of which are Bantu languages). 

After declaring independence from Portugal, Angola spent over two decades in civil war, leaving the country in economic turmoil.  Still considered one of the poorest countries in the world, much less Africa, it continues to struggle with basic services for its people, such as access to clean water and medicine. While the countryside itself is filled with valuable minerals and gems, such as diamond, copper, gold, and uranium, there is little money to which develop a viable mining industry.


The country itself is almost twice the size as the state of Texas (US), and it’s capital is the coastal city of Luanda. While the city itself has about 5.1 million people, the metro area has about as many people as New York City. It actually is the 3rd largest Portuguese-speaking city in the world, behind São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro (both in Brazil).

The country has a vast array of geographical features. There are rainforests in the northern regions and savannas and grasslands stretching across the central plains into the south. Angola is one of the few countries to have an enclave. An enclave is an area of land that is separated from the main land by another country, like Alaska is for the United States. Angola’s enclave is Cabinda, which is separated by the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Zambezi River and branches of the Congo River snake their way into and through Angola and across southern Africa. Angola is having a problem with soil erosion and the siltation of the river systems, which is one of the main causes of water pollution and lack of clean water. Desertification and deforestation are also causing problems for biodiversity.


A plethora of socioeconomic and health factors plague the country. Lack in education funding is evident with only two-thirds of the population over age 15 being able to read and write. Only half of the population has access to clean water and sanitation. Over 200,000 people are living with AIDS, and there are very few doctors available in the country. Angolans are at a high risk for major diseases such as typhoid, sleeping sickness, malaria, and hepatitis A. In fact, over a quarter of its children are reported underweight.  That being said, maternal mortality rate and infant mortality rate are also among the highest in the world. Early 20s is considered middle age, with the life expectancy being 54.

Life is especially hard for most Angolans, and it’s often the subject of its music and poetry. But their culture is not just theirs but is influenced by everyone who has passed through as well. And what you can also feel is their spirit that has led them to push though and carry on, to sustain and persevere. It’s a spirit that connects them to nature, to the land, to the sea, and to their ancestors. It comes out in their poetry, their art, their music, their dance, and their food. It’s Angola. And I’m really excited to venture through this.

Up next: holidays and celebrations

Sunday, April 1, 2012

ANDORRA: THE FOOD


Finding good recipes for Andorran food is like trying to find paperwork on my desk. Theoretically, it’s there; I just have to sift through a lot of other stuff to find it. And even at that, who knows what kind of condition it’s in. As I searched on what was out there, I found recipes that were lacking details, like how long to bake something, or had wrong measurements (like the difference between a centiliter and a milliliter almost had me using a little less than a gallon of oil! Good thing I double-checked that recipe.)  But I made like a jazz musician and improvised.

First we made the coques, an Andorran flat cake. (The recipe I was originally working with was terrible – I could deal with the European measurements, but some of them were actually wrong. See note above.) Coques can be either sweet (with sugar or fruits) or savory (with meats and cheeses on it). I decided to go with a sweet bread. The recipe was a little different than any of the others so far – it had me make a batter and then tear up pieces of rolls to add into the batter. Obviously my helper loves the camera. 


I think the dough was supposed to be a lot drier, but I ran out of flour and had to work with what I had. It still was enough to form it into the rectangle shape that coques are traditionally formed. After it baked I brushed some melted butter on top and used powdered sugar (it actually called for icing sugar, but at this point I was NOT running back out to the store) and cinnamon on top. It turned out it was a hit with the family. They sang praises to me, danced in my honor, and threw flowers at me. And it was good.


Next, we made stuffed mushrooms with sausage. I ended up making a few substitutions. The recipe called for morels, but in Indiana (even though we had a record warm month for March), it’s still a little early to find morels at the store. I settled with white mushrooms. The recipe also called for botifarra sausage, which I researched and found out that it was similar to linguiça sausage. (I ate a lot of linguiça when I was in southern Brazil. It’s a very filling sausage.) But I had a little trouble finding linguiça where I was and had to look up what some substitutions for that, and I came up with mild chorizo, which you can amply find in Indiana (and for cheap!). It also called for cognac, and I had to go with the best, Rémy Martin. It turned out really well. I liked it. The only problem is that chorizo is a very oily sausage, and some of the oil would seep out of the mushrooms.


Now came the meal. In almost every article I read on Andorran food and cuisine, one dish was almost always mentioned: trinxat. It’s from a Catalan word meaning “to slice.” It’s basically kale and Swiss chard (something I bought for the first time) boiled with potatoes. I thought the Swiss chard was pretty, and I did tell my daughter it was red because farmers poured blood on the soil, so it can soak up the blood to be high in iron. (It is April Fool's Day, you know.)


Then you cook bacon in olive oil and set the bacon off to the side. After that you take the oil off the heat and put peeled chopped garlic into the oil to infuse it. I had never heard of infusing oil, but I did it for the first time today. I gave myself a pat on the back AND a gold star. Once the oil has been sufficiently infused (how long that takes for real, I have no idea. I left the garlic in there for 1-2 minutes.), take the garlic out and pour it over the mashed potatoes/kale/Swiss chard mix. Then crumble the bacon on top. I thought it was really good and quite filling.


I couldn’t help but think about what national dishes are. It always seems to me, like with the trinxat, that many dishes that are considered “national dishes” are the ones that came from poor people. These are the dishes that use ingredients that are abundant and are prepared in such a way that stretches what people already have. Using the bacon grease and the infused oil is a very old way of adding flavor to vegetables that don’t have a strong flavor to begin with, yet are hardy to grow in abundance. Just like the use of putting the torn rolls is an old way to reuse stale bread (like how French toast got its start). These kinds of dishes prove the resilience of a people, that just because we may not have a lot, we can make something good out of what little we have.  It reminded me of the end of the movie Ratatouille, where the food critic goes back to his childhood memories just from tasting the simplistic countryside dish the movie is named after. These are the dishes that bring us all together in the commonality of surviving whatever tough times befall us.

Next country: Angola

Resources:
Coques: http://www.celtnet.org.uk/recipes/miscellaneous/fetch-recipe.php?rid=misc-coques
Trinxat and coques: http://www.rxx.co.il/TextPage_EN.aspx?ID=8620741