Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Worldly Rise Statistics 2014

I put together a few statistics from my blog to sum up 2014. I thought I’d share them with you:

— In 2014, I started with the Dominican Republic and ended with Guinea.

— At the end of 2014, I completed the 69th country for this blog.  I am now 35.8% finished with this project.

— Of the countries I have completed,
23 (33.33%) have been in Africa
19 (27.54%) have been in Europe
9 (13.04%) have been in Asia
             7 (10.14%) have been in the Caribbean
             6 (0.09%) have been in South America
             4 (0.06%) have been in Central America
             1 (0.01%) have been in North America
           
— Of the 69 countries I have completed so far, 127 languages are represented in some capacity, either as an official language or at some kind of national/regional/vernacular level. Here are the ones who have some kind of status in three or more countries.   
              French: 19
              English: 15
              Spanish: 11
Arabic: 7
German: 5
Croatian: 4
Greek: 3
Portuguese: 3
Armenian: 3
Bulgarian: 3
Romany/Romani: 3
Russian: 3

— As of December 31, 2014 at 9:00 p.m. EST, I have had a total of 123,595 pageviews and have been read by at least one person in 152 countries. I have posted 340 blog posts since I started in February 2012 and now have 19 followers.

— Here are the top ten countries based on the number of pageviews (of all time):
            1. United States
            2. United Kingdom
            3. Philippines
            4. Ukraine           
            5. Canada
            6. France
            7. Germany
            8. Australia
            9. India
            10. Russia

— If everything goes as planned for 2015, I will start with Guinea-Bissau and end with Liberia.  And then I will only be two countries away from the halfway point of this project. 


Thank you for reading my blog, and I hope you continue into 2015.  And as always: stay global, my friends.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

GUINEA: THE FOOD

So, this is the last country of 2014.  And what a year it has been.  Here’s a basic run-down of how my year went:
            Jan-Apr: Worked at a job I hated.
            Feb: Was supposed to have surgery, got delayed.
            Apr-May: Left my job, finished writing a book during my severance period.
            Jun-July: Surgery recovery period. Read books, watched Netflix, summer
concerts in the park.
            Aug-Oct: Kids went back to school, started my own proofreading business, Da
Capo Proofreading LLC. Learned exactly what it’s like to stretch every last penny in order to eat and get the kids to school. Learned how crappy hiring practices still are. Don't get me started on (non-)access to health care.
            Nov-Dec: Landed a large editing project with a real estate company.
Subsequently, my kids were able to have a pretty good Christmas. And I finished writing and editing another one of my books and am ready to file for a copyright in order to get it published.
And I’m so happy to finish this year out with some Guinean food (except I always make my own feijoada dinner for New Year's Eve -- so I guess this is the start of an awesome food week). It’s always good to end on a positive note.

This is my alcoholic fruit-beet-flower juice. It's all mine. 
The first thing I made today I actually started last night.  I chose to make a drink this time: Jus de Foléré.  It’s similar to a Senegalese drink called bissap.  We had an African restaurant we used to go to that served bissap one time. After that, they never had any made. And most other items on the menu weren’t available either for some reason.  But this drink is a Guinean version of bissap.  I went to the Mexican grocery store to pick up some dried hibiscus flowers. In Mexico and much of Latin America, it’s known as jamaica, but it’s also known as roselle or bissap flowers elsewhere. I rinsed them and soaked them in water overnight. Next – and this is where the Guinean variety comes in – I took some crushed pineapple and some canned beets and mixed them in a blender. I strained the hibiscus juice through a sieve and poured it into the pineapple-beet mixture and processed it until it was smooth, straining it through a sieve with a layer of cloth on it into a pitcher.  Then I stirred in some lemon juice, a little water, and sugar until it had the right flavor and refrigerated it until it was chilled. You can actually add rum or whiskey to it, but all I have is some pinot grigio, which I promptly added to my glass. Even though I only put in a little bit of the beets, it gave it a strong beet flavor to the whole drink. Perhaps I should add more wine.

Definitely needs butter and jam. Because everything is better with butter and jam. 
The bread today is called Gâteau de Guinée, which is similar to the mikaté that I made when I did Democratic Republic of the Congo. I dissolved the yeast into warm water and let it sit. Then I added my flour in a separate bowl and made a well. After about 10 minutes, I poured in the proofed yeast into the well along with the sugar and salt and vanilla extract. (It actually calls for vanilla sugar, but it’s hard to find here without ordering it. I think I read that it’s more readily available in Europe. So I substituted vanilla extract. I wasn’t sure if I should change the amount or not, so… 1 Tbsp of vanilla extract it is. I’m not sure it’s possible to use too much vanilla extract.) I mixed everything well and let it rest for about two hours.  When this time is over, I dropped bits of the batter by spoonfuls into hot oil to fry, turning over after a few minutes. The batter was so sticky, I had to use a little flour on my hands while attempting to make balls of dough. It more or less worked out. Some people add in a little grated onion into the batter to make it more savory, and these are supposed to be served with warm with a hot chili sauce. I was all out of any kind of chili sauce; I tried a little bit with some spicy corn salsa instead. It was weird. I think because of my keg of vanilla I added to the dough, it might be better with some butter and jam, like a scone or something.

Putting my son to work. 

If there is one case for smell-o-vision, this would be it. 
And finally, the main dish for today is Kansiyé de Poulet.  I’ve made similar dishes to the inescapable African chicken-peanut stew before, but this one has a Guinean flair to it. I started with browning my chicken just a bit before getting started. I actually used a Cornish game hen for this since it is smaller and cheaper than chicken. (I seriously don’t know what happened to the price of chicken. It used to be so cheap, but it’s not anymore.) I cut it up into smaller pieces, and once it was browned, I threw in some onion, salt, pepper, thyme, garlic, parsley, allspice (in lieu of cloves – I keep forgetting to get more) and cayenne pepper (in lieu of chili paste) and let everything fry together.  Then I added in some water and tomato sauce and stirred.  Once everything started to simmer, I added in some peanut butter with a little more water and stirred again, letting it simmer for an hour.  I served this on a bed of rice.  It was so good; the meat was so tender, it was falling off the bone. And although this was in the same category as chicken-peanut stew, it was really different from the other recipes I’ve made.  I loved this, and it was a hit with the family. And outside of simmering for an hour, it really didn’t take that long to make or was super complicated.

One of the perfect ways to end Worldly Rise 2014. And 2015 is going to be equally as awesome!  
With only three days left of 2014, it gets people thinking about the last year and the year to come. This year has had its ups and downs.  But in the end, I’ve had some pretty good meals, some good laughs, became a fans of several shows, learned a few things, completed goals I never thought I actually would complete, and made (and lost) a few friends along the way.  And maybe at age 35, I have finally decided what I’d like to do with my life – and it starts with taking the GRE test (a test for graduate school). So, here I am relearning algebra basics on Khan Academy, alongside my daughter who is studying 3rd Grade math. And to follow a friend’s idea, my resolutions aren’t a list of things I’d like to get rid of (getting rid of junk food, getting rid of fat – I’ll keep all those things, thank you.), it’ll be a list of things to accomplish (retaking the GRE, filing for a copyright to get published, finishing the Spanish track on Duolingo).  So, until then: stay worldly, my friends, and keep reading.


Up next: Guinea-Bissau

Saturday, December 27, 2014

GUINEA: MUSIC AND DANCE

Guinean music reflects the country’s multi-ethnic background. And while there are many similarities, different ethnic groups also have their own styles, instrumentation, and techniques. For example, music of the Mandé people generally was performed by djelis, traveling musicians who more or less functioned as singers and historians, singing praises to the high-ranking members of the nobility. Djelis (sometimes called griots) were pretty common throughout West and Central Africa. 



Many of the instruments were common instruments found in other areas of West Africa.  Some of the instruments you’ll find in traditional Guinean music are the ngoni (related to the banjo), the balafon (related to xylophones and marimbas), the kora (like a cross between a harp and a lute), and a variety of drums including the dunun (a cylindrical drum tuned with ropes and played with a stick that can be either straight or curved depending on the region it’s played) and the djembe (a goblet-shaped drum tuned with ropes and played with the hand; often played in tandem with the dunun.).  After WWII, the guitar was introduced to Guinea and changed the sound of Guinean music. Some musicians developed their own ways of playing the guitar, like Kanté Facelli and Kanté Manfila.



Traditional dance in Guinea shares many of the same similarities with dance traditions in other Sub-Saharan cultures. Dancing tends to have a very rhythmic accompaniment utilizing a variety of drums and other instruments.  Rhythms tend to be polyrhythmic, meaning that there are different parts performed at the same time.  For the most part, dancing tends to be ritualistic and functional. There are dances denoted as warrior dances, love dances (used for weddings, births, anniversaries and such), rites of passage and coming of age dances to formally make the transition between childhood and adulthood, welcoming dances performed for newcomers, and religious-based dances (used for call spirits or pay homage to spirits).  The Yankadi dance of Guinea is a slow dance with smooth steps, while the Macru dance has much more energy and danced at a faster tempo. Men and women sometimes dance with scarves, and they place the scarf on the one whom they want to dance with.

After Guinea gained its independence, popular music began to take off.  By this time, most modern Guinean music is sung in French, although you’ll still find much of the traditional music sung in local languages. Many bands and musicians began to become influenced by music from abroad, especially the music of Cuba and other areas in the Caribbean.  They brought these styles back to Guinea where they mixed it with traditional Guinean styles, and many musicians recorded with the famous Syliphone Records.



One of the most famous Guinean musicians is Mory Kante. One of his most famous songs is “Yeke Yeke” that I listened to off of his Best Of album. Utilizing modern instruments, he tends to use a variety of balafon/xylophone/marimba-like instruments, mixing higher-pitched instruments with lower-pitched ones, accompanied by brass instruments as well. The melody lines definitely seem to be influenced from traditional African styles. He often utilizes a leader with a chorus answering. The drumbeats were also pretty indicative of a rock/soft rock/smooth jazz style. I found this video where he's performing with Santana.  



I also listened to Keletigui Et Ses Tambourinis.  I really liked the album The Syliphone Years.  I can tell there was some Cuban/Latin influence in their music. The Latin rhythms and the muted trumpet gave it away. Of course, if you look at history, there are a lot of similarities between West African music and that of many places in the Caribbean, seeing how a large portion of the Caribbean people originally came from West African countries. It’s a great album – you should look it up on Spotify.



Balla Et Ses Balladins uses much of the same kind of instrumentation, but I think they incorporate more harmony in their vocal lines. The music is pretty relaxing, and I think it has to do a lot with the guitar lines and the types of guitars they use. I wish I knew more about different kinds of guitars so that I can identify them more accurately when I listen to them. (Sorry, I primarily played French horn, piano, mallet percussion and was a singer, although I just bought a mandolin earlier this year but haven’t progressed farther than a few basic lessons.) Whichever guitar gives them their iconic African sound is higher-pitched and kind of echo-y.  I like that sound, whatever it is.



Another one of the most famous bands from Guinea is the Bembeya Jazz National. They were quite influenced by the music of Cuba and jazz of the US.  I listened to their album The Syliphone Years (so, I guess they really were a popular recording studio). To me, they don’t sound that different from the previous two groups I just mentioned. So, I suppose I like them by default since the entire style is one that I enjoy. 



Guinea also has its own hip-hop crowd as well. Probably the most well-known rapper from Guinea is the group Kill Point. I didn’t find anything on Spotify, but they do have some videos on YouTube. I listened to a few of their songs. They’re not bad, and their flow is pretty good.

There’s a rap festival called the African Rap Festival held in Conakry each year that always brings a good crowd. The festival actually made the news this year because of a stampede that killed 24 festival-goers. But outside of that tragic occurrence, this festival has always been a key way new artists get heard, and it also serves as a way to promote Guinean music.

Up next: the food


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

GUINEA: ART AND LITERATURE

Most Guineans live in poverty.  It’s estimated that roughly half of the population live below the poverty line, which is far below the poverty line in the US. Because of this, materials for art are scarce.  And for this reason, most of the art coming from Guinea is of practical use.  Woodworking art is common, mostly in the form of benches, tables, chairs, tools, and utensils. There are some nice woodcarving pieces; many of these artists sell their works in the markets.  Carved figures, reliefs, masks, and ornaments on furniture and musical instruments are probably the most common places to see wood carving.  



There are some metal works as well. However, for a country whose biggest export is bauxite and aluminum goods, the vast majority of the people must rely on recycling used cans and such in order to obtain materials rather than having access to the raw materials. (Either that, or they do have access per se, but it’s sold a such a high price that the people can’t afford it.) Most metal work falls under the categories of tools, utensils, bowls, plates, and similar items. 



There is also a market for woven goods, mostly made from reeds and straws.  These are usually used to make baskets of all sizes and for a variety of functions, mats, wall and floor covers, etc.  Weavers and dyers who make cloth are always in demand; in much of West Africa, many of the designs are specific to different ethnic groups, and some patterns are geometric in form, often in a repeating pattern. Bright colors are often used, and many times more than one contrasting cloth is worn at the same time. 

There are several arts festivals held throughout the year, mostly in the capital of Conakry. Most of these festivals, such as Kini Africa, Macao Arts Festival, and the Festival International Kora et Cordes de Conakry include an array of Guinean visual and performing arts to celebrate their culture.



Like other traditions in West Africa, literature started out as an oral tradition, meaning that stories were passed down by word of mouth.  Written literature wasn’t established until after the French arrived, and Guinean literature in French didn’t emerge until after WWII when a collection of poems by Keïta Fodeba was first published.  Camara Laye’s L’Enfant noir was published shortly afterwards in 1953.  Some people viewed this novel with acclaim for its description of the character’s inner struggles and thoughts throughout the book, but others viewed it with disdain for its stereotypical view on African life. Despite its mixed reviews, it paved the way for many Guinean authors to write and get published. 

Kesso Barry
Although a widely male-dominated field, there have been several successful women Guinean writers emerge with powerful books.  Some of these novels fell into the “historical” category, and some are biographies stemmed in Guinean history as well as social commentary.  Sirah Baldé de Labé, Nadine Bari, Bilguissa Diallo, Binta Ann, Marie Bernadette Ouédraogo Tiendrébéogo, Kesso Barry, Aïssatou Barry are female writers you should look for.   

When I was in high school, I used to keep a collection of quotes and proverbs that I used as my own go-to book when I needed inspiration.  Guinea has also contributed a number of proverbs to African literature that I should add.  Here are a few that I enjoyed (as found on proverbsafricanliterature.wordpress.com):
            -- One camel does not make fun of the other camel’s hump.
            -- Around a flowering tree, one finds many insects.
            -- He who has done evil expects evil.
            -- He who does not cultivate his field will die of hunger.
            -- A cow that has no tail should not try to chase away flies.
            -- The toad likes water but not when it is boiling.
            -- When a needle falls into a deep well, many people will look into the well,
but few will be ready to go down after it.
            -- Knowledge is like a garden: if it is not cultivated, it cannot be harvested.


Up next: music and dance

Sunday, December 21, 2014

GUINEA: THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE

Guinea has recently made the news in a big way. It was one of three countries (along with Sierra Leone and Liberia) that were hit hard with the Ebola epidemic this year.  Although the situation seems to be fluctuating, the CDC in the US still lists these three countries under a Code Red Travel Advisory (as of last month). This outbreak actually started in Guinea and spread to the neighboring countries. So far, it’s estimated over 1500 people have died in Guinea alone from this horrible disease.



The name Guinea came from the Portuguese who were patrolling and exploring (and claiming) lands around West Africa during the 1500s. The Portuguese called this area Guiné, referring to the lands inhabited by the Guineus south of the Senegal River, as opposed to the people living in the lands north of the Senegal River who were called Moors or Azenegues.



The country of Guinea is in West Africa, surrounded by the countries of Guinea-Bissau to the northwest, Senegal to the north, Mali to the northeast, Côte d’Ivoire to the southeast, Liberia and Sierra Leone to the south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. The country is made up of four distinct regions: the Basse-Coté lowlands, the mountainous Fatou-Djallon (this area tends to be cooler, and these mountains are the source of the Niger River, the Gambia River, and the Senegal River), the Sahelian Haute-Guinea (the largest region of the country), and the jungle-laden Forested Region of the southeast. 



This area was controlled by many different empires in its early history: the Ghana Empire, followed by the Sosso Kingdom, and then the Mandinka Mali Empire, followed by the most successful one, the Songhai Empire who eventually fell to the Moroccans, but it ended up splitting into many smaller kingdoms. Then the Europeans arrived, and this area was eventually divided up between different countries to handle: the French (Guinea), the British (Sierra Leone) and the Portuguese (Guinea-Bissau) and Liberia (which was founded by freed slaves from the United States). Guinea remained under French rule from around 1898 to 1958 (known as French Guinea during that time) when they declared their independence and set Sékou Touré as Guinea’s first president.  Guinea was the first African country to break from French rule. They eventually broke ties with France and aligned themselves with Russia and China.  The political situation in Guinea was periods of one coup after another with delayed elections and general civil unrest. Even as recent as 2010, Guinea was experiencing coups, and large protests in the streets took place just last year.



The capital of Guinea is Conakry, a city on the island of Tombo, but the population has grown so much, the city has spilled over onto the Kaloum Peninsula on the mainland. It’s the largest city in the country, and it’s estimated that nearly two million people live here – roughly a quarter of the population.  Conakry suffers from problems with its infrastructure: power shortages and cuts in water have angered many of the residents, resulting in protests and public outrage. However, the city is home to several hospitals, universities, parks, museums, and open-air markets that are popular to visit.



Guinea’s economy is mostly dependent on its bauxite mining. When bauxite is refined, it becomes alumina, which is then smelted into aluminum.  They also have a large reserve of high-grade iron ore as well as an unestimated source of uranium.  Guinea has contracts with Russian, Ukrainian, Australian mining companies (Rio Tinto, an Australian mining company, also has a contract with a Chinese mining company. Rio Tinto just made the news a couple weeks ago in the US because Congress just signed a deal giving sacred Native American land over to Rio Tinto to mine as it pleases. It’s a horrible move; I’ll be interested to watch this story develop, but it’ll most likely not be reported on ever again.) Guinea also has sizable diamond (most are 90% gem quality) and gold mining ventures as well. There has been some oil drilling exploration in Guinea in recent years, but infrastructure problems in the country tends to plague both domestic life and business in Guinea.



The vast majority of Guineans are Muslim (about 85%). Of those, the majority are Sunni, with influences of Sufism and Ahmadiyya. A small number of Christians are also found in the country, mostly Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, Seventh-Day Adventists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. There are also a small number of Baha’i, Hindus, and Buddhists in Guinea as well. Like other West African countries, there are many people who practice indigenous beliefs as well as either Islam or Christianity.



The official language in Guinea is French, which is used in the government and in education.  However, because Guinea is a multi-ethnic country, there are many local languages spoken in the home. Fula (also called Pular), Malinké (also called Maninka), Susu, Kissi, Kpelle (called Guerzé in French), and Toma are some of the most common indigenous languages spoken in Guinea and have been given a national language status.



Guinea has many interesting things about it. But I can’t help but asking this one question: what about Guinea pigs? I found out they are neither pigs nor from Guinea. They’re actually rodents from the Andes in South America, and there are a few theories about where the Guinea part came from (one theory is that these animals arrived in Europe via Guinea, and Europeans assumed they came from Guinea). Guinea has a rich musical history but one of the lowest literacy rates in Africa. Guinea’s cuisine is similar to many others in the region, and a couple of the recipes I chose are some that I’ve made similar dishes already, but these are with a Guinean flair. They were good the first time, and I’m sure these will be good as well.

Up next: art and literature


Sunday, December 14, 2014

GUATEMALA: THE FOOD

A terrible friend came to visit me this week: Mr. Upper Respiratory Problems. I really tried being polite and hinting that I’m really busy (“Ain’t nobody got time for this!”), but he wouldn’t take a hint. Finally, after ignoring the one friend that might help boot this unwanted guest, I called up my last defense: Sleep. Since Friday afternoon at 3pm to Sunday at 12:30pm, I have slept a total of 27 hours. Needless to say, I’m starting to feel better. Not well enough to want to leave my house or do anything strenuous, but well enough to try to cook some food.

The unintentional most extreme super softest banana bread ever! 
Today, I started with Pan de Banana Madura, or Ripe Banana Bread. It was a fairly easy recipe.  I started with mashing my bananas with the coconut milk.  Then I added my room-temperature butter and made sure that everything was mixed well.  Now it comes time to add in my flour, salt, baking soda, nutmeg, and vanilla. One option was to add raisins, but I left this out since I’m not such a huge fan of them. After I mixed everything together, I poured it into a loaf pan and baked it. I really didn’t get everything mixed as well as I wanted; I should’ve pulled out my electric mixer.  I did have to leave it in the oven just a tad bit longer for it to brown up, but it was still soft even though it sat for hours. Maybe it called for too many bananas. It tasted good, though. My husband suggested that we try to salvage it and make bread pudding out of it. I’m game.

Don't let this photo fool you. This was delicioso. My husband's already planning his 4th meal.  
The main dish today was hilachas.  It was a little more complicated than the banana bread.  I started out putting my beef (it calls for a flank steak or skirt steak, but all I could find was a bottom round steak which turned out not to be the best cut for this meal) and salt into a large saucepan and bringing the water to a boil. Once it gets to a boil, I reduced my heat and let it simmer for about an hour and a half until it was tender. It was too tough of a cut to shred, so I had my husband cut it into strips, and I let it soak in the broth until I was ready for it. But while the meat was simmering, I took my onions, tomatoes, and a little bit of paprika and cayenne pepper in my mixer and made a puree out of it. I poured my tomato-onion puree (it was almost the consistency of a thick spaghetti sauce) into a pot and heated it for about 10 minutes. Then I added in the beef and a couple cups of the broth (from simmering the beef), with a bit of salt and pepper to taste and letting it simmer for 15-20 minutes or so. Now comes time to throw in my potatoes to the pot and a little more broth and let it simmer for another 15-20 minutes (I was supposed to add in carrots too, but my carrots accidently froze in my refrigerator, so I left them out.). I topped it with freshly chopped cilantro, and it was so yummy.  Clearly the best part of what I made today.

This small morsel was the best that I could come up with. Sorry, rice, I failed you. 
To go with this, I made my own Guatemalan rice by steaming rice with some diced peppers, chopped celery, and adding in some of the beef broth (from the beef earlier) and letting it simmer for 15-20 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed. I accidentally burnt part of the bottom, but it wasn’t too bad. I think the broth cooked down faster than water (maybe). Or perhaps I just wasn’t paying attention that closely (more likely). 

I was really going to make my own tortillas, but I got really tired. Luckily, I just bought some tortillas at the store and cut some into quarters. It was still good though. I’m sure if I made my own, they would’ve been tons better, but that’s how it goes sometimes. It’s a recipe for another day. 

Yet, it all comes together to make a nice photo.  It's like a typical family photo. 
There have been times when people act like because I do this blog, that the only things I make are exotic or international recipes. Now granted, I have pulled recipes from my Worldly Rise collection for things like office pitch-ins and holidays and such.  But several months ago, I found an old cookbook of Hoosier Recipes from my state. I started picking recipes and making which ones I’ve done. Although I found this particular recipe on AllRecipes.com, I made Tater Tot Casserole for my family last night, something that I grew up with as a school lunch. (For those not in my part of the US Midwest, Tater Tots are fried potatoes in the shape of a cylinder. It’s sort of a strange thing, but I love them.) My husband was born and raised in Chicago and had no idea what this was, so I made it for him. It used to be moderately popular in my neck of the woods.  So, for the record: I don’t make only exotic foods; sometimes, tasty food is just made. No matter where it comes from.


Up next: Guinea

GUATEMALA: MUSIC AND DANCE

Guatemalan music has a surprising variety of styles.  When the Europeans arrived during the 1500s, they brought along their religion and their music.  The Spanish introduced plenty of Flemish and Spanish liturgical songs to the Guatemalans. It didn’t take long before the indigenous peoples began to learn the art of contrapuntal composition and began making their own music.


After Guatemala gained independence, many young promising musicians went to France and Italy to study music. They learned from the best and learned all the latest trends at that time and brought it back to Guatemala. Baroque music generally gave way to Classical styles and soon Guatemalan symphonies and operas began to be performed in the cultural centers and churches across the country.  By the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, several composers started looking to their own roots in Mayan music. There were several operas written about Mayan folklore and the Popol Vuh (I mentioned this book in the previous post), incorporating Mayan traditional music into the opera as well.  Symphonies, choirs, orchestras, and opera companies popped up around the country during the 20th century and kept the idea of this new classical-Guatemalan music alive.

The most prominent instrument in Guatemalan music is the marimba. Classified as an idiophone, its ancestor, the balafon, originated in West Africa and was brought over during the slave trade. Once they arrived in Guatemala, they created what is known as the chromatic marimba, similar to what we know now.  Although the area that it was created in is now part of Mexico, it is still considered a Guatemalan invention and serves as its national instrument. Many famous marimba players have risen to fame, such as Mariano Valverde; Paco Pérez’s famous waltz “Luna de Xelajú” is one of the most famous marimba pieces. When I was in college, I visited the Woodwind & Brasswind store in South Bend, Indiana, and I got to play on a 5 ½ octave marimba. It was surreal. (It’s made by Yamaha and currently for sale on Woodwind & Brasswind’s website for $15,274.99. You might want to pick up two or three for that deal. It does qualify for free shipping, so there you go.) 



Dance is either divided up between pre-Hispanic dances and Hispanic dances. Many of the pre-Hispanic dances are named after animals (Dance of the Deer or Dance of the Monkeys) and performed for a particular societal function.  The Dance of the Deer is a ritual dance for the annual Deer Hunt for food and materials for the community.  The Dance of the Monkeys is based on stories from the Popol Vuh.  Dances of the Hispanic period tend to immortalize battles (Dance of the Conquest), folk stories and pastoral life (Dance of the Pascarines, Dance of the Cowboy, Dance of the Mexicans), or religious themes (Dance of the Xacalcojes, Dance of the Moors and Christians). There are many dance festivals that take place throughout the year across the country, some lasting several days.



As far as popular music goes, Guatemalans listen to a lot of music from Mexico, the Caribbean, and other areas of Latin America. But they have plenty of their own musicians as well. One musician that I listened to is Ricardo Arjona.  His simple acoustic guitar reminds me a little of Carlos Vives at times. I listened to the album Viaje. I especially liked this album.   It was the type of album I could listen to while I work. (And I did.)



Bohemia Suburbana is a rock band that played on the edge of new psychedelic rock. They reminded me a little of a cross between U2 and the Brazilian band Skank at times. I liked what I heard from the album Sombras En El Jardín. They have four albums available on iTunes for $9.99. 



Viernes Verde is another band I listened to. They have a very strong 1990s alternative rock sound that I love. I would especially recommend the album Namaste. They use the deeper driving guitar riffs, but not too much. These catchy riffs and unexpected chord changes at times keep the listener interested. I think they remind me a little of the band Live at times.



I’m so glad that I found out about La Dubvolution. It's reggae music, and it’s all very chill. I love it so much.  I listened to the album 3 Es Sonsuelto En Souldub, and I could totally picture listening to this while relaxing with a glass of wine or a cold beer.  I think I need to get this album. It’s also available on iTunes for $9.99. 

I liked Malacates Trebol Shop’s album Si!. But it was to be expected since I really like ska. It’s a fun listen. I think this would make a great album to listen to in the car.



Magda Angélica is a Guatemalan singer whose album K’aslem is very good. She’s been instrumental in promoting the musical traditions of the Mayans in both Mexico and in Guatemala and has won several awards for her extraordinary work.

Guatemala also has its fair share of hard rock. I included two bands into my Spotify playlist: Los Mojarras and Astraroth.  Los Mojarras has more of a 1980s hair band hard rock style but mixed with a little bit of The Ramones. And actually, they use such a wide array of styles in their music that I have to respect that. Astraroth is a very typical metal band. Complete with gunshot-sounding percussion, guttural screams, and sewer-deep guitar riffs, metal fans should really give this a listen.


Up next: the food

Thursday, December 11, 2014

GUATEMALA: ART AND LITERATURE

The earliest forms of art came from the Mayan traditions, and these have been passed down generations.  The Mayan civilization is definitely old, but it’s not the oldest in these parts.  Art traditions of the earlier Olmecs, Toltecs, and Teotihuacans influenced Mayan arts. The Mayans had very structured cities that included courtyards, palaces, residential homes, pyramids, and ball courts. There were several types of stone sculpture including stelas (long slabs with carvings and inscriptions), lintels (spanning panels and doorways set in walls), altars, ball court markers, monumental stairs, and thrones.  Woodcarving was also common, mostly in the form of reliefs and figurines of various spiritual protectors. Stucco plaster has been used on and in buildings and other reliefs. Many of their buildings also contained large, complex mural paintings.  The Mayans also made many tools and jewelry out of jade and other special stones like obsidian and mother-of-pearl; however, the Mayans did not use metal tools.



Today, much of Guatemala’s artistic styles mix bits of traditional art forms with modern techniques and styles from North America, Europe, and other regional areas. Art schools were established, especially in the larger cities. One of the largest established schools is the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas “Rafael Rodríguez Padilla,” established in Guatemala City in 1920. It mainly focuses on painting, sculpture, and graphic arts. [So, here’s a bonus side note: the school’s name literally translates out to National School of Plastic Arts. What? A school that only makes things of plastic? No. In US English, we use the term plastic to refer to the material. It ultimately comes from a Greek word meaning “to mold,” which is its main design feature, to be able to mold it when it’s soft. Well, the term “plastic arts” pretty much refers to sculpture, ceramics, or other arts involving creating and molding 3-D objects. So, it makes sense now.]

Luis Rolando Ixquiac Xicara
Some of the leading Guatemalan artists include Luis Rolando Ixquiac Xicara (an indigenous artist from Quetzeltenango, generally known for mixing abstract art with folk imagery), Carlos Mérida (one of the first Guatemalan artists to mix European styles with Guatemalan imagery and themes, known as a muralist), Aníbal López (known for his “live art,” combining painting art with street performance), and Robert González Goyri (known for figurative reliefs, sculptures of metal or stone, and his semi-abstract paintings).

One of the oldest writings from this area is the Popol Vuh, a collection of Mayan stories and legends written in the Quiché language. It was translated into Spanish during the 18th century, and because of its subject material, it’s often considered the Mayan Bible.


The Colonial period would bring forth the first Guatemalan Spanish-language writer.  Sor Juana de Maldonado was considered the first poet and playwright of Guatemala, and Rafael Landívar was another great poet during the 16th century.  Francisco Antonio de Fuentes y Guzmán was one of the prominent historians of this period.  Traditionally, poetry was generally sung, and most poetry was religious in nature. A shift in influences started to take place during the 18th century when Guatemalan literature started to use styles and forms particular to French neoclassicism.

José Milla y Vidaurre, "Pepe Milla"


Once Guatemala gained independence, its literature started to move independently from Spanish and other European literary styles.  Antonio José de Irisarri helped propel the journalism industry that grew out of the political turmoil in Guatemala during its early days. Writers such as María Josefa García Granados, José Batres Montúfar, José Milla y Vidaurre, Máximo Soto Hall, and Enrique Gómez Carrillo brought poetry and prose along to the modern period. Milla was considered the father of the Guatemalan novel, who was also known by Salomé Jil or Pepe Milla. 


Today, Guatemalan writers are on the same level as other successful writers throughout Latin American and world literature. Miguel Ángel Asturias won the Nobel Prize in 1967, most famous for his novels El Señor Presidente and Hombres de Maiz. Luis Cardoza y Aragón (poetry), Augusto Monterroso (short stories, novels, winner of the 2000 Príncipe de Asturias prize), and Carlos Solórzano (playwright) were also very successful writers and are internationally known. Much of the subject matter for modern Guatemalan literature is centered around politics and the role and treatment of the indigenous Mayan communities. Rigoberta Menchú, author of I, Rigoberta Menchú (1983), highlighted her life and immense struggles during the Civil War. She would continue to fight for peace and justice (especially against the atrocities of war crimes), leading to her acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992. She was also the winner of the 1998 Príncipe de Asturias prize. 


Up next: music and dance

Monday, December 8, 2014

GUATEMALA: THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE

Years ago, a family from Guatemala moved to our area and started attending our church.  This past Easter, we went back to attend Easter service with my parents, and they had come as well.  At that time, I had just finished cooking food from El Salvador not too long before that, and we talked about how Guatemala makes similar dishes, but with their own flair, of course.  I love the moments when get to I talk to people about food. And not just food, but food they love. When people share their tips and their variations and their shortcuts (like, they told me I can just buy curtido in the Mexican supermarkets, and sure enough, I found it), you get a glimpse of what makes people happy, their childhood, and how families function in general (Who does the cooking? Who does the buying? How do people interact when talking about food and meals?).  It’s not just food: it’s life. 



Guatemala is located in Central America, surrounded by Mexico to the north and west, Belize and the Caribbean Sea to the east, Honduras and El Salvador to the southeast, and the Pacific Ocean to the southwest.  Guatemala’s landscape varies widely.  It is fairly mountainous but also has desert, coastal, and forested areas as well.  Guatemala has several volcanoes with a few of them active, so it also is subject to earthquakes as well. Although the country lies in the tropics, many areas in the mountains have a fairly temperate climate.



The name Guatemala comes from the Nahuatl, meaning “place of many trees.”  It’s thought that it may also have come from other local languages as well, meaning “land of the eagle” or “mountain where water gushes.”



Archaeological evidence shows people have been in this are from 12,000-18,000 BC.  One of the earliest civilizations here were the Mayans. They built a ton of cities throughout Guatemala, southern Mexico, and other surrounding areas, although they’re known for their large temples.  The largest concentration of Mayan cities was centralized around Petén.  The Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés moved into the area around 1519 and claimed it for Spain.  The capital was moved to Antigua Guatemala and later moved again after it was destroyed in several earthquakes. Guatemala declared its independence from Spain in September 1821.  It later joined the short-lived Central American Federation.  After this dissolved, Guatemala went through a period of different dictators, each with their own ideas and customs they introduced to the country, and each overthrown by the next dictator.  During the 1950s, land reform was at the heart of an international incident when the US-based United Fruit Company risked losing acreage in an attempt to break up some of the large-tract farms so anyone could have a chance to own land. They threw the election so the candidate they wanted would win and overturned the ruling. The 1970s and 1980s brought a lot of guerilla warfare and fighting in both urban and rural areas with the Guatemalan Civil War ending in 1996. 



The capital is Guatemala City, or just simply called Guatemala by the locals, or even Guate. It’s not only the largest city in the country, but with 4.1 million people in the metro area, it also makes it the most populous in all of Central America.  Every bit a modern city, Guatemala City boasts universities, shopping from bargain to upscale, theatres, museums, and major sporting events. 



While Guatemala has the largest economy of the Central American countries, there is still a steep income gap. It’s been estimated that over half of Guatemalans live in poverty. Many Guatemalans were lucky enough to leave the country during the Civil War, and they have chosen to stay and send money back home.  Guatemala has a largely agricultural- and textiles-based economy, exporting fruits, vegetables, cloth, and raw materials for biofuels such as palm oil and sugar cane. They also mine a significant amount of nickel, zinc, gold, silver, and cobalt. Guatemala is also party to free trade agreements with several agreements.



Historically, Roman Catholicism has had a strong hold in Guatemala, but about a third of the population consider themselves Protestant these days. Mayan religious practices are protected, and many Mayans joined the National Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Guatemala where they incorporated many of the traditional Mayan rites into their practices. Guatemala also has small pockets of Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist practitioners. 



Spanish serves as the official language for government and education, and most people speak it as a first or second language. However, there are 21 Mayan languages spoken in Guatemala and two non-Mayan languages (Xinca and Garifuna) that are used as vernacular or local languages.



Are you a chocoholic like me? Well, we have the Ancient Mayans to thank. They were the first ones to create chocolate as we know it. The Guatemalan currency, the Quetzel, is named after a beautiful endangered bird whose feathers used to be used as currency by the Ancient Mayans. It’s been credited to the Ancient Mayans for coming up with the mathematical concept of zero as well, which is where my bank account hovers over most of the time. We often think of the importance of jade in Chinese culture, but Guatemala is the world’s leading producer of jade. And since I’m totally a jeans and T-shirt kind of girl, I can thank Guatemala for coming up with blue denim. Chocolate, jeans, and jade? I believe this is my kind of country.


Up next: art and literature