Thursday, December 31, 2015

Worldly Rise Year End Stats 2015 Edition


I started doing this last year for the first time, and I thought it’d be fun to do this again. Mostly because I’m procrastinating on something I’m sure. So, I’m essentially following on the mold of last year’s statistics. Enjoy!

— In 2015, I started with Guinea-Bissau and ended with Lesotho.

— At the end of 2015, I completed the 94th country for this blog. I did go back and add in the three countries that are not part of the UN at the end, so this now makes me 49% finished with this project. (I’m so close to the halfway point!)

— Of all the countries I have completed so far,
26 (27.65%) have been in Africa
24 (25.53%) have been in Europe
22 (23.40%) have been in Asia
            9 (9.57%) have been in the Caribbean
            7 (7.45%) have been in South America
              5 (5.32%) have been in Central America
1 (1.06%) has been in North America
           
— Of the 94 countries I have completed so far, 212 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 hold some level of status in three or more countries.  
French: 25
English: 25
Arabic: 13
Spanish: 13
German: 8
Russian: 8
Armenian: 6
Croatian: 6
Portuguese: 5
Greek: 4
Romany/Romani: 4
Bulgarian: 3
Albanian: 3
Azerbaijani: 3
Danish: 3
Garifuna: 3
Hungarian: 3
Serbian: 3
Slovene/Slovenian: 3
Swahili: 3
Ukrainian: 3

— As of December 31, 2015 at 2:30 p.m. EST, I have had a total of 248,865 pageviews (an increase of 125,270 from this time last year) and have been read by at least one person in 161 countries (an increase of 9 countries). I have posted 444 blog posts (an increase of 104 posts) since I started in February 2012 and now have 21 followers (I gained two more followers this year).

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

— If everything goes as planned for 2016 (which may or may not happen), I will start with Liberia’s meal and end with Nauru’s.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

LIBERIA: ART AND LITERATURE


Liberia is known for its craftwork. As far as their crafts go, there are two general styles of art. On one side, many of their artistic crafts are stemmed in traditional African arts. Their decorative masks and wooden carvings are renowned across the world. They’re also known for their large wooden carvings of utensils (forks, spoons, combs, etc). All of these wooden carvings are steeped in traditional lore, lifestyles, and spiritual meanings. 

  
Because of their history as being a freed slave state from the U.S., they also carried with them several of the folk art traditions of the southern United States. Sewing and quilting is one of the arts that continue to this day. Many times, these quilts would be given as gifts, even among high-ranking dignitaries. 

The Coffee Tree quilt
Today, Liberian artists study a variety of modern arts, including painting and sculpture. Some artists study in Liberian universities while others travel abroad to Europe or the U.S. to study. Naplah E. Naplah is one artist who is self-taught but went on to study at the university, specializing in illustrations. He later transitioned into painting and has had several successful showings. I even found an American group who is trying to use art as a means of expression and therapy for the Liberian child soldiers who were drugged and forced to fight in the civil war. 

by Naplah E. Naplah
Literary traditions were largely oral before the establishment of Liberia’s independence. There are exceptions, though: a few languages in Liberia have their own writing systems not based on any European or Middle Eastern influences. However, early literature consisted of mostly proverbs, life in their communities, religious texts, culture, and later on, topics on colonialism, Pan-Africanism, multiculturalism, and human rights began to seep into their writings. Poetry became a common means of expression. The vast majority of literature from Liberia is written in English. 

Edward Wilmot Blyden
One of the most widely loved Liberian authors of the 19th century was Edward Wilmot Blyden. He was an educator and diplomat who, along with W.E.B. du Bois and Marcus Garvey, was instrumental in the Pan-Africanism movement. 
 
Bai T. Moore
As we moved into the 20th century, authors like Bai T. Moore, Roland Dempster, E. G. Bailey, and Wilton G. S. Sankawulo carried on the traditions of writing about the issues that plague their communities, country, and continent: modernization, exile, and loneliness. E. G. Bailey is known as a spoken word artist and radio producer. Bai T. Moore’s novelette Murder in the Cassava Field is often used as required reading for many schools. Wilton G. S. Sankawulo is a politician who has written a number of stories, poems, and novels, including his most famous one, Sundown at Down: A Liberian Odyssey.

Up next: music and dance

Sunday, December 27, 2015

LIBERIA: THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE


Liberia has made the news over the past couple of years, mostly due to the 2014 Ebola epidemic that dominated Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. Liberia has by far suffered the most casualties and deaths from the disease. As of a few days ago, only Liberia and Guinea are still listed as having an active outbreak. Borders were closed, schools and universities closed their doors, and businesses suffered as cities and towns fell under quarantine. Even before the outbreak, the country only had 50 physicians—a deplorable number by any standard. If you’ve ever thought you had a tough workload at your job, consider that at those numbers, Liberia essentially had one doctor for every 70,000 people. It was a crisis before it was a crisis. 

 
Liberia, meaning “land of the free” in Latin, is located in West Africa, surrounded by Sierra Leone on the northwest side, Guinea to the north, and Côte d’Ivoire to the east. It also has a long coast on the Atlantic Ocean. Lowlands, rolling hills, and swamps toward the coast give way to rainforests and low mountainous regions farther inland.


Once known as the Pepper Coast and the Grain Coast, Mende-speaking groups who migrated here from areas near modern-day Sudan were among the original inhabitants of this area. The Dei, Kissi, Gola, Kru, and the Bassa people were the largest groups of peoples here. After the falls of the Mali Empire and the Songhai Empires and people started moving toward the coasts, they brought with them skills like iron smelting, cloth weaving, and cultivation of rice and sorghum as well as the socio-political remnants of these former empires. There were clashes with this merging of cultures and ideologies, especially when Arab traders started to establish the slave trade in this area. Between the 15th and 17th centuries, the Portuguese, British, and Dutch moved in and established their own trading posts. Initially, the transactions with the Kru were mostly in commodities, but eventually the Europeans began to use their trading partners as part of the slave trade. In the early 1800s, both the US and Great Britain agreed to end their active involvement in the slave trade (I say active because there were certainly profits being made in roundabout ways for decades to come in the US), even though Spain continued to do so. The British set up a settlement colony called Freetown (in current Sierra Leone) as a way to resettle freed blacks, and the US, through the American Colonization Society (ACS), set up the freed-black colony of Liberia. Many of these freed slaves resettled in Liberia were mixed race and many weren’t even originally from that part of Africa. Many states who supported ACS had their own colony name within Liberia: New Georgia, Maryland Colony, Pennsylvania Colony, Mississippi Colony, Louisiana Colony. And although they declared themselves independent in 1847, the US officially didn’t even recognize their independence until 1862. During the 20th century, Liberia began to move away from the US as a protectorate, and in turn the US helped build some of its infrastructure to aid in its modernization. The mid- to late-1980s brought a period of political instability, which led to two civil wars (1989-1997; 1999-2003). In 2005, Liberians elected their first female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. She's only one of a handful of African women who have taken the top spot of their country. Interestingly enough, she was awarded an honorary degree from Indiana University in 2008, which is about 40 minutes from where I grew up.


Monrovia is the capital and largest city in Liberia. It was named after President James Monroe, who was a huge supporter of the American Colonization Service. Whenever I hear the word Monrovia, I always think about a small town in the same county I grew up in that’s about a half hour’s drive southwest of Indianapolis. Strangely enough, Monrovia (Indiana) is only about twelve years younger than Monrovia (Liberia). Anyway, as the capital of Liberia, Monrovia is also the center of government, education, the arts, and commerce. It’s situated on the Atlantic Ocean and stretches across both sides of the Mesurado River. The city suffers to curb issues of pollution. Lack of infrastructure and sanitation leads to poor living conditions. Only about one-third of the city’s population has working toilets. The rest do their business in the small alleyways between crammed-together houses. 


Despite having natural resources such as iron ore, timber, and rubber, Liberia continues to depend on foreign aid and foreign investment. A poor infrastructure, high transportation costs, poor trading connections, and a small workforce all negatively impact its economy making it one of the poorest countries in Africa. In fact, Liberia used the US dollar from 1943 to 1982 until it finally used it alongside the Liberian dollar. During the 1990s, Liberia acted as a major trader and exporter of blood diamonds from Sierra Leone, which was one of the causes the UN declared a ban on their diamond exports. It was dropped when they agreed to the Kimberley Process. Liberia is the world’s second largest shipping flag of convenience state, behind Panama. There are more than 3500 ships registered under its flag, which equates to roughly 11% of all ships in the world. 


Because of its history, English serves as the official language and lingua franca of Liberia. Although there are about 31 indigenous and local languages spoken throughout the country, each of them only have a small number of first language speakers. Most speakers speak a Creole called Liberian English. 


About 85% of Liberians practice some form of Christianity with about 12% practicing Islam. A small number of people don’t claim any religion at all, and some still practice indigenous beliefs. There are actually a few Buddhists, Bahá’ís, Sikhs, and Hindus in Liberia as well. Even though technically their constitution wrote in the separation of church and state clause, it’s still considered a Christian state. Biblical studies are offered in public schools, although if parents wanted to, they could opt out of it.



Liberia has an interesting history. I read that 12 of Liberia’s presidents were born in the United States, which reminded me of how the first seven US Presidents were born when we were still a group of British colonies. In fact, I stumbled upon a Straight Dope message board where people were coming up with a number of other world leaders who were not born in the country that they led. Reading about Liberia brings a lot of discussion about heritage and ancestral ties. It’s said that Oprah once traced her ancestral lines back to Liberia. In the eleven years I’ve been married to my African-American husband, he’s enlightened me on a wealth of information regarding African-American and African history that was never remotely taught in schools, especially in rural white schools. Perhaps because it’s not always the most pleasant history (to say the least), but a necessary history nonetheless. I look forward to learning more about this country. I can already tell from my menu that their food seems like a cross between traditional African fare and Southern US cuisine. So, it’s bound to be tasty.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, December 20, 2015

LESOTHO: THE FOOD


So, the kids are finally on Winter Break. We’ve taken a couple of days to relax before I’m making them finish their Winter Break homework packets. And frankly, I’m just glad I can sleep in. I mean, I still have articles I have to write during the day and things to do, but at least I can wake up at 9:30am and stay up later. And now we’re trying to gear up for Christmas—I’m almost done with my shopping. I just need a few more filler items and some gift bags, and we’re good to go. This Christmas Eve, we’re going to start the Icelandic celebration of Jólabókaflód, where books are exchanged on Christmas Eve and everyone goes off and reads in bed with chocolates. I think this sounds like my version of heaven. 

A bread flower?

But today, we will head away from the cold of Iceland and eat food from a much warmer country this time of year: Lesotho. And as for my bread, I went with Alina’s Lesotho Sweet Pot Bread (because it’s made in a pot, not because it contains it). To begin, I mixed 6 c of whole wheat flour (the recipe calls for “brown flour”), 1 packet of yeast, 1 tsp salt, and 1 c of sugar. Then I slowly poured in enough warm water to form dough consistency then worked the dough (adding in more flour if necessary) to create a soft dough. Once I got it how I liked it, I formed it into a ball and put it in the bowl for about an hour. Now, I don’t have a cast iron pot, so this is where it gets tricky for me. I do have a metal pot with a lid. I greased the pot with 2 Tbsp of oil and heated the pot in a 225ºF oven. Then I split the dough into smaller balls (about 2-3” in diameter), placing one in the middle of the hot pot and the other balls around it like a flower. Then I put the lid on it and placed it back in the oven for 45 minutes. The bread just didn’t seem like it was done, so I turned the heat up to 300ºF for another 15 minutes, then I still wasn’t sure, so I took the lid off and turned the heat up to 350ºF for another 15 minutes before taking it out. Finally, the outside was slightly crispy, but the inside was super soft. It had a nice wheat flavor, but without tasting earthy like heartier wheat bread can sometimes taste. I really enjoyed this. I think it would be good with some honey butter.  

Very good. I'm glad I added in the beet greens. It gave it more color.
 
My main meal for today is called Afrikaanse Stoofschotel. I diced some potatoes and shredded some cabbage and set it off to the side. Then I fried my onion and added some curry powder (I just used a few shake of turmeric, chilli powder, ground coriander, ground cumin, ground ginger, and black pepper). Then I added in my diced potatoes and water and brought it to a boil for about five minutes. After that, I threw in my cabbage and the greens from the beets (I didn’t want to let those go to waste—beet greens are tasty) and let it cook for another 10 minutes before adding in a can of diced tomatoes. I seasoned the stew with salt and pepper and it simmer for a few minutes. This was pretty tasty. The curry definitely carried itself throughout the entire dish. I think it would taste better if I add a little cayenne pepper. 

Um, well, it served its purpose. But I do know that if I ever run out of couscous or something, this can be an alternative.
 
I served this on pap, the preferred kind of pap (as opposed to the type you get in a doctor’s office, and so thankful I don’t have to do that anymore). This is much simpler. I measured out 2 c of water and brought it to a boil. Then I measured out about 2 c of yellow corn meal and dumped it in my boiling water, stirring it to mix it through. It was pretty crumbly. Then I turned the heat down to low and put the lid back on to let it cook for about 20-25 minutes. I had to make sure I stirred every 4-5 minutes to make sure it didn’t burn on the bottom. It had the consistency of a lumpy couscous. I think it went well with the Afrikaanse Stoofschotel I made. 

Mmmm, all for me.
To go with this, I made beet and onion salad as a side dish. I absolutely love beets. They’re really high in iron. I always eat a can of beets any time before I plan to give blood. For this recipe, I bought fresh beets instead of canned. After cutting the stems and roots off, peeling them, and cutting them into strips, I placed the beets in a pot of boiling salted water. I let it boil for about 30 minutes or so until they were soft. In a medium bowl, I added in some balsamic vinegar (I forgot to get red wine vinegar), some salt and sugar and stirred. Then I added in my drained beets and onions that had been cut into moderately large chunks and stirred to coat. I let this sit out at room temperature to marinate, stirring it every now and then. I loved this, and I knew I’d probably be the only one to eat this. No one else likes beets in my immediate family, but I thought this was fantastic. I frankly don’t care that I get these all to myself. 

As an American, putting milk in my tea seems a little strange, but you know what? It's actually pretty good.
Finally, to follow everything, I made a red latte. I’m a huge fan of coffee and tea, so this immediately grabbed my attention. I brewed a cup of rooibos tea to double strength (I just used two tea bags), only filling about three-quarters of my cup. Then I added in a little honey and stirred. I poured some milk into another cup and heated it in the microwave until it just started to bubble. I poured the hot milk into the tea and sprinkled the drink with a little bit of cinnamon. I had never had rooibos tea. It’s a little more robust flavor of tea (of course, it could be that I made mine double strength). The recipe called for steamed almond milk, but I just used whole milk with some sugar in it instead. I liked it, although it had a different flavor than what I was expecting. But it was good. Instead of honey, I might add a little vanilla extract next time, perhaps. Or maybe some almond extract. 

I'd say, overall, this was a pretty good meal. It quite surprised me to say the least.
I enjoyed this meal. It turned out better than expected, actually. My husband hasn’t tasted it yet, and he certainly doesn’t know that it’s a meatless meal. So, we’ll see how long it takes for him to notice. And with this meal, I’ve put another year behind me. The next blog meal will be in 2016. I know I’ve enjoyed many of the meals I’ve made this year and have learned a ton of information (and hopefully you have, too). And I’ve had my injuries along the way (yes, I have to reset my “Days Without Incident” again. Thanks for the burn, Sweet Pot Bread.). But it’s totally worth it. It’s all totally worth it.

Up next: Liberia

Saturday, December 19, 2015

LESOTHO: MUSIC AND DANCE


The music of Lesotho is highly influenced by the music of surrounding countries and plays an important part of their culture. Some of the traditional instruments that you can hear in their music include the lekolulo, a type of flute that is typically played by young boys who tend to the herds. The setolo-tolo is a type of jaw harp often played by men. The stringed thomo is a string instrument usually played by women. 

 
Vocal music is especially popular among the Basotho people. Choirs often perform and groups of men and women sing on a number of occasions. Churches are also a common place where choirs and vocal groups gather to perform church songs that are sung in Sesotho.


As far as I can tell, dancing is generally divided by the sexes: men’s dances and women’s dances. I didn’t find any mention of mixed dances. Dances are typically performed as part of life event and community ceremonies: harvest, births, marriages, deaths, Christmas, etc. One of the men’s dances is called mohobelo and features the stamping of feet. The women’s dance is called mokhibo and is danced from a kneeling position while moving the shoulders and arms. 


Famo is a Lesothan style of music that features the accordion and a type of oil-can drum. One of the most famous famo musicians is Mosotho Chakela. Because of Lesotho’s proximity to South Africa, many of the styles of music that are popular there are also popular in Lesotho. Musical styles such as reggae, kwaito, jazz, and AfroPop are often heard on the radio. 


Every year, the Morija Arts & Cultural Festival takes place in the Morija area of Maseru. The festival began in 1999 and is now broken up into two parts that runs for several days: one in April and the other in October. One part of the festival covers drama, traditional dancing, and poetry while the other part covers artistic and performance groups and concerts of all musical styles that features not only Lesothan musicians but musicians from other (southern) African countries as well. 



There weren’t that many artists available on Spotify. But I did find a couple (and some along the way). I did manage to find a few songs that included jazz musician Bhudaza. The songs I found were ones where he was a featured performer. 


I did find an album by Famole, which proved to be a really good example of famo music. I actually really like the accordion, so I was happy to listen to this. I thought many of the songs were pretty catchy. I enjoyed it. 


I did find many Lesothan hip-hop videos on YouTube, including artists such as Mapanaki, MoNitta, Kommanda Obbs, Missy, ValidEntry (which is more R&B), Turk, and a number of other videos I came across doing a simple search. Many of the videos I sampled through show that their style (flow, instrumentals, lyric topics, etc.) seems to follow the American style of hip-hop. There were several rappers I listened to who rapped in English but there were several in Sesotho as well. Of all the ones I listened to, I was probably drawn to Kommanda Obbs the most. There was something about his melody lines and flow that paired well with the instrumentals behind it. Unfortunately, it’s really hard to find an actual album available. Spotify only had the one song that’s available on iTunes. Maybe more will be released later. I waited nearly a year before the Bangaledeshi rock band Arbovirus had an album released through iTunes. Now they have two. So, I will wait. 


Up next: the food

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

LESOTHO: ART AND LITERATURE


The Basotho people in Lesotho still produce many of the same textile and weaving arts that they have made for hundreds and even thousands of years. In a country with a struggling economy, people depend on the sale of weaving arts and crafts. The Lesothan arts and crafts scene is not as prevalent as other African countries, but it does exist, even though it’s small. For a country that spends most of its money and energy battling high HIV/AIDS rates and poverty, the arts seem to take a back burner. There are no art schools and very few art galleries. Most of their arts take the form of practical art: pottery, wooden utensils and tools, carpets, tapestries, woven goods, beadwork, and other items.

 
One of the most iconic pieces of art that comes from Lesotho is a traditional conical hat called a mokorotlo. It’s typically made of grasses, and while most times they are plain, there are many made with colored grasses. Most people think of Africa as being a really hot place to live, but the Basotho live mainly in the mountains, and it can get pretty cold! So, it’s no wonder that their traditional clothing includes a blanket. I think this is great. The ones I’ve seen are colorful with geometric designs. I actually want one. The colors and designs are indicative of different regions of the country. And women wear them differently than men.  

  
Like most African cultures, storytelling is an important part of the Basotho culture and different kinds of stories (histories, moralistic stories, etc.) have been passed down from generation to generation. Many Lesothan authors write in Sesotho, which is written in the Latin script. Others prefer to write in English. Sesotho is an interesting language because it is built on inflectional prefixes. It’s related to the Tswana language that is spoken in Botswana. The first Lesothan literary works were published during the time they were under British control. 

  
One of the most influential writers from Lesotho is Thomas Mofolo. He is widely known for his 1939 novel Chaka, which has been translated in several languages. This novel covers a fictionalized history of the Zulu warrior Chaka. A.S. Mopeli-Paulus is another 20th century author who writes in both Sesotho and in English. His novels Ho tsamaea ke ho bona, Blanket Boy’s Moon, and Turn to the Dark brought him into prominence. Basildon Peta is a Zimbabwean journalist who fled his home country after receiving threats for his hard journalistic style of writing and criticisms of the government. He currently works out of the Lesotho. Other writers whose works are widely read are Simon Majara, Zakea D. Mangoaela, Everitt Lechesa Segoete, Joseph I. F. Tjokosela, Edward Motsamai, and Azariele M. Sekese. Lesotho has also produced a number of poets including David Cranmer Theko Bereng and Kem Edward Ntsane. 



The Ba re e ne re (lit. "they say it was said..." from Sesotho) is a literary festival held in Maseru. It celebrates writers and writing in general and brings up issues of the role of literature in the larger context of the political and social instability that many African countries face. Many of these writers stressed the importance of a free press and how writing can be the catalyst people can use to express their frustrations and joys. Many writers also see this as a means to create a thinking class of students by promoting reading.

Up next: music and dance

Sunday, December 13, 2015

LESOTHO: THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE

 
My entire life I’ve been pronouncing this country wrong. And I’m so sorry. Before the age of the Internet, we just pronounced it like how most Midwesterners would pronounce it: “le-SO-tho.” But apparently, it’s actually pronounced “le-SOO-too.” So, now you know. Hopefully, you won’t spend 36 years of your life living in the dark like I was.


The name Lesotho means “the land of the people who speak Sesotho.” Basotho refers to the people of Lesotho. I saw this kind of name construction when I covered Botswana (Botswana refers to the land; Batswana is the people there; Setswana is their language). It makes sense because the two languages are in the same language group. 


Lesotho is a landlocked enclave in the middle of the country of South Africa. It roughly lies between the South African cities of Blomfontein and Durban and south of Johannesburg and Pretoria. Lesotho is only one of four countries that are completely within another country (the others are Monaco inside France; and San Marino and Vatican City inside Italy). The country lies in the Drakensburg and Maloti Mountain ranges, making it the only independent country lying completely above 1400 m (4593 ft). Because of this, it tends to have cooler temperatures than other areas around it. 

  
The earliest people, the Basotho, came to Lesotho during the Bantu migration. They ran into troubles, especially with the Zulu tribes who were also displaced, but there were also many years of peace as well. Lesotho as we know it came to be in 1822 and was under the guidance of King Moshoeshoe I (pronounced “muh-shway-shway”). They were still fighting with the Zulu at this point. At the same time, their country (which was known as Basutoland during this time) was on edge because of the fighting between the English and Dutch settlers in South Africa. French missionaries were the first to transcribe the Sesotho language. As the Boers who settled in South Africa moved farther inland, there were many disputes as to who owned the land they were claiming. The British, the Dutch, and the Basotho were pretty much all against each other (and the British lost a couple of skirmishes and battles to the Basotho). After several years of fighting with the Boers, King Moshoeshoe I finally pleaded with Queen Victoria for help, in turn becoming a British protectorate. After signing a deal with the Boers, Lesotho lost nearly half of its land, leaving its borders as we know it today. The British also moved the capital from Thaba Bosiu to Maseru. They continued to have their skirmishes with the British, but in 1966, the Basutoland gained its independence, and the Kingdom of Lesotho was born. As the first elections took place, it would be the beginning of several long decades of shifts of political power and people not relinquishing the powers they had, and fighting among political parties about it. There were several times since their independence when they had to deal with military coups or rioting destroyed part of the city and people died.

 
The capital city is Maseru, a city on northwestern border of Lesotho. Although it is Lesotho’s largest city, it only has roughly 228,000 people (about the size of Baton Rouge, Louisiana). The name Maseru stems from a Sesotho word meaning “red sandstones.” Although many buildings have been rebuilt and upgraded since the late 1990s, tourism remains to be a struggling area, mostly likely due to its moderately unstable political scene. There are only a handful of hotels, and casinos are included in a couple of them. Setsoto Stadium is a popular place that hosts soccer games (sorry, I mean football) and other athletic events. 

  
The majority of Lesothans work in agriculture in some capacity. A significant portion of their economy comes in the form of remittances from abroad. And although Lesotho has coveted natural resources in water and diamonds, most of the people who live here live under the global standard of poverty and the country suffers from a low Human Development Index. However, some of the world’s largest diamonds have been discovered in Lesothan mines, and a number of international textile and garment companies have factories in Lesotho, but it’s not reaching the people. Lesotho has one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the world, and I’m sure this is significantly affecting their work force. 

  
The vast majority of people in Lesotho practice some denomination of Christianity, pretty much evenly divided between Protestant and Catholic. Indigenous religions as well as religions from other areas (Buddhist, Hindu, Bahá’í, Muslim) are also commonly found throughout Lesotho. 



Sesotho (or sometimes written as Sotho) is the national and official language of Lesotho, used in business and government. Because of the country’s history with Britain, English also remains as an official administrative language. 

  
Lesotho is one of the world’s highest countries. Its altitude has much to do with its culture: one of their cultural clothing items is a brightly colored blanket. Their conical grass hats (called mokorotlo) are so iconic, it’s on their flag. The highest pub in Africa is located in Lesotho. Many travelers who stop there come to see the mountain views and especially the Sani Pass. Lesotho not only has influences on its culture from various southern African cultures, but also from British, Dutch (Boers), and Indian/Asian influences. I’m excited about this meal for one reason: I get to buy rooibos tea.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, December 6, 2015

LEBANON: THE FOOD


I delayed this meal because it was scheduled just after Thanksgiving, and to be honest, I was still full from all the wonderful food my friends and family made. And then all the leftovers! So, I pushed it off a week, and I’m so thankful that I did. 

This was wonderful. I found this bread from someone's blog who was looking for this bread. I can see why the author went through the trouble looking for it.

Today’s bread choice was a no-brainer: Man’oushe Za’atar flatbread. I started out by proofing my yeast by mixing a yeast packet with 1 Tbsp sugar and then adding in ¼ c warm water and letting it sit for 10-15 minutes until it becomes frothy looking. Then I took out a large bowl and combined my 3 ½ c of all-purpose flour (it originally calls for 2 ½ c of all-purpose and 1 c of cake flour, but I forgot I needed cake flour) and 2 tsp of salt. Then I added in my yeast mixture when it was ready along with 1 Tbsp of vegetable oil. I slowly poured in 1 c of warm water and kneaded the dough until it came together, and I could form it into a ball. I put the dough in a slightly oiled bowl and turned the dough to cover it in oil. Not only did I cover it in plastic wrap, but I also covered it with a kitchen towel as well. I let it sit in a warm spot for about an hour and a half (on top of my stove). Then I deflated my dough and divided it into four parts. After sprinkling more flour on them, I let them rest another 20 minutes. Then I placed an overturned cookie sheet on the lowest rack of the oven and turned it on to 425ºF. While it was pre-heating, I combined ½ c of za’atar with ½ c of olive oil. (The za’atar I used is called green za’atar, which is roasted wheat, roasted thyme, ground sumac, sesame seeds, and salt.) Then I rolled out the dough so that it was round and about ¼” thick. I found it was easier just using my hands to spread the dough out rather than using a rolling pin. Taking a spoon, I spooned on about 3 Tbsp worth of the za’atar-olive oil mix on top of the rolled out bread, leaving about a ½” gap around the edge. I used pieces of parchment paper to do the transfer in lieu of a peel. After putting the bread in the oven, it only takes about 10 minutes for them to get to golden brown. This bread was so delicious. The za’atar-olive oil blend was superb, and I loved everything about this. One loaf was a little thick, so it took a little longer to bake. This was clearly a good idea. And after we had all eaten, I totally forgot that I bought arugula, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers to place on the bread to eat with it. I’ll have to make a sandwich out of this tomorrow. 

The winner for today. I love potatoes so much anyway. I will probably always make them like this for the rest of my life.

I also found a recipe for batata ma3 kizbra, or potatoes sautéed with garlic and cilantro. I sliced four medium potatoes into cubes and chose to bake them in the oven until they were crispy (I salted and sprinkled olive oil on them and covered them in foil before putting them in the oven for about 30 minutes. I did it this way instead of frying them.). While they were in the oven, I pulled about a ½ c of cilantro leaves and set them off to the side. In a skillet, I sautéed a little bit of minced garlic in some olive oil, adding a pinch of salt, the cilantro, and some lemon juice to the mixture and let it sauté for about a minute or two before taking it off the heat. When the potatoes were done, I threw in the potatoes to the skillet and sautéed everything together for another minute or two, making sure everything was coated evenly. These can either be served cold or hot; I prefer them warm. I will go out on a limb to say that this might be the best part of the meal. I loved how the lemon really stuck out and meshed quite nicely with the cilantro. The crispy fried parts of the potatoes added to the texture. I just wish I picked larger potatoes because we ate every bit of this. 

Yummy, yummy chicken.

The main course for today is jawaneh, or chicken wings with coriander, garlic, and lemon. I actually went with some chicken drumsticks because they were on sale, and I think you get more meat on drumsticks rather than wings. I arranged my chicken on a baking sheet and drizzled olive oil and a little bit of salt on them, roasting them for 45 minutes until they were crispy and browned. Just before they were ready, I whipped up my sauce: I sautéed some chopped cilantro (also called coriander), garlic, and oil for about a minute before adding in a little lemon juice. When the wings are done, I added the wings to the skillet and tossed to completely coat them and fried the chicken slightly. It was very lightly flavored. I think it would’ve been better with just a little more lemon in the sauce. But I was very pleased with this, even though the flavors were the same as the potatoes (I didn’t really think that through). 

[Sorry, this photo won't load at the moment for some reason. I'm going to work on it.]



Finally, I made freekeh salad with pomegranate seeds and molasses. Freekeh is a type of grain, and I couldn’t find it at the international store, even though I swear I’ve seen it there before because I’ve laughed at its name. So, I bought some couscous as a substitute. I’m pretty sure I ventured away from the recipe a bit on numerous times. First I made my couscous, except when boiling my water, I added in a cinnamon stick and a couple of bay leaves. (I removed these before adding in the couscous.) I took it off the heat, added in the couscous, and let it sit for 5-6 minutes before fluffing with a fork. I chopped my eggplant and bell peppers (I used half of a red one and half of a green one) and sautéed them instead of grilling them. In a large bowl, I mixed my sautéed vegetables, some dried mint, and some dried parsley. Then I put my pomegranate seeds in the mix (this is my first time cutting a pomegranate, and thanks to YouTube, I figured it out, more or less). For the dressing, I mixed together a little bit of cinnamon, some orange juice, a little bit of pomegranate syrup, and some olive oil together and sprinkled it on the salad. Lastly after mixing everything together, I topped it with some sliced almonds, pepitas (or pumpkin seeds), and some crumbles of goat cheese (I went with a garlic herb goat cheese). I loved how the tart sweetness of the pomegranate seeds tasted with the robust creaminess of the goat cheese. This is something I haven’t had before but really enjoyed. And although I only used a little bit of mint, it certainly came through. To me, mint is hard to match up with certain flavors because it tends to overpower the dish. But otherwise, I liked it for the most part. (I think I was the only one.) 

A very interesting flavor. I really want to try the pistachio one or the vanilla one next.

When I was looking for ingredients, I came across halva. This is an especially popular dessert throughout the Middle East and Mediterranean. It’s described as a “sesame seed fudge,” and I can really taste the sesame seed flavor. It comes in several different flavors: I saw vanilla, pistachio, chocolate, and nut, but I went with the chocolate halva. It was much drier than I thought it would be, but I don’t know if it’s because it’s store-bought or if that’s how it’s supposed to be. But it goes quite nicely with my morning coffee. 

Overall, it was an excellent meal. I look forward to my lunch tomorrow.

I really loved this meal. It all went together quite well, even though I ended up eating by myself: my husband was on a phone call, my daughter fell asleep because she’s sick, and my son said he wasn’t hungry (although he came and tried some of the chicken and potatoes). I guess that’s how things go sometimes. I like when I try new flavors together and find out I like them (like pomegranate and goat cheese). Now that I know how to cut a pomegranate, I think I’ll buy more. They take a little work to prepare, but I really like them, and they’re usually pretty cheap. I wonder why I waited so long? I learned a lot about Lebanon, and I’m glad the meal was as good as I imagined it would be.



Up next: Lesotho

Saturday, December 5, 2015

LEBANON: MUSIC AND DANCE


Music is an important part of Lebanese culture and has played a part that not only supports their traditions but also as a means for supporting the things that mean the most to the Lebanese. Beirut itself has been and continues to be a regional musical capital in the Middle East. During the Lebanese Civil War, many musicians left the country and went to study and perform in Europe and Africa, namely Paris and Cairo.  And while they maintained many of the traditional styles and instruments, they also merged these styles with American and European styles and genres. 

 

Lebanese musicians perform on many of the same instruments found throughout the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Some of these instruments have variations to them while others are pretty standard. Instruments you’ll hear in Lebanese music include the lute (a pear-shaped string instrument with a short neck), tablah (a small vase-shaped hand-drum made of wood and usually covered with goat skin or fish skin), mijwiz (type of clarinet), daff (similar to a tambourine), and the buzuq (a long-necked two-stringed instrument that is played with a plectrum). 



The dabke (transliterated a variety of ways) is a popular dance found in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Palestine, and Iraq. Intended as a joyous dance, it’s often performed for happy occasions, such as births or weddings. It combines both circle dancing and line dancing, and there are many variations based on where it’s danced. Most dancers will wear traditional clothes when performing the dances. 



During the war years (from 1975–1990), rock music became very popular in Lebanon. It was seen as a genre that led itself to breaking social barriers and used as a means of expressing the frustrations of the younger Lebanese generations. One of the first pioneers of Lebanese rock music is Lydia Canaan. I listened to the two songs I found on Spotify, and the two they had listed for her were sung in English and were more of a soft rock style. 



I also listened to a variety of rock bands; many were kind of a merge of rock and other genres. One band I sampled is called Soap Kills. It’s a slight mix of rock, but with elements of reggae, bossanova, and chillhouse. I liked them; I wished there were more tracks available on Spotify. One band I really enjoyed is called Meen. They had an indie rock sound but if I really listened to some of the songs, the chord changes and melody lines remind me of some Latin rock bands (the instrumentation is different, though). Mashrou’ Leila is another band I enjoyed listening to. Their songs are a little slower and have a groove beat to it, but still uses a traditional string sound with the modern instruments. 



And then there are some bands/groups that really stick with traditional Arab music that has been modernized. Much of what I found would probably fall into this category. Najwa Karam features a strong female lead and utilizes quite a bit of rhythmic vocalizations in the song “Mafi Noum,” almost reminiscent of African rhythms. Diana Haddad is another musician who sticks with more traditional styles, although many of her songs do also have elements of pop and even Bollywood to them. Musicians like Nawal al Zoghbi, Elissa, Fadel Shaker, Melhem Zein, Amal Hijazi, Nancy Ajram, Wael Kfoury, and Ragheb Alama also fall into this category. 



If you like dance music, Haifa Wehbe’s album MJK is pretty good. The songs are fairly catchy, and it’s been mixed well. Ayman Zabeeb is another I would say falls under the dance category. He takes traditional music and mixes it with some dance beats. Some songs use more of a Western dance feel, and some are still syncopated. The music is pretty catchy. Fares Karam’s music is a variety of dance music (I believe), although some are dances that are probably Lebanese or Arab in origin while other songs have been modernized to reflect an American/European influence. I would venture to put Assi El Helani into the dance category for the same reason as Fares Karam (at least on The Best album I listened to).



Up next: the food