Sunday, May 25, 2014

ERITREA: THE FOOD


Today was the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500.  And in Indianapolis, it’s practically a holiday in and of itself.  The whole month of May is one giant festival pretty much.  We won’t be able to see it on TV until this evening, but we normally listen to it on the radio or follow the live results online, which is what I do.  (Here’s a fact to those who don’t live around here: the famous track isn’t technically in the city of Indianapolis: it’s in the city of Speedway.  Back in the 1970s, many of the smaller towns in the county became part of the city of Indianapolis, but there were four communities who opted out, and Speedway was one of them.  Now you can impress your friends.) 

Slightly blackened, yes. And yes, I used a filter to lighten the photo a bit. 
And in lieu of the typical hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill – we’ll do that tomorrow for Memorial Day – my family is having food from Eritrea for our race day fare. Today, I started with making a bread called hembesha.  First of all, I searched all over the south side of Indianapolis for fenugreek seeds.  But after four stores, I finally found it at the international grocery store.  So, this bread starts with dissolving the yeast in warm water (I suspect that my water may have been too hot), then mixing an egg, oil, and ground fenugreek, ground coriander, ground cardamom, and minced garlic into a separate bowl.  After putting half white flour and half wheat flour in a large bowl, I poured the egg/spice mix into it and the yeast/water mix in as well.  Once I got the dough so that it wasn’t sticky, I let it sit for an hour.  By then, it was time to punch it down and knead it again and form it like a flat round disk and let it sit for another 45 minutes to rise again.  I took a knife and cut some decorations into it (I modeled it after one that I saw as I scrolled through some Google images of hembesha).  For a yeast bread, this was baked a little differently: I put a small amount of oil in a skillet (although the recipe didn’t mention to do so) and placed the bread in it, covering it with a lid. I was supposed to flip it over after ten minutes and bake it for five more minutes, but it got left in a little longer giving it an unintended scorched look.  I took the bread and immediately put it on a plate to cool, but brushed a little water and melted butter on top.  It’s normally cut into wedges when served. Although it was slightly blackened and none of my designs came through, the spices made up for it. I thought it was really good.

Macedonia di frutta. Mmmmmm... Definitely needs ice cream.

While the bread was resting, I made Macedonia di frutta, a type of tropical fruit salad.  This salad called for sliced bananas, orange slices, papaya, and guava.  I looked everywhere for guava, but no one had any, so I used mango.  One of the finest things in the world is a ripe mango. Then I drizzled ½ cup of grenadine syrup over the fruit. Because I think grenadine syrup is super sweet, I added a little lemon zest on top.  Because zesting a lemon never gets old.  After it sat for a few hours, it was absolutely wonderful.  My husband and I want to put the fruit salad on top of some vanilla ice cream, one of my favorite summertime treats. 

This was soooooo good. I wish my family could handle it if I made it spicier. 

And finally, we come to the main dish: kulu’wa.  It’s like a spicy beef stew without a lot of the vegetables.  The recipe didn’t say this, but I browned the stew beef lightly first and then stored it to the side. I fried the onions in butter, adding in a can of tomatoes, garlic, and berbere spices. This is a special spice mix made of 15 different herbs and spices (piri-piri chiles, cayenne chilies, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, sea salt, ground ginger, ground cinnamon, ground turmeric, cloves, cumin, fenugreek, cardamom, black pepper, dried thyme leaves – basically I should just empty out my spice cabinet into a container).  I didn’t exactly use all of these, but I added a dash of most of them.  Once I let the onions and tomato mix simmer for five minutes, I added the meat back in and let simmer with a lid on it for about 25 minutes.  I ladled it on some couscous, and it was really good that way.

The final product. Once again, looking forward to some awesome leftovers.  
Altogether, the meal was really good. The sweetness of the fruit salad balanced out the spiciness of the beef.  My son has decided that he doesn’t like any food that I make anymore, and especially if it’s called “dinner.”  I did get him to eat an arugula salad last week though.  So, I’m still winning. They’ve decided they’re starving – no, famished— as soon as I say, “It’s time to go to bed!” Perhaps, I should be more Brazilian: feed them more for lunch and have a lighter dinner at 9:00 at night.  It’s probably a phase they’re going through. I’ll figure it out just as soon as they change. And even though I burnt the bread, the rest of the meal made up for it. I guess you live and learn.  But now, it’s time for some ice cream. 

Up next: Estonia

Saturday, May 24, 2014

ERITREA: MUSIC AND DANCE


Eritrea has its own rhythms, but that’s fairly apparent. (Well, to be fair, it probably shares some of this with Ethiopia and neighboring countries as well. That’s just how music is. Good music is hard to keep in one place.) Dance often utilizes these rhythms, most notably seen in two of the most prominent dance styles.  One dance called the quda starts as a circle dance where the dancers shuffle their feet to the beat, moving their shoulders as well. The dancers will migrate to form groups of three and dance to each other before expanding back out to the group circle.  By the end of the song, the tempo starts to accelerate, and the dancers try to keep up with the frenetic dance moves, which require a lot of strength and agility.  Another common dance style involves two lines of dancers facing each other (usually men on one side and women on the other), and they dance towards each other. Like an Eritrean country line dance. (Or not.) Different ethnic groups have their own variations and styles of dances based on the function and purpose of these dances. 



Instruments that are used in Eritrean music commonly include the kraar (five- or six-stringed lyre, tuned to the pentatonic scale), the kebero (a double-headed hand drum, available in large and small sizes), lyres, and the wata (a rough version of an early violin).  Modern Eritrean music uses a variety of horns, woodwinds, and electronic instruments. 

Kebero

Kraar

One of the most popular musicians is Bereket Mengesteab.  His music is definitely rhythm driven, with a unique identifying rhythm that stubbornly beats its way into my head. From what I can tell, it’s like a 4/4 beat where the second and fourth beat is a triplet, which gives it a driving feel to it.  With its woodwinds as polyphonic accompaniment to the vocals, I find it somewhat complex in composition after really listening to it. 


I also listened to Yemane Barya’s album Zemen.  Slightly more ethereal sounding in instrumentation, yet the vocal style –and I noticed this with Bereket Mengesteab’s music as well— seems to make use of the scales and trills indicative of Middle Eastern and Indian music.  The rhythms seem to be typically straight 4/4; however, there are variations of the rhythms I mentioned earlier and subtle syncopations included at times in the music. 


I also came across the very beautiful Elsa Kidane, and I was happy that I was able to find some of her music on Spotify.  There weren’t too many female musicians mentioned in lists of Eritrean musicians.  I listened to the album Tezezta Fiqri.  At first listen, it seems to be in the same style and utilizes the same instrumentation as Bereket Mengesteab.  However, while listening to the title track and other tracks, she makes use of the pentatonic scale, giving it more of an “Asian” sound.  It makes me wonder if the kraar is used because of that.  I liked it though. 



Up next: the food!

Friday, May 23, 2014

ERITREA: ART AND LITERATURE


Eritrea is a multi-ethnic country, and their cultural arts reflect the nuances between these groups.  Art is not merely for art’s sake but for everyday use.  Leather goods like jackets and shoes are commonly produced, as well as gold and silver works.  Practical-use items such as ropes, clay coffeepots, and baskets are made and used by locals.


Because coffee is such an important drink to Eritrean culture, coffee pots are vital to their cuisine.  Most of the pottery made here is fired using basic kilns.  (I looked into buying a kiln once. A cheap one costs as much as a used car.)   These clay coffee pots have a large bowl at the bottom with a long slender neck and a handle on it.

Gold and silver mines are part of Eritrea’s economic growth, and this gold is not only poured into ingots and based as currency, but a portion is also made into earrings, necklaces, rings, gold crosses, and other ornamentation. 


Basketwork is slightly different than some other areas in the world, whereas baskets do not only carry food and store food, but they also have baskets that are also used in preparing and serving the food as well.  Available in all sizes, colors, and designs, these baskets are practical and beautiful. 

Eritrean literature is primarily written in the Tigrinya language.  Early literature used the Ge’ez language, but later changed over to Tigrinya. The languages are very similar; in fact, the Tigrinya language utilizes the Ge’ez alphabet and a lot of its words.  Most of the types of literature included historical accounts, stories about the royal families (even the ancient Eritreans couldn’t escape it apparently), and religious poetry. 

Example of written Tigrinya language

The first actual published work in Tigrinya was a translation of the Gospels published during the mid-19th century after the Europeans arrived. While the Europeans may or may not have been exactly welcomed with open arms, they were instrumental with establishing and promoting local written works, including the first Tigrinya-language newspaper in 1909.  During the years of being run by the Italians under fascist rule, Eritrean literature practically was non-existent.  However, when the British kicked them out and took it over for themselves, literature was published once again: mostly poetry, fables, and folktales. 

It wasn’t until almost 1950 before the first novel written in Tigrinya was published: a book called A Story of a Conscript by Ghebreyesus Hailu, about a group of Eritreans who were required to fight for the Italians in Libya.  From this point forward, literature began to be written and published en masse in Eritrea. 



The man often attributed as the “father of Tigrinya literature” is Feseha Giyorgis.  An Ethiopian, he left his home country for Italy, where he wrote a pamphlet on his journey there and continued on to teach the Tigrinya language while he was living there. 


Another substantial poet worth mentioning is Carlo Conti Rossini.  His pièce de résistance is his three-part poetry called Tigrinya Popular Songs.  The first part contains 73 love songs; the second part is lover’s complaints; and the final section is a collection of long poems for special occasions, praise for tribal leaders, funeral poetry and praise for the deceased, and mourning songs.  Altogether, it was published over the course of four years and also includes notes and commentary written in Italian. 

Up next: music and dance

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

ERITREA: HOLIDAYS AND CELEBRATIONS


New Year’s Day.  January 1. Eritrea celebrates the New Year like other countries with festivities, food, and drink.  Many Eritreans also slaughter a goat or pig as part of a sacrifice to God.  People stay up late to ring in the New Year, and many people in the larger cities watch the fireworks displays that are put on for the people. 


Orthodox Christmas.  January 7.  There’s a celebratory aura in the air during the week between New Year’s and Orthodox Christmas. Restaurants will sometimes have special menus and serve their specialties during this time.  Cities decorate for the occasion, and it’s a busy time for people to buy food, sweets, new clothes, and gifts.  The day before Christmas is the traditional time to slaughter an animal for the holiday, and Christians will also celebrate the holiday by attending a special Christmas mass.     

Epiphany.  January 19.  Epiphany is celebrated for the acknowledgement of Jesus Christ as the human form of God the Son. This Timket religious holiday is celebrated with fervor across the country.  In the capital of Asmara, churches hold a nightlong prayer vigil attended by religious officials and ranking members of the government.  Water is sprinkled on the faithful who attend these special prayer services.  During these events, priests also sing hymns and holy dances are performed. 


Birth of the Prophet.  February 5.  Also known as Mawlid al-Nebiy or Mawlid al-Nabi, many schools and businesses close to allow Muslim families celebrate the birth of the Prophet Muhammad.  It’s a jovial celebration, complete with street festivals and good food and drink.  The singing of hymns is a tradition that occurs every year with Mawlid.

Fenkil Day.  February 10.  This holiday is in commemoration of Operation Fenkil (1990).  It primarily took place in the coastal city of Massawa, where the Eritreans launched a surprise attack against the Ethiopians and took over the city.  Even after the Eritreans took control of Massawa, the Ethiopians continued to aerial bomb the civilian sections of the city with napalm and cluster bombs.  The largest celebrations indubitably are celebrated in Massawa and include music, dance, street festivals, comedy skits, fashion shows, and a lot of good food and drink. 


Women’s Day.  March 8.  Also known as International Women’s Day, this holiday is celebrated all over the world on this day.  Eritrean women are forced into conscription (forced to participate in active duty military service) where they are discriminated against and often the subject of sexual abuse and harassment.  War and armed conflict have displaced families, leaving many women as the sole breadwinner and caretaker for their children and aging parents. 

Good Friday/Easter.  Varies.  Many people fast during the 56-day Lenten period (it’s a vegan fast: no animal products of any kind including meat, milk, butter, etc.) and will start their Good Friday off by going to church.  The afternoon is spent preparing for the end of their fast.  The main service starts on Saturday night with singing and some dancing. At midnight, a chicken is slaughtered for the occasion, and at 3 a.m., people will return home to eat and break their fast.  Easter, also called Fasika, is a day of celebration, filled with a lot of savory foods and often with a special brew from honey made locally. 


May Day.  May 1.  Also known as International Worker’s Day.  It’s a day to celebrate the worker and discuss labor issues.  Creating jobs and strengthening the economy is always on the forefront of Eritrean economic advisors’ and people’s agendas alike.  Work conditions, such as safety issues and workplaces discrimination, are also topics in roundtable discussions.  Activities vary across the country, but some organizations take part in reforestation events.  

Independence Day.  May 24.  One of the most important holidays of the year, this day celebrates Eritrea’s independence from Ethiopia in 1991.  A 30-year war ensued between the two countries following Eritrea’s independence.  The day is filled with celebrations in the streets as well as formal celebrations in stadiums where various performances are held.  Celebrations are held throughout the diaspora: Germany, England, Sweden, the US, and others.  (I found out there’s an Eritrean Independence Day celebration in Indianapolis the evening before, but it’s $25/adult. Probably not gonna make it since it’s looking like a no-kid event.) 


Martyr’s Day.  June 20.  This holiday was enacted to commemorate those who have died in the three decades of war defending their country.  A forest and wildlife preserve was opened outside of Asmara called the National Martyr’s Park; many visitors come to this park on this day.  It’s also a time to visit the gravesites of loved ones who have passed away during the fight for independence. 

Eid al-Fitr.  Varies.  This holiday celebrated by Eritrea’s Muslims celebrates the end of Ramadan, the month-long fast.  To break the fast, families prepare a great feast to celebrate together after special prayer services are held at the local mosque. 

Start of the Armed Struggles.  September 1.  Start of the Armed Struggle goes back to the first shots fired in 1961, beginning the war to break away from Ethiopia.  Led by Idris Hamid Awate, those historical shots fired took place in the western region of the country at Mount Adal.  Government officials will often make speeches and a playing of the national anthem follows a moment of silence. 

Geez New Year.  September 11. It does seem odd to have a New Year’s celebration in September, but it’s because of a difference in calendars and a “leap month” of sorts that falls at this time.  One of the key traditions at this time is to take a bath.  (My kids are already not impressed.) But in Eritrean tradition and culture, taking a bath on this day washes the body of any bad vibes and ensured a healthy body for the year to come.  The girls will often play drums and sing songs for coins that they can use to buy jewelry and accessories to decorate themselves for the New Year celebrations.  Special New Year prayers are said and the evening ends with a bon fire. 

Finding of the True Cross.  September 27. Also called Meskel Holiday.  Tradition holds that Queen Helena (or Saint Helena) was the one who found the actual cross used in the crucifixion after having a dream that told her to make a bonfire and its smoke would guide her to it.  So, naturally bonfires are common practice on this day based on the story.  People also try to interpret their own symbols in the smoke and make predictions based on the direction the smoke is blowing.  

  

Eid ul-Adha.  Varies.  Also called Feast of the Sacrifice, this Muslim holiday is centered around the story of Abraham as he was preparing to sacrifice his only son to God but was stopped at the last minute.  It’s common for an animal to be slaughtered around this time, keeping part of the meat, giving part of the meat to family, and giving part to charity. 


Christmas Day.  December 25.  While the Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on January 7, other denominations celebrate Christmas on this day.  Eritreans start their shopping a few weeks before Christmas and decorate their homes and businesses.  Some families slaughter a goat or a sheep during the holiday season.  One of the largest traditions is that families get together and share meals together, complete with coffee (I’m certainly ok with that) and popcorn and panettone (an Italian sweet bread often served at Christmas; I think it’s good). Christmas morning is when everyone exchanges gifts and visits family. 

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, May 18, 2014

ERITREA: THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE


When my father-in-law passed away, one of the things I told my husband to make sure he picked up for me was this old elementary school geography textbook, last copyrighted in 1987, which was on his bookshelf in the living room.  Where he got it, I don’t know. I was in first grade that year.  The country of Eritrea was not yet a country at that time.  However, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia were still countries, Germany was still divided, Yemen was also still divided, Hong Kong was still a British territory, and Russia hadn’t broke up yet.  Myanmar was still Burma, Cambodia was still Kampuchea, and the DRC was still called Zaire. Not to mention other countries that had yet to be: South Sudan, East Timor, Montenegro, and Kosovo. Things have changed a lot in my lifetime. And back in my day, maps were easier to fill in for tests. I feel for my kids. 


The name Eritrea is actually the Italian pronunciation of the Greek name for the area, Erythrá.  However, it’s pronounced Ertra in the local language of Tigrinya.  The country lies on the Horn of Africa, surrounded by Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and the Red Sea.  The western fertile lands are accompanied by the hot, arid eastern coastal plains, which spread to the slightly drier and cooler highlands in the South.  The Dahlak Archipelago, consisting of two large islands and 124 smaller ones in the Red Sea, are the sites of ample fishing, pearl diving, and eco-tourism. Pearl fisheries in the Red Sea have been famous since the Roman Empire was around.  (Only about four of these islands are inhabited.)  A few years ago, Eritrea announced that it was going to place all of the coastal regions and all 350 islands it controls under environmental protection, the first country to do so. 


The ancient Egyptians likely included Eritrea as part of the land called Punt. It was later called D’mt (sometimes written as Damot) and was known for their advances in agriculture and development of iron tools and weapons. Some scientists also believe this area is home to some of the oldest human bones ever found, the cradle of civilization. Throughout the centuries, the people living in what is now Eritrea have been invaded from all sides: southern Arabians (probably from Yemen), the Ottomans, the Portuguese from Goa (in India), the Italians, and the British. Toward the end of the 19th century, the Italians took control of the area (along with Ethiopia and part of Italian Somaliland) and renamed it Italian East Africa.  However, the British kicked the Italians out during the beginning of WWII and took over.  Eritrea was counted as one of Ethiopia’s provinces so that Ethiopia would have access to the Red Sea; however, tensions between the two countries grew until they entered into a 30-year war resulting in Eritrea gained its independence in 1991. Even today, tensions are still shaky between the two countries. 


The capital of Asmara, also known as Asmera by the locals, lies in the middle of the country.  Originally a Tigrinya and Tigre settlement dating back to around 800BC, it’s become known for its Italian architecture left over and preserved from the colonial days, many utilizing the art deco style.  The city is modern in almost every sense: from contemporary public art and architecture to museums, sports arenas, shopping, higher education, and the arts. 


Recently, Eritrea’s economy has seen a significant jump, mostly based on its gold and silver mining industry as well as cement manufacturing. Years of war has taken its toll on the economy with a decline in able workers killed in action as well as inadequate and destroyed infrastructure from the resulting damages.  However, even during the war, they did their best at maintaining certain aspects of infrastructure: paving roads, bridge repair, etc.  They do have their own railway and airlines, but it’s not yet reliable; service is infrequent and sporadic. 


While technically there’s not actually an established official language, the local language most widely spoken and used as a de facto national language is Tigrinya.  Tigre and Dahlik are also used in certain areas of the country.  Arabic is also listed as a de facto national language because of its proximity and relationship to Arabian countries. English is used as a working language and taught in schools along with Italian, which many people can still speak and understand.

The vast majority of people in Eritrea follow Christianity, followed by Islam, but the percentage of followers vary.  Eritrea only allows people to adhere to specific sects of these religions.  For Christianity, you must be part of the follow: Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Catholicism, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church; and for Islam, it must be Sunni.  You have to register for any other denomination. If your sect is deemed too radical (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Bahá’í, Seventh Day Adventist, and many others), then you cannot practice freely. If you are caught practicing an unregistered religion in private, you can be imprisoned for an indefinite amount of time. 


Along with this idea, media freedom places Eritrea at the bottom of the list in comparison with all other countries in the world. It’s the only African country to have no privately-owned news media – whether it be in print, radio, or television.  There are absolutely no foreign journalists living in the capital since the ban of independent news agencies in 2001. The only news comes from the single-party state-owned news agency, only telling you what they deem is important. 


One interesting (yet sad) thing I read was that during the Ptolemaic times of ancient Egypt, they used to keep hundreds upon hundreds of elephants in Eritrea in reserve for times of war.  However, during the latter half of the 20th century, no one saw a single elephant in the wild.  Many think they were either killed from the Ethiopian-Eritrean war or fled elsewhere because of the war.  (A herd of about thirty were spotted in 2001, and it’s believed that the elephant population may be around a hundred now.)  Another thing I read is that the port city of Massawa literally means “shout really loudly.” I’m always interested in interesting city names and their literal translations.  (I just found out recentlly that Brazil has a city named Não-Me-Toque, or Don’t Touch Me.)


I’ve found my recipes – the food sounds spicily amazing. I know I’m going to love it.  My family, on the other hand, will probably be plotting to bury me alive.  There’s a lot that I don’t know about Eritrea, but I’m really excited to find out more. I have a feeling that there are some really cool things here. 


Up next: holidays and celebrations

Monday, May 12, 2014

EQUATORIAL GUINEA: THE FOOD


Well, I now work from home.  I managed to escape out of the corporate world.  The timing wasn’t exactly my choice (it was theirs), but to leave a job I hated almost felt like getting out of jail. Or as my husband puts it, “You’re free now, child. You’re in the north now.”  Yes, there's always the financial and health insurance aspect of it all, but at the same time, I haven’t had a headache from staring at a computer under florescent lights facing a window since I left two weeks ago.  I’m always looking for the silver lining of every situation. So, I’m taking this time to finish editing my book on the Japanese language and get it ready to be published, and I’m also going to start my own proofreading and editing business.  AND I’m cooking and blogging again. 

Comfort food #1. I have some blackberry jam and some mango jam ready. 
And that brings me here.  Because yesterday was Mother’s Day, I’m cooking today. It’s a little weird to cook on a Monday, but that’s ok.  I started with making peanut bread.  I’ve made a similar bread before, but this one was different.  I started with heating coconut milk and honey together in a small pan until it was blended together, and when it cooled a little, I added in the yeast to it.  Then I mixed the white flour and wheat flour in a large bowl, adding in cumin, chili powder, salt, melted butter, the milk-honey-yeast mix, and ground peanuts.  For this, I crushed the peanuts with my mortar and pestle, and then put it in my coffee grinder to grind them.  It actually created a paste that looked like rough peanut butter, and I dumped it into the bowl as well.  I had to add a little less than a cup of water to help the dough along as I kneaded it. I also had to add some more flour to keep it from being so sticky before letting it sit covered for an hour and a half.  (The recipe wasn’t lying that it was a dense bread – the dough was denser than any of the Kardashians.) Then I kneaded it a bit more and transferred it to a greased loaf pan, covered it again, and let it rest for another 40 minutes.  After all this resting, I finally put it in the oven for 40 minutes to bake.  Unlike other recipes, I actually did take it out of the pan and let it cool for another half hour before trying it.  It was so good. And although the dough was dense, I didn’t think the bread was as dense or overpowering.  It was perfect.  Small bits of peanuts that didn’t get chopped up added to its delectable flavor and mouth feel.  I do think it would be great topped with jelly, but that’s the American in me talking. 

Comfort food #2: I may change which side of the grater I use, but regardless, mmmm....
While the bread was cooling, I prepped the side dish to this meal: johonjö.  It reminds me of other African and Afro-Caribbean dishes that are similar.  I took one sweet potato, peeled it, and grated it (it calls for yams, but sweet potatoes were all I could find. I know botanically they are different, but my degenerate taste buds think they taste the same.). I squeezed as much liquid out of them as I possible could.  Then instead of taking a real coconut and extracting the coconut milk like the recipes says (because that sounds like way more work than I’m interested in), I just bought canned coconut milk and used just enough to combine the grated sweet potato into a thick paste, adding a pinch or two of salt as well.  The recipe also calls to put about four tablespoons of this mixture in the middle of banana leaves and making a parcel out of it, but since I’m not a huge fan of the musty flavor banana leaves give off when baking with them, I put the mixture in aluminum foil.  I laid the foil parcels on a baking sheet and baked it for 40 minutes until it was cooked through and set up.  This turned out better than other similar recipes I tried.  It had a really great flavor and sat up pretty well. 

Comfort food #2: how can resist eating this? Go on, try. I knew you couldn't. Because you're not as wimpy as my kids. 
And finally, the main course: a course that I’ve always heard about but am now trying an Equatoguinean version of.  We’re making paella.  It’s actually guineafowl paella, but seeing how I couldn’t find guineafowl and my first substitute of Cornish game hen is only usually found around Christmastime in these parts, I went with chicken.  I took the chicken (I found some tenders on sale) and cut them into smaller pieces and browned them in a skillet, taking them out when they were done and setting them aside.  Then I sautéed the onion and garlic in the same skillet and added in the uncooked rice to cook for a few minutes before adding in the chicken stock, oregano, paprika, cayenne pepper, salt, pepper, and turmeric.  (I realized I was out of paprika and used chili powder instead.) Once it came to a boil, I reduced it and let it simmer for about fifteen minutes.  I added in a can of diced tomatoes, some chopped red bell pepper, and a half can of black-eyed peas and let it simmer.  When the rice was tender, I added the chicken pieces back into the skillet and cooked for about five more minutes and ready to eat.  This is one of those super tasty comfort foods that could easily be done on a weeknight. I will have to remember this recipe. 

The trifecta of comfort. I want a nap now.

I’m glad that I pushed myself to do this meal. It turned out really well.  Now that I’m working from home, I don’t feel so rushed to do my research and writing and cooking.  Of course, right now I’m just finished up the final revisions to my book, but once I launch my business, I’m sure I’ll be far more busy.  Like I’ve said before: I’d rather work 80 hours under my own expectations rather than 40 hours under someone else’s.  There will be some adjustments of course, but as long as I’m not working as a cubical dweller under florescent lights, things will be alright.  It’s time to make the most of my life and eat more comfort food, like paella.  So, here’s to moving forward and following your dreams, with the hopes that I can make enough to keep wine in the refrigerator. 

Up next: Eritrea  

Sunday, May 11, 2014

EQUATORIAL GUINEA: MUSIC AND DANCE


Many of the indigenous musical styles are in the Fang tradition since they are the largest ethnic group.  One common musical form is the call-and-response form, where the musical questions and answers alternate between the chorus and the drums.  Fang music is known for its use of the mvet, an instrument similar to a zither and harp.  The number of strings it has can vary, although some have up to fifteen strings.  What makes this unique is that unlike other African music traditions, the Fang devised a musical notation system for the mvet.  However, you can only learn it if you’ve been initiated into the Bebom-Mvet Society.  (Wonder if it’s anything like the Dead Poets’ Society?)


Some kinds of dance music –such as balélé and the ibanga– use an orchestral accompaniment. This orchestra typically consists of three or four people in a variety of combinations using xylophones, drums, sanza (also called an mbira or kalimba – I have one and love it!), zithers, and/or bow harps. 



The balélé is a type of dance that originated out of the Bubi tribes and is still performed today.  The music is performed with the three-or-four person orchestras and is often seen along the coastal regions throughout the year. It’s also danced on the island of Bioko as part of the Christmas traditions there.  The ibanga is a more risqué dance from Fang traditions, which is the other main dance of this country.  Another festival that includes dancing is called the abira: it’s a community-wide celebration that rids the entire community of evil.  Wonder if it’ll work for a city the size of Indianapolis. 

Today, styles of music popular across Africa are also heard in Equatorial Guinea, especially soukous and makossa, as well as reggae and rock.  Spanish guitar also has intertwined itself into traditional Equatoguinean music as well.  One group I listened to on Spotify is called Malabo Strit Band.  I kind of like their sound, even though I have no idea what “strit” is.  It definitely has that pan-African sound mixed with a little bit of reggae style. The vocals have tight harmonies, yet it was smooth and velvety.  Sometimes it almost sounds reminiscent of smooth jazz with their use of saxophones.



I also found a group called Loca Luna. It’s a cross between Spanish guitar and Middle Eastern or Mediterranean string instruments and drums.  From what I have heard, it was completely instrumental – I liked this group. 



Hijas del Sol is a female group built on vocal harmonies and African rhythms.  I can definitely tell the Spanish influences in the some melody lines.  From other melody lines, I have a feeling some of the music may also be based on older traditional songs. But it may be a hunch. What I appreciate is the variety of the harmonies: using thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths, and alternating it with unisons and octaves between the two voices. 



Baron Ya Búk-Lú’s album Akamayong is also in my Spotify playlist. The entire album has what I always think of as a very distinct African sound, but not African as in the Lion King soundtrack.  I would say that they fall in the soukous category, utilizing the percussive patterns prominently found in soukous music as well as the distinct use of the horn line (or in some cases, synthesized horn lines). Other songs sound like smooth jazz and are slower.  



Up next: the food

Thursday, May 8, 2014

EQUATORIAL GUINEA: ART AND LITERATURE


Equatorial Guinea shares similar cultural aspects with other countries that are nearby, so it’s not surprising that they would also share similar arts. Mask-making is one of those arts that pan across much of Western Africa.  Each mask has a different meaning, although most of the designs depict animals such as crocodiles and lizards.


Art from the Fang tribe is probably some of the most iconic art from this area.  Their art tends to be more abstract and conceptual in nature.  They also made masks, which come in a variety of styles (long necks, full figures, half figures), painted in a variety of earth tones. Some of these masks are used in religious and funeral ceremonies; others are used as part of rituals in secret societies; there are some that are for hunting; and some for music and dancing. 


Sculpture is also a popular medium among Equatoguinean artists as well.  One artist, Don Leandro Mbomio Nsue, is probably the most famous artist from this country.  Studying initially in the city of Bata, he later moved to Spain to study further.  He was interested in the styles of Pablo Picasso, whom he later became friends with.  Picasso’s style and individuality can be seen through Mbomio’s own work, and in fact, he was often called “the black Picasso” by many artists throughout the world.  Mbomio has been nominated and the recipient of numerous awards and represented Equatorial Guinea through his art and as an ambassador for peace through UNESCO. 


And even though Spanish is the official language of the country and most people in Equatorial Guinea can speak it and read it, their canon of literature is scarce.  The Spanish and Portuguese were the first ones to write about this country, but it was mostly in a travel logs, historical accounts, and often referred to the people in a second-class sort of way.  The earliest accounts of literature by native Equatoguineans are narrowed down to two novels written in the early part of the 20th century.  Published journals became popular, as well as writing down local folklore for preservation. 

Juan Balboa Boneke

After independence there was a general silence.  Unlike other African countries where many anti-colonial works were being published, literature in Equatorial Guinea remained unknown and unpublished. Even poetry struggled. It certainly had something to do with the way the government was at the time. Censorship was deep. Most of the literature that was being produced still seemed to appease the colonial powers, rather than the independent ones. And once the heavy hand of the government took a firm grip on the nation, many of the writers and artists fled the country, heading to Madrid and other areas of Spain.


Some of the most notable names in literature are Raquel Ilonbé (born in Equatorial Guinea, moved to Spain as a baby, returned as an adult and is known for her collection of poems called Ceiba and for writing the first children’s book), Juan Balboa Boneke (famous for his poetry, he tends to mix various words of the Bubi language in with Spanish; he is also famous as an early political essayist), and María Nsué Angüe (she was the first woman novelist, publishing Ekomo in 1985; telling the story of a Bantu woman from the point-of-view of a man to show the patriarchal society of postcolonial Africa).


While literature from this country is not large, it is there; however, it's seemingly nonexistent in modern anthologies of Spanish literature on a whole. And I wonder why this is. I’d hardly think that there isn’t anything of caliber to include; perhaps it’s just not promoted in the same fashion as other arts.  In the early 1980s, the Center for Hispanic-Guinea Culture was created, designed to promote the cultural arts and included its own magazine and a publishing company.  Its goal is to highlight and showcase talented Equatoguinean writers.  It’s too bad that no one funnels more money into this institute with connections to the local schools to promote young writers to be heard and published on a global scale.

Up next: music and dance