Sunday, June 25, 2017

PANAMA: THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE


Panama is the bridge that links Central America with South America. This narrow tilde-shaped country is the only barrier between the East and the West. One of the world’s major feats of construction, the Panama Canal, helped ease the cost of doing business and allowed for goods to be transported all over the world. I remember in 1999 when the US handed control back to the Panamanians and was confused as to why it hadn’t happened sooner.


It’s not exactly clear where the name Panama originated from. Some linguists believe it could be stemmed from a several root words: one theory is that it refers to a type of local tree while another may refer to the many butterflies that are there during the late summer. One of the more popular theories is that it refers to a fishing village named Panamá, which means “abundance of fish.”


Panama is the last stop in Central American if you’re heading south. It’s actually more horizontal than it is vertical. It shares a western border with Costa Rica and an eastern border with Colombia, as a gateway to South America. The Pacific Ocean is to the south, and the Caribbean Sea is to the north. The central part of the country is mountainous and heavily forested with rainforests. Many of the rainforests are so thick the closer you get to the border with Colombia that it’s become a haven for guerilla fighters and drug lords. It’s one of the reasons why the Pan-American Highway stops here and picks up in Colombia. Panama has a tropical climate, although they do have a rainy and dry season.


The earliest people living here were from the Coclé, Cuevas, and other tribes. Many of the indigenous people died out due to the lack of immunity from the European diseases the Spanish brought along with them. (As Janet Jackson said, “Nasty, nasty boys.”) The first Spanish explorers arrived in search of gold and other riches they had heard about (must’ve been that 15th century fake news). They claimed the land for Spain and ruled it for nearly 300 years. However, “ruling” was difficult since so many of the indigenous tribes resisted something fierce. This area was frequented by many different groups of people besides the Spanish and the indigenous tribes, including British and Dutch pirates, freed African slaves, and one Scottish colony that didn’t end well (probably ran out of whiskey). In 1717, Panama was included as part of the viceroyalty of New Granada. During the 1800s, many of the countries under Spain’s reach were itching to gain their independence, and Panama was no different. They finally broke away from Spain in 1821 but then became a part of Colombia. Right at the turn of the century, Panama was in the middle of the Thousand Days War, often acknowledged as a war for land rights for the indigenous people. The country finally did manage to gain its independence from Colombia in 1903. In part of the treaty associated with the independence, the US finagled its way to build and control the Panama Canal, which was completed in 1914 (and wouldn’t be given back for another 85 years). From that point, Panama became increasingly more militarized. Elections actually took place in 1968, but it all went to hell afterwards. Price freezing and other oppressive measures were the order of the day. During the early 1980s, Gen. Noriega came to power, and he had his hand in a bunch of shady illegal stuff going on. His regime was generally supported by the US and even operated with the CIA, but when massacres started taking place, the US threw sanctions at them like darts. Then after they found out that Noriega was trafficking drugs in Florida, that was apparently the last straw. The US used this as an excuse to invade the country, which ended with the deaths of hundreds of civilians and military alike. Today, the country is working on ways to improve its governmental transparency and its social and civil services.


Panama City (not the one in Florida), or Ciudad de Panamá, is the country’s capital city and largest city. It was founded in 1519, located on the Pacific side of the isthmus. The Old Quarter features Spanish and French architecture that was popular when the Panama Canal was being built. Today, the city is a tourist spot and also serves as the country’s center for government, higher education, commerce, sports, and banking. Although it’s not the only arts center in the country, it’s certainly one of them.


Panama has one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America and generally has a low unemployment rate. Once Panama took back control of the Canal, it generated millions of dollars in revenue from tolls. Having two coasts, it has several port cities, making it a prime location for doing business. It’s also strengthened itself as a financial center, and tourism is a contributor to its economy as well. Panama was also one of the first Latin American countries to adopt the US dollar as its currency.


Since the government doesn’t keep track of religion numbers, it’s only estimated that roughly 75-85% of Panamanians are Roman Catholic, leaving 15-25% as Protestant. However, there are a number of other minor denominations and religions represented throughout the country: LDS Church, Bahai, Episcopalians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Seventh-Day Adventists, and other indigenous religions.


About 93% of Panamanians speak Spanish as their first language. However, many people also speak and understand English as well because of its status as an international language in business. There are also a number of indigenous languages still spoken in the home along with Spanish.


Panama has a unique location. Because of its narrowness, you can actually see the sun rise on the Atlantic and set on the Pacific from the same point. The country is located just south of the hurricane alley, so it rarely sees the number of tropical storms and hurricane that other countries in Central America and the Caribbean experience. I’m already sold on visiting Panama, but now I’m coming up with more reasons to go.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, June 18, 2017

PALAU: THE FOOD


My, what a busy couple of weeks this has been! My husband had his first car show of the season last weekend, the kids are finally out of school for the summer, and I got them both signed up for their summer reading programs. Even I signed up, too (I’m trying to read more Newberry Honor books). Not to mention, we’re finally getting things set up to start working on the other house so we can hopefully move in by fall. 

Normally, I'd like a gooey middle, but this isn't the way to do it. Maybe if I top it with jam, I won't notice the weird texture.
But today is a different story. Today is all about making food from Palau. I started this adventure with making tama, a type of fried dough balls. This seems like it would a perfect street food. In a bowl, I beat 4 eggs, ¾ c of milk, and ¾ tsp of vanilla (or more, because I love vanilla). In a separate bowl, I added in my 4 c of flour, 2 c of sugar, 1 ½ Tbsp of baking powder, and ¼ tsp of salt and stirred. I slowly poured my dry ingredients into my wet ingredients and stirred until it was consistent and smooth. I did have to add quite a bit of flour to it because it was just too stick to handle. When my oil was hot in my skillet (I poured quite a bit), I dropped a dollop of dough into the oil. Once the dough was browned, I flipped it to brown the other side. I scooped it and drained it on a paper towel. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, frying things is not my forte. And this is another example where I didn’t learn from my mistakes: I had my heat up too high. The outsides were so browned they were almost burnt, but the insides on many of them were still a little gooey. I really don’t trust them, even though the outsides are probably ok. But the flavor was good!

For my first experience with taro root, I liked it. Everyone else, not so much. But don't listen to them.
The second thing I made was taro rosti. Taro is a type of root vegetable that is popular throughout Asia, and I was amazed I found it at Kroger. However, they had a hell of a time trying to find the code for it in their system: it turns out, it got labeled under “fruits.” I used small taro roots, and when you peel it, it has the consistency of a potato, but it’s sticky and slimey. When you grate it, it’s looks almost creamy. Anyway, I peeled and grated 4 taro roots and mixed it with some diced onions. I added a little salt and pepper to this and then formed patties with my hands. Then I fried each of these in a little bit of coconut oil in a skillet. I thought these were super good! The kids were sort of meh about it, but I really enjoyed them. It took some time to brown them, but the flavor with the onions was almost like a potato cake but lightly on the sweet-salty side. I only wish it yielded more!

Clearly, today's winner!
For my main dish, I made tinola soup. I sautéed some minced garlic and diced onions in the bottom of a large pot until my onions were translucent. Then I stirred in some minced ginger and some soy sauce (in lieu of fish sauce, which I think it smells like musty butt). I stirred this around for a few minutes before adding in my chicken. I used six chicken thighs and let them brown up a little, turning them occasionally, before adding in the chicken broth. Letting this simmer for another 5 minutes, I added in my diced zucchini in lieu of chayote squash (my husband hates zucchini and all squashes, so I thought I’d wait to see if he notices, except my daughter announced suspiciously, “This absolutely does NOT contain zucchini!” at which he later ate and gagged with a lot of drama behind it.). I let it simmer another 10 minutes before checking to see if my chicken has cooked through yet. I took the chicken out and pulled it off the bones before throwing it back in. Then I added in my spinach and boy choy along and seasoning it with some salt and pepper and let it simmer for another 5 minutes or so. This was the best! I loved this. It was the perfect amount of seasoning, and the little bit of ginger every now and then was perfect. I can definitely see making this again. In fact, the kids have already told me I have to repeat this.

Overall, I enjoyed this meal. It was quite tasty! I'll be the envy of the lunchroom. 
So, another country down and under my belt. This is the 131st country I’ve covered, which makes me now two-thirds of the way through this project. I can’t believe that I’ve stuck with this for this long. I’ve stuck with this project than any job I’ve ever had. And that’s the truth. I’m definitely in awe of some of the things I’ve learned. And some of the new things I’ve eaten. And some of the new music I’ve listened to. But the thing is, I only have 65 more times to do this.

Up next: Panama

PALAU: MUSIC AND DANCE


Much of the traditional music of Palau resembles many of the styles of the broader Micronesian musical traditions. Now, a lot of those traditions have been mixed with popular music from the US, Europe, and Japan.

 
In Palau, musicians divide their music into two categories: traditional style (chelitakl rechuodel) and modern music (beches chelitakl). The most important style of music here is chanting. Chanting is rife with meaning and serves as a means of communication. The text used is an extremely important part of traditional music. Some of these chants go back many, many generations, and some people may not even understand what the chant actually means anymore. There are different kinds of chants for different purposes, and it’s said that the gods were the ones who originally came up with this. However, as Western music spread its way across the island, traditional music has fell to the wayside a bit. 


Besides voices used in singing and chanting, hand claps and body slaps are common percussive instruments to accompany their vocal music. As far as other instruments used, Palauan music also uses a variety of wooden flutes (one of the main ones is called a ngaok). Modern music uses instruments that were introduced to the Palauans such as the harmonica, guitars, mandolins, keyboards and other modern instruments.


Harmonicas were often used in the music of a dance called the matamatong. This dance gives the impression that it’s based on marching steps, perhaps from the German soldiers who occupied the islands for a time. There are many other dances, many of which tell stories and share similarities with other Micronesian traditions.


The early days of pop music was influenced by Japan, dating back to the days when Japan occupied the country. However, because of its ties to the US, American music is quite popular here. Styles that are typically American, like country music, are liked and emulated by many Palauan musicians. There aren’t that many examples of Palauan musicians, but I find a couple mentioned. The first one I listened to was Kendall Titiml. He’s probably the most well known because he’s one of the top producers and musicians in Palau. His music is kind of a mix of pop and reggae. I really kind of liked his music. He had a few songs that I could see me playing out loud in the car.


There were only a couple of other musicians I listened to. Malo’s music still had a pop-reggae feel to it, but I think he leaned more toward pop. A little. Maybe. I also listened to a song or two by Kelau Remeliik. I thought her style was very similar to Malo’s style. She has a full-bodied voice and her emotion comes through when she sings.

Up next: the food

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

PALAU: ART AND LITERATURE


Palau’s culture is a very important part of their society. Although many of its cities and areas have modernized itself, they never forgot what it means to be Palauan. And like much of the island and coastal societies, the sea is integrated into pretty much everything they create when it comes to their traditional arts. 

 
Many of these arts were centered around functionality. A style of weaving using the leaves of plants such as palm fronds and pandanus was used to create items such as baskets, mats, and bags that they used in everyday life.



Jewelry is not only worn as decoration or because it is pretty, it served a purpose. Many styles of jewelry also indicates a social status in the form of necklaces that serves as money. Some of the materials they use include seashells, turtle shells, wood, and other natural materials.


Although not quite as used today, canoe building was once an important part of Palauan society. There were a couple different types of canoes depending on its purpose, whether it was for war or to transport people from island to island. Although many were constructed plainly, there were some that had designs painted on them.


One type of woodcarving that is popular in Palau is the storyboard carving. These are usually found on the local meetinghouse, otherwise known as the bai. These storyboards tell the myths, folklore, and history of a particular place. In fact, the entire bai is typically painted and covered in decorative designs and storyboards. Many of these bais have fell into disrepair, but some have been preserved quite well. 


That pretty much transitions me to Palauan literature. When it comes to the literary traditions in Palau, most of the works from this area are written in either Palauan or in English.  In the early days, most stories have been passed down from generation to generally through word of mouth. In many of the villages, after all of the work has been done for the day, the elders would tell folklore stories as entertainment. The storyboards mentioned earlier illustrate these stories.



Poetry has probably been the strongest literary style developed in Palau. However, there aren’t that many examples of published works by Palauan authors for either poetry or prose. One literary blogger whose blog I like reading did manage to get her hands on one book by the Canadian author Susan Kloulechad. Her husband is from Palau, and they lived there for 20 years. However, there are several tourist guides, and GoodReads lists several books that take place in Palau.

Up next: music and dance

Sunday, June 11, 2017

PALAU: THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE


In 1997, television changed. At least from my perspective. When Survivor came onto the scene, that was the beginning of the “reality show” craze that lasted way longer than I thought it would. I can’t believe this show has lasted for 35 seasons now. However, I first realized the island and country of Palau existed when the show took its crew there during Season 10. If the show did anything, it gave a bunch of Americans the idea that voting people off an island is a thing, and indirectly, it taught people geography. 

 
The Palauans refer to their own country as Belau. It may be related to the word beluu, which means “village,” but some think it may be related to the word aibeblau, a reference to their creation myth. The Germans were the first to name it Palau, and later the Spanish referred to it as Los Palaos, while the English called it the Pelew Islands before going back to calling it Palau.

Palau is part of the western end of the broadly-named Micronesian island region. The Micronesian island of Yap (belonging to the Federated States of Micronesia) is northeast of Palau, and the Papua region of Indonesia is directly south of the island. If you go directly west, you’ll run into southern island of Mindanao in the Philippines. Because of its location, it has a tropical climate – the average temperature is 82ºF (that’s the perfect temperature for me). They do experience a lot of rain, although typhoons are rare. And given their location along the Pacific Rim, they are also susceptible to earthquakes. Like other Pacific Islands, wastewater management and rising sea levels are pressing issues they’re constantly working on solutions for.


Most likely, people migrated to Palau from Indonesia (and other Pacific and Indian Ocean Islands). In the 1500s, one of Ferdinand Magellan’s ships spotted some of the islands of Palau. When the Spanish took control of the Philippines, they also included Palau as well. British traders began stopping by during the 18th century, although Spain sold off the island chain to Germany when they lost the Spanish-American War. During WWI, Japan took the islands from Germany and annexed them until WWII when the US captured the islands. During the late 1970s, both the Marshall Islands and Palau declined to be included in the creation of the Federated States of Micronesia. A few years later, Palau signed a Compact of Free Association with the United States. By 1994, Palau became an independent nation. Since then, Palau has been working on being a financial center. 



The capital city is Ngerulmud (pronounced “nn-je-ROOL-mood”), located on the largest island of Babeldaob (pronounced “BABBLE-day-ob”). The nation’s largest city used to be Koror until 2006 when the population of Ngerulmood surpassed it. One thing I didn’t know is that because Palau is part of a free association with the US, they actually utilize our zip code system. The entire country uses one zip code with the exception of the city of Ngerulmud, which has its own.


Palau’s economy depends on fishing and what agriculture it can sustain (mostly coconuts, a variety of fruits and vegetables, nuts and beans, and some pigs and chickens). They also depend on tourism, mostly as ecotourism, scuba diving, and snorkeling excursions. Although they do depend on financial help from the US, the government is their largest employer. They’ve tried to establish the country as an offshore financial center, but even one of their own banks filed for bankruptcy in 2006.


Because of Palau’s dealings with Europeans and Americans, Christianity remains the majority religion. The Japanese introduced Buddhism and Shintoism to Palau during the Japanese occupation of the early 20th century. Many Palauans still practice Modekngei, a combination of Christianity with their traditional religious-based fortune telling. There are small pockets of Muslims, Seventh Day Adventists, Jews, and those following Chinese folk religions as well.


Palauan and English are both listed as the official languages. However, in the states of Sonsorol and Hatohobei, the official languages are Palauan and Sonsorolese or Tobian, respectively. (Sonsorolese and Tobian are so close that they are mutually understandable.) Some older residents still speak Japanese, and it’s still listed as an official language in the state of Angaur. It’s the only place in the world where Japanese is the official language – even in Japan, it’s listed as a national language.


Palau is one of those few countries where the matriarch rules and often serves as the chief in traditional society. I bet a lot of things get done around there. With the exception of one two-year trade school, the country doesn’t have any universities. Students here travel to the US and other Pacific nations to further their education. This also goes hand in hand with the fact that many Palauans work outside of the country as well. After reading through their recipes and looking at pictures of the country, I can see why they return, though.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, June 4, 2017

PAKISTAN: THE FOOD


Wow, did the weather finally turn into summer! I took off to go to the zoo with my son’s 2nd grade class, and this coming week, I’m going to the symphony to hear Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, and my husband has a car show this coming weekend. Not to mention that the last day of school is this week and then I’ll have a 6th grader and a 3rd grader. So, it’s super busy right now. But for this afternoon, I’m going to relax with some Pakistani food. 

Such a perfect little bread for dipping, sopping, and scooping.

I’m starting off with Lahori Kulcha. This grilled bread is often eaten with curry. In a large bowl, I mixed together 3 c all-purpose flour with 1 tsp sugar, ½ tsp baking powder, a pinch of baking soda, and 1 tsp salt. Then I poured in a ½ c of vegetable oil (actually more of a vegetable oil-olive oil mix—I didn’t realize I was almost out of vegetable oil!) and 6 oz plain yogurt and stirred it all together. It was pretty crumbly, so I had to add just a tad bit of water to help it along. I covered this with a damp cheesecloth and let it sit for 2 hours. It should’ve swolen up a little during that time, but mine didn’t do anything. Afterwards, I heated up my griddle on high heat (I didn’t use my grill because I didn’t want to take the time to clean it and set it up, nor do I have a portable grill). I made small balls of dough and spread it out by hand, rubbing oil on one side of the kulcha. Placing it oil side down, I let it grill until there were scorch marks on it, then I flipped it again to scorch the other side. It didn’t take that long to cook through, but I had my heat up pretty high for the most part. I’m sure it wasn’t quite the same as grilling it, but it was fine. I thought it had a nice flavor and went well with the curry. It was good for scooping my food.

Fragrant and aromatic and full of flavor.
To go with the kulcha, I made Aloo Chole, or Potato and Chickpea Curry. I started with sautéing some diced onion until it was translucent. Then I added in my ginger garlic paste (which I improvised by using minced fresh ginger and minced garlic and pounding it together with a mortar and pestle). I added in my cumin and bay leaves, and a bit of onion powder (in lieu of nigella seeds because I couldn’t find them) and stirred. After a minute, I added in my turmeric and potatoes. I let this cook for about 2 minutes before adding in my other spices: crushed red pepper, cilantro, and salt. I let this cook for about a minute before adding in ¼ c of water to the mix. After a minute or two, I stirred in a half can of diced tomatoes and let it cook until most of the liquid is gone. I added my can of chickpeas and stirred to make sure everything is mixed well, letting it cook down for about five minutes or so until the potatoes were soft. When the potatoes were done, I squeezed a little bit of lemon juice on top of the whole dish and garnished it with more cilantro. I thought this was amazing. It was one of my favorite parts of the meal. The potatoes and chickpeas together gave a heartiness to the whole dish and the sweet and savory spices complemented each other.

Much better with rice. I think it would also be good topped with pine nuts. But maybe I'm just nuts.
The main dish today is Tawa Tadka Keema. I actually started this by boiling some boneless chicken thighs until they were cooked through and shredding the meat when it was cool and set it off to the side. I sautéed some ginger and garlic in some ghee and added in chopped onions, diced tomatoes, mango chutney (in lieu of mango pickle paste since I couldn’t find it where I was) along with some green chillies, crushed red pepper, turmeric, garam masala, curry powder, and salt. I did leave out the kasoori methi, which is basically dried fenugreek leaves. I wasn’t able to get to the international store. Anyway, once I let this cook down for a few minutes, I added my shredded chicken back in, stirring to mix everything evenly. I let this cook down for about 10 minutes, garnishing with cilantro when it was done. I did make some rice and serve this on rice, and I think without the rice, it would be a little lacking. So, good job to me for thinking ahead. I really liked this dish. It could’ve actually been a little spicier for my taste, but I kept it light for others. Even my picky son ate the chicken and liked it.

Simple, with many ingredients. This makes a good summer salad if served on a bed of spinach or arugula.
And finally to go with this as a cooler side dish, I made Kachumbar Salad. I starting by dicing my vegetables into small pieces: cucumber, turnip, red onion, and tomatoes and mixed them all into one bowl. Then I added in my other ingredients: sweet corn, green onion, almond oil (forgot to look for this: I made a substitute by mixing together a little olive oil with little bit of almond extract), whole black olives, green chillies, cilantro, mint, thyme, black pepper, and sesame seeds. I tossed everything together, but I also forgot to find hung curd to garnish it with. Apparently I could’ve used Greek yogurt as a substitute, but I used the rest of mine in the bread. Oh, well. Even without any garnishes, this salad was pretty good. The olive oil-almond extract idea had a subtle sweetness to it, which was met with the more bitter flavors of the olives and other vegetables. I actually want to buy some salad mixed greens and put this salad on top of it. I think it would be awesome.

What a great meal! I loved everything about this.
If there was a theme with this meal, it was substitution. The thing about South Asia and the Middle East is that they have tons more spices than we have available. I was fortunate to have some of them, but others were harder to find or I didn’t have much left of my own supply. So, I had to improvise a bit here and there. So things may not have been exactly to the letter, but I think it was close enough. I thought the food was fantastic. I would totally make these dishes again. I think through it all, if things were different, I would like to visit Pakistan one day. And maybe some day, it won’t have the stigma it has now. I mean, we can now travel to Cuba.

Up next: Palau

PAKISTAN: MUSIC AND DANCE


Pakistan’s music has pretty much borrowed the musical traditions from everyone around it: from India and South Asia to Central Asia to the Middle East as well as various Western styles. 

 
And because Pakistan is in the middle of many religious hotspots (not to mention they created their country specifically as a Muslim state), it’s no wonder that religious music is a significant portion of their traditional music. One of the most widely known types of religious music is called hamd. While it’s mostly used with Islamic texts, it’s also used by Christians in Pakistan as well. Hamd is actually a type of sung poetry that is aimed at expressing the singer’s love for Allah (or God). Naat is a similar form, except that it sings praises and love to the Prophet Muhammad. Qawalli is a type of music from Chishiti Sufis used as devotional music. This music is supposed to bring people to a spiritual trance-like state, known as wajad.


In other traditional forms, one of the big ones is called ghazal. The word is related to the word “gazelle.” This musical style consists of a poetic style of rhyming couplets, even though there are many strict rules to the actual composition of it. At the heart of the ghazal, the lyrics essentially point to the idea that even though there may be a separation or loss of a lover, there’s still beauty in that love. Typically, women have been excluded from qawalli. Many women have formed their own “women-only” gatherings to perform naats in these women-only dance and music parties.


Instruments used in Pakistani vary between a number of percussion instruments, wind instruments, and both plucked and bowed string instruments. Here are a few instruments you’ll hear: tabla (a set of two drums), alghoza (a pair of 6-holed flutes, one used as a drone, the other used as the melody), sitar (a guitar like instrument with a 4-ft long neck attached to a gourd), siroze (a kind of stringed instrument), a dhol (two-headed drum), chimta (a pair of percussive fire tongs—yes, that’s right), ghara (a clay pitcher used as a percussion instrument), iktara (a one-stringed plucked instrument), rubab (plucked lute with frets on a hollow body covered in skins), sarinda (kind of similar to a rubab), sarangi (stringed instrument played with horsehair bow), and harmonium (three-octave keyboard instrument).


Folk dancing in Pakistan is often performed to celebrate the dynamics of life changing events: weddings, birth, deaths. When it comes to dances, each ethnic group has their own specialties and variations. Punjab dances include the bhangra (pretty well-known), the luddi (danced at weddings), and the giddha (uses hand-clapping). In Balochistan, you’ll find the jhumar (slower, rhythmic dance) and the chap (male palm-clapping dance done for weddings). Some Sindh dances are dhammal (done at Sufi shrines), ho jamalo (well-known at parties), and jhumro (done by town ladies to honor a good crop). 



When it came to modern music, Spotify had quite a few Pakistani artists. The first one I listened to was Ahmed Rushdi. It definitely reminded me of the musical styles of India in its vocal lines and instrumentation. The song “Ko Ko Koreena” was a really big thing when it first came out. In fact, it’s often considered one of the first “pop songs” in Pakistan. Nazia Hassan was another musician/singer from this early time period. Her music has more of a Western 1970s pop sound to it.


Ali Zafar’s music has a traditional sound on top of what sounds like a quasi-modern drum beat. It has elements of electronic music, which gives it a dance feel to it. I thought it was kind of catchy. Hadiqa Kiani is as close to what I came to as pop. Her music definitely has some traditional styles and instruments used in it, but it’s clearly influenced by Western pop music. She’s got a couple of slower songs, but I’d say that most are pretty upbeat.


One of the more popular musicians is Atif Aslam. His music is clearly in the rock category, although there are songs that span a range of what rock means: from Bryan Adams-esque to Green Day-esque. He had several songs that were pretty catchy. Faraz Anwar is another rock musician, but his music leaned more toward a Yngwie Malmsteen-style merged with quasi-gothic metal rock maybe? I’m not even sure what specific genre you’d consider this. But I definitely feel like I should be wearing a black T-shirt and that this is probably way better live.


I would confidently place Junoon’s music as indie rock. Still utilizing traditional drums and even some vocalizations (with quarter tones and trills), but still strongly steeped in rock form. Noori is another band I really liked. Still in the indie rock category, but their music sticks out to me for being seemingly more Western than other bands. Perhaps not quite as high on the technical aspect of music, but good to listen to nonetheless.


I did find a hip-hop group called Bohemia. They had some good rhythms and flow; I liked what I heard. Another rapper I came across is Adil Omar. He rapped in English. Definitely based on traditional music styles, but updated and mixed. I liked this. Whatever he did is working.


Up next: the food

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

PAKISTAN: ART AND LITERATURE


The early art of Pakistan has many of the same roots as much of the Indian subcontinent. From sculptures, textiles and woven arts, to paintings, Indian arts traditions spread across much of what is now Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. Much of the early influences were religious based. And this area was rife with a variety of religions: Hindu, Islam, Buddhism, and Jainism. Arab traders and conquerors brought along with them Islamic art. As Pakistan’s identity became closely aligned with Islam, Islamic art became especially prominent in Pakistan. 

 
After Pakistan gained its independence, their art became a voice. It became the voice of finding their identity, both politically and religiously. Pakistani artists were interested in the art movements and styles of European and American artists and began merging it with their own traditional arts, such as painting Islamic calligraphy in the midst of modern backgrounds. Abstract art and other modern styles crept in during the 1950s and 1960s. 


There are a few different styles of architecture you’ll see in Pakistan that reflects its history. First, you’ll see Buddhist style monasteries and other similar buildings. You’ll also see quite a bit of Arab- and Persian-inspired architecture that is built with Islam and geography in mind. This not only includes mosques and schools but some homes as well. After the British made their way into the area, more European-style buildings were built. Traditionally, red-clay bricks are used to build homes and are still used in rural areas. Brickmakers are often used as a debtors prison system masqueraded as indentured servitude.


One thing that really fascinates me is Pakistani truck art. Artists elaborately and intricately paint every conceivable space on large dump trucks, busses, vans, RVs, flatbed tow trucks, etc. Some are adorned with beads, wood carvings, calligraphy, portraits, and chains. I think it’s amazing! It’s sometimes known by its slang name, jingle trucks, which may have got its name from the chains that hang on its bumper. I would never have thought that a tow truck or dump truck could be beautiful, but man was I wrong! This might be my new favorite thing!
 
Sadequain, calligraphy
When it comes to painting arts, artists you should look for include Sadequain (murals, calligraphy, paintings), Abdur Rahman Chughtai (created his own style of painting), Jamil Naqsh (painting), Sughra Rabibi (female painter), Ismail Gulgee (abstract and portrait painter), and Ajaz Anwar (painter). 


When it comes to Pakistani literature, there are a plethora of languages you can find it written in. It really depends on the author. Because of Pakistan’s multilingual society and history, you can find works in Urdu, Punjabi, Pashto, Sindhi, Balochi, Saraiki, Kashmiri, and English. The English used is actually Pakistani English, a local dialect. During the early days, especially after Islam was introduced to this area, writings in Persian could also be found and lasted for quite a while, but it later gave way to other languages.



After Pakistan gained its independence, their literature really took off. Short stories and novels were used as a means for expressing political views, historical events, and national identity. Many writers merged certain traditional literary styles with modern ones or modern languages.


One writer who stands out is Saadat Hassan Manto. His short stories written during the India-Pakistan fight for independence helped create the backdrop for other writers to emerge in their own styles. In many ways, it helped bring to light the many difficulties and struggles of many of Pakistan’s people. Other notable writers to look up include Farhat Ishtiaq, Mustansar Hussain Tarar, Umera Ahmed, Bano Qudsia, Intizar Hussain, Ashfaq Ahmed, Ibn-e-Safi, Ibn e Insha, and Qudrat Ullah Shahab.

Up next: music and dance

Sunday, May 28, 2017

PAKISTAN: THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE


A few years ago now, I started following the blog Humans of New York. What started out as a photo project taking pictures of people from New York and captioning it with a quote or short story from their life has now developed into a couple of books and travels to 20 different countries. When I started reading it, it was around the time he went to Pakistan. The whole point of the project is to show people as they are. I went back and re-read his series on Pakistan: I smiled, and I cried. To paraphrase from one of the quotes, Pakistan often gets discussed on the backdrop of violence. And yes, there is a serious problem with violence in the country. But there is also the everyday life the people go through. So, this will perhaps be an eye-opener for some as to what the country is really like and their culture.



The name was originally coined in 1933 as Pakstan. It is used as an acronym for the regions that make up the country: Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Sindh, and Baluchistan. (The –i- in the middle was added to make it easier to pronounce.) It also ended up being a play on words because the word pak in Urdu and Persian means “pure”; the ending –stanmeans “land of.”

Pakistan is located in Asia, often considered part of the Indian subcontinent. It shares borders with Iran to the west, Afghanistan to the northwest, India to the east, and it has a significant shoreline on the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman. There are two provinces in the northern Pakistan, Jammu and Kashmir, that are areas of dispute between Pakistan and India. These provinces actually border China and Tibet. The northern part of the country is highly mountainous—actually, Pakistan has five mountains that are over 8000m (26,250 ft)! The country also has deserts, rivers, and lakes that wind their way and dot the landscape. The southern part of the country ranges from temperate to tropical and is subject to a rainy/monsoon season.


The Indus River Valley is home to some of the world’s oldest civilizations. The beginnings of the Hindu religion were founded in this area during the Vedic Civilization (Buddhism also got its foundation in this region as well). In the early 700s AD, Arab conquerors began to move into the area and brought with them Islam. Afterwards, there were several Muslim groups who made their way into this area, including the Sufis and the Mughals. Arab and Persian literature and culture took a foothold, but by the 18th century, European conquerors were also making their way into the area. The British East India Company began establishing outposts, including some along the Pakistani coast. The British military spread out across Pakistan and India to Bangladesh and beyond. A major rift in India between Hindus and Muslims really stepped off a conflict that led to violence, revolts, and resistance. A Muslim League was established to come to the aid of underrepresented Muslims in India at the time (which current-day Pakistan was a part of). Muhammad Ali Jinnah was one of the key politicians who pushed for a two-country solution to the differences in religious coexistence. After quite a bit of debating and developing plans, Pakistan officially gained its independence in 1947. As Pakistan was created as a Muslim state, there were 6.5 million Muslims who moved there from India, and 4.7 million Hindus and Sikhs who moved out and into India; it was one of the largest human migrations in history. The rest of the 20th century saw periods of immense change. They went through a period of military rule, only to have their first democratic elections in 1970. This military/democracy period shifts would happen several times on into the 21st century. Even Pakistan has elected a female prime minister, Benazir Bhutto. However, I remember watching the news in 2007 and being saddened at hearing about her assassination. 


The capital city is the northern Pakistani city of Islamabad. Although people have been living there for centuries upon centuries, it wasn’t until after Pakistan gained its independence when they reconstructed it as a center for government and moved the capital from the coastal city of Karachi to Islamabad. Today, the city is one of the safest cities in the country. It’s the center of government, but also functions as a center for higher education as well. Many of the residents are middle and upper middle class citizens.

Mosque inside the Knewra Salt Mine
Pakistan is included in the N-11 countries (or Next Eleven), which are the next countries after the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) that economists feel have the potential to be leading economies in the 21st century. Although they’ve had periods of instability, Pakistan took measures to invest in its infrastructure, and it went through several economic reforms. A significant portion of their economic drivers includes agricultural products like cotton, sugarcane, and milk. They also depend on salt mining, textiles, electronics, cement, telecom and IT, energy, and tourism.
The Faisal Mosque is one of the biggest mosques in Southeast Asia.
The vast majority of Pakistanis are Muslim (about 97% of the population). This makes them the second largest Muslim country in the world, after Indonesia. Of these, the majority are Sunni Muslims, with a smaller portion being Suni. There’s been a history of violence between the two sects, but in recent years, protestors from both sides have called to end this ridiculousness. Of the minority religions, there is still a smaller following in Hindus in Pakistan, followed by Christianity and a number of other smaller religions.


Pakistan is a multi-lingual country. In fact, there are around 60 languages spoken here. However, Urdu is used as a lingua franca throughout the country and considered an official language. It’s also a language that is identified with Islam and their national unity. Along with Urdu, English is also an official language. However, in terms of the numbers of speakers, the most spoken first language is Punjabi, followed by Sindhi, Saraiki, Pashto, Urdu, and then Balochi.


Pakistan has one of the world’s largest groups of scientists and engineers. You can see evidence of this in a number of ways: 1) They boast the highest paved international highway that connects Pakistan and China, along with the highest railway station, 2) They are the only Muslim country with nuclear power, 3) Dr. Abdus Salam won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979, 4) Pakistan has one of the largest broadband Internet networks in the world, and there are a growing number of tech-related jobs, 5) The largest earth-filled dam is Tarbela Dam. There’s far more to Pakistan than meets the eye, and there are some really cool things that are happening here.  

Up next: art and literature