Sunday, November 27, 2016


After we moved to the neighborhood we live in now, I noticed the population here is fairly divided between working class whites, blacks, and Hispanics. However, there is one group I’ve noticed growing over the past 5-6 years: Burmese. My kids’ doctor’s office has signs in English, Spanish, and Burmese. There are car dealerships whose signs are written in Burmese. There is at least one restaurant I’ve come across serving Burmese food – where I first tasted Burmese tea! According to the refugee report by the Indiana State Department of Health, Burmese refugees have made up nearly 80% of the refugees coming into Indiana since 2007 with the majority settling in Indianapolis and Fort Wayne.

Ok, so let’s talk about the name. Because what’s in a name anyway? I grew up calling this country Burma. It was pretty easy to pronounce. The name Burma was derived from the term “Bamar,” which was the term for the casual form of their country name, named after one of the larger ethnic groups. Officially, they called their country Myanmar, which was the formal form. There are several ways I’ve seen it pronounced, but I think it’s pronounced “MEE-an-mar” by the BBC and “MYAN-mah” by the locals (both of which are different than how I’ve always pronounced it as “MY-an-mar”). On the surface, it doesn’t seem that big of a deal to change their name, but because it was forced by a military government at the time, there are some ill feelings by some, and there are some who still refuse to recognize it.

Myanmar is located in Southeast Asia. It shares a small border with Bangladesh to the west, a larger one with India to the west, China to the northeast, Laos to the east, and Thailand to the southeast. It also has a significant shoreline along the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal. Myanmar is subject to annual monsoons and experiences rainy and dry seasons. Plus, there are regions of the country that receive more rain than others. 

Burmese Independence
There is evidence showing that people moved into this area roughly 750,000 years ago. There were also many developments in their communities throughout the Bronze and Iron Ages, adapting technologies and cultural habits from nearby India and Thailand along the way. City-states began popping up, and quite a few changes took place between 1000-1500. Certain city-states grew, like Pagan (yes, it’s actually the name of the city), and eventually grew into the Pagan Kingdom (which sounds like an evangelical’s worst nightmare). As the Khmer Empire grew, these two would be the major empires in this area of the world until the Pagans fell to the Mongols. Buddhism was introduced and spread across the area. There were some efforts aimed at unification during the 1600s, mainly orchestrated by the Taungoo Empire. However, the 1700s and 1800s brought a series of wars between Myanmar and its neighbors (along with fighting the British and French to add variety). Concerned about the formation of French Indochina, the British took control of Myanmar. As the British East India Company spread its holdings across Myanmar, Indians began pouring into the country as well. There was a general disrespect for Burmese culture, which led to resentment and conflicts. Buddhist monks became the face of the resistance movement. Just before WWII, they began looking at independence, but then Japan occupied the country during the war. They did gain their independence in 1948 and renamed themselves the Union of Burma. Statesman U Thant served as the third Secretary General to the UN for ten years. However, in 1962, Myanmar was taken over by a military coup d’état, turning it into a Soviet-influenced form of socialism. For almost the next 30 years, there would be numerous demonstrations and protests throughout the country, some ending in violence. In 1990, Aung San Suu Kyi won 80% of the seats, but the military refused to budge like a toddler who doesn’t want to go to bed. She was placed under house arrest for 15 of the last 21 years (she was released in 2010), gaining notoriety as a political prisoner. Her party won the 2015 elections, and she’s won numerous peace and freedom awards.
Uppatasanti Pagoda, Naypyidaw
The capital city is Naypyidaw, sometimes spelled Naypyitaw. Officially, it’s written as Nay Pyi Taw. It literally means “seat of the king” or more broadly, “royal capital.” As a capital city, it’s fairly young; the capital was moved to Naypyidaw in 2005 perhaps because it’s more centrally located (even though it may be just a guess). Previously, the capital was in Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon (this name change happened when the country name changed). Today, the city has a number of shopping centers, museums, entertainment options, parks and gardens as well as schools and universities, and public transportation. 

Jade from Myanmar
Myanmar’s lack of up-to-date infrastructure, lack of educated workers, and inflation contribute to it being one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia. Energy shortages are common, and the country relies on help from its neighbors and foreign investment. Rice cultivation is their top agricultural product, but they’re also among the largest producers of opium. Many gems and precious stones, like jade, rubies, pearls, and sapphires, come from Myanmar. However, the working conditions are so appalling that some companies won’t accept gems from Myanmar (it’s nice to see they might have an inkling of human feelings, but not quite enough to hold them accountable or help in other ways). Tourism has grown some in recent years, but it’s pretty limited to just the big cities. Good luck getting around the country with sub-par infrastructure and police/military check point inspections. 

Although there are several religions present in Myanmar, Buddhism is by far the largest, with nearly 88% of the population. And within Buddhism, Theravada Buddhism is the most common. A smaller following of Christians and Muslims are also found in Myanmar. Other religions, like Hinduism and Judaism and others, are represented in the larger cities. 

Myanmar is a multi-ethnic country, and because of that, there are multiple languages spoken here. It’s estimated that nearly a hundred languages are spoken here, although there may be many that are only spoken by a dwindling number of people, if not bordering on extinction. The official language is Burmese, a language that is related to Chinese and Tibetan. Other minority languages include Shan, Karen, Kachin, Chin, and Mon-Khmer. English is the most common second language. 

World's Largest Book
If you’ve ever traveled outside of the United States, one thing you’ll notice is that everything is measured in the metric system. Most of the world uses this system except for three countries: the US, Liberia, and Myanmar. So, you know, we’re not the only ones holding out on metrics (but, why???). And no matter which system you measure it, Myanmar is home to the world’s largest book: Located in Kuthodaw Pagoda in Mandalay, it has 1460 pages and 730 leaves where each page is about 3 ½ ft wide by 5 ft tall by 5 inches thick! You know, just some light reading.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, November 20, 2016


Well, it’s been an emotional week. First, my son turned 8 years old yesterday, and we are always grateful since we almost lost him 7 years ago. Who would’ve thought seven years later, we’d be going to the Internet Cat Video Fest together? Second, the election has got me in such turmoil as to the divide and culture war we’re going through. I have my fears for the safety of whole populations of people in this country, my husband and kids included. I have my fears that we’ll encompass parts of our history that should have long been left in the history books. But we shouldn’t be silent. We have to stand up and educate. This is why we study history, so we don’t repeat the bad parts and build upon the good. This is the whole point of why I started this blog back in 2012 – because I felt the need to focus on the idea that countries are comprised of people and their arts, not governments and economies. And in that spirit, let’s talk about one of my favorite things: food.

Such a versatile bread. I may make it into mini sandwiches or something.
The bread today is Pão Moçambicano. This bread is a pretty basic bread recipe that can actually be used for a variety of purposes. I believe it has its roots in Portuguese cuisine. To begin, I mixed together a packet of dry yeast, 4 c of flour, 1 tsp salt, and enough water to bring it altogether as a sticky dough (about 2 c). (I read that there was an option to add in some vinegar, but since Mozambicans don’t really add that in, I left it out.) Once I worked my dough so that it was elastic and not too sticky, I covered it and let it rest for about an hour. Then I kneaded it a little more and let it rest for another half hour. At this time, I divided it into small balls, about the size of golf balls or so, and laid them out on a baking sheet. I took a knife and scored in a slit in the top and sprinkled it with flour. After doing this, I let it sit for another 15-20 minutes before putting it into an oven set at 425ºF for about 20-22 minutes, or until they were golden. I really liked these rolls. The outsides were crusty but the insides were soft and the crumb was fairly dense. It would be for soup or for a dip or spread. I thought they were wonderful.

I liked this, although I spent most of my dinner time trying to figure out if it was clams or oysters that pearls come from.
The main dish for today is called Matata. I started this out by sautéing some diced onion in a little olive oil in a pot. Once they started to turn translucent, I added in two cans of chopped clams, ¼ c of peanut butter, a large handful of finely crushed peanuts, 1 can of diced tomatoes, some salt, black pepper, and a couple shakes of crushed red pepper. I let this simmer on low for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, before throwing in some spinach leaves (I used a 12-oz bag of frozen spinach this time). I covered this and let it cook until the leaves were wilted and could easily be stirred into the stew. I served this on steamed white rice that got burnt on the bottom. (Burning it is optional.) I thought this was really good. The original recipe called for 4 cups of clams, but I only used a little less than 1 cup. I was debating about adding in a third can of clams, but I’m glad that I only kept with the two. Otherwise, I think it would’ve been too much. Plus, I wanted to take some in my lunch tomorrow, and I didn’t want to get called out for violating the universal “don’t warm up seafood in the microwaves at work.”

I think this was clearly the winner of the evening.
To go with this, I made Salada Pera de Abacate. This easy salad consisted of placing sliced tomatoes and avocados on top of a bed of lettuce. Then I drizzled some lemon herb salad dressing on top of it. To make this easy salad dressing, I mixed together some olive oil, lemon juice, parsley and some minced garlic. After stirring it up, I poured it on top of the salad. My son, who is normally a picky eater, loved this salad. But he’s always been a salad eater and loves avocado. I’m glad, though. I really liked the subtle lemon flavor on the tomato and avocado. I would definitely do this one again.

Overall, I enjoyed this more than I thought I would. It was healthy, flavorful, and thankfully, there are still leftovers.
As we move into the belly of the holidays with Thanksgiving this week, it makes me contemplate what I’m thankful for. I’m certainly thankful we all seem to be in good health. I have a job I like; I just got a copy of the Hamilton cast recording; I also just downloaded A Tribe Called Quest’s new album; I’m gonna make a jump on Christmas shopping this week; I know I’m loved by a few. And the weather finally turned colder, which I was unprepared to see arrive so abruptly. So, I’ll leave you with the final verse of Bob Dylan’s song, “Mozambique”:
            And when it’s time for leaving Mozambique
            To say goodbye to sand and sea
            You turn around to take a final peek
            And you see why it’s so unique to be
            Among the lovely people living free
            Upon the beach of sunny Mozambique.

Up next: Myanmar


The music of Mozambique comes from a variety of influences and has influenced other styles as well. Much of what has become their traditional music is a combination of African and Portuguese musical styles and instruments. And because of its Portuguese ties, the music of Brazil also shares some commonalities (along with Cuba as well).

As they gained their independence, they began to move away from European-influenced styles to more African influences, especially those from eastern and southern Africa. One style that is well known from Mozambique is called marrabenta. This type of dance music originated in the urban areas. Marrabenta songs are generally thought to be love songs, and although the word itself is from Portuguese, the lyrics are typically in local languages. One musician, Fany Pfumo, lived in South Africa for many years and introduced kwela music into marrabenta. 

Timbila music, originating from the Chopi tribes of Inhambane Provice, is characterized by an instrument called the mbila (the plural of this is timbila). The mbila is related to a xylophone, and ensembles typically consist of ten xylophones. A leader improvises a melody line over a contrapuntal second line. 

Pandza music became more popular during more recent years. As a mix of various urban styles like marrabenta, ragga, and hip-hop, it tends to be more popular among the youth. The lyrics mainly talks about social problems and daily life and is generally sung in either Portuguese or Shangaan (a language spoken in/near Maputo, a dialect of Tsonga). 

Like many other areas of Africa, dances are often intertwined with the musical styles performed. In Mozambique, these dances tend to have intricate moves and are performed for a variety of reasons, mainly for rituals or retelling an event. For the most part, both male and female dancers wear colorful outfits and/or masks during the dance. A few of the more commonly known dances are the marrabenta dance, the nhau dance, the mapik dance, and the xigubo dance.  

I found several groups and musicians on Spotify. The first one I listened to is Rosália Mboa. Her music falls into the pandza category, but it stays a little more on the traditional style than other musicians. I like her music, and I especially like the mix of high and medium guitar sounds. She generally sings in her local language, although I can’t be for certain what it is. 

The next one I listened to is Lizha James. I really liked what I heard here. She utilizes quite a bit more ragga into her music and sings primarily in Portuguese (although there are a couple tracks with English titles and mostly English lyrics). DJ Junior, MC Roger, Denny Og, and DJ Ardiles are others whose music falls into the same category. They tend to switch languages from using local languages to Portuguese or English.

If you’re a fan of reggae, dancehall, or even reggaeton, I think you’d like Ziqo. Ziqo has some good beat in a mellow, smooth voice. I listened to an album with him and Denny Og, who I think kind of reminds me of Beeny Man or sometimes Don Omar at times. His rough, raspy voice makes him almost the DMX of Mozambique. But the music is catchy and has a good beat. I could beat that in my car.

Stewart Sukuma is a good example of marrabenta music. When I listened to his music, it reminded me of something I’d hear on a Brazilian samba album or maybe an MPB album (Musica Popular Brasileiro – Popular Brazilian Music). I liked what I heard, even though it still totally reminded me of Brazil. But be prepared before you watch the video above -- if you're like me, you'll need a tissue. Chico Antônio’s music was a little softer in style, not quite as “in your face.” He also performs marrabenta music. It definitely gave me that impression he’s probably been performing for longer than I’ve been alive perhaps. 

Another marrabenta group is Mingas. It sounds like the type of music you would put on when you want to relax at the end of the day with a glass of wine and just chill. The music seems a bit slower than compared with pandza. 

When I listened to Ghorwane, I was torn between what I was listening to. On one hand, I recognized that distinctive African guitar riff, but then it was interrupted with what I identify as a Latin horn line. But this is what I love about music – merging styles we typically identify with a particular style of music. They also utilize the rhythm section quite a bit, too – and that’s always a plus.

Up next: the food

Thursday, November 17, 2016


Wood carving is one art form going back centuries, and it’s used for a variety of purposes. Of all the ethnic groups on Mozambique, the Makonde are probably the most known for their intricate skills in wood carving. There are three main items that are carved from wood. Like other areas of Africa, wooden masks are common here, too. These elaborately decorated masks are often used in ceremonial functions. Different styles of masks represent a number of things, and the paint used comes from natural sources.

Another common form of wood carving is in the form of evil spirits called shetani. These shetani (which is based on Swahili and Arabic words and related to the word Satan) are generally carved out of dark ebony wood and resembles some kind of swoopy animal-human hybrid. Many of these sculptures are tall and may contain symbols carved into them as well. 

They also had totem-like sculptures, similar to those of the native people of the Pacific Northwest of the US, Alaska, and Canada. Known as ujamaa, these sculptures contain faces that are carved into it and are often referred to as “family trees” because each face is tied to a story from generations on back.

Art has long been an instrument for describing the oppression during the last few decades of colonialism. After the country gained its independence, art continued to document the struggles to stand on their own and the trials and tribulations of civil war. Common themes included not only the civil war and political changes, but the economic depravities, starvation, and societal changes that took place because of all of this. It's not all bad, though. There are many painting celebrating their country, traditions, and culture. Two of the most well-known artists from Mozambique are Malangatana Ngwenya (painter, poet) and Alberto Chissano (sculptor).
Malangatana Ngwenya
Literature in Mozambique is primarily written in Portuguese, although there might be some literature written in other languages. There’s not a lot of information on literature written during the early colonial days. And I’m guessing not many of the indigenous languages had a written language. They are only written in Roman letters today because of the European influence in studying their languages. During the colonial period, the Mozambicans began to write about their oppression and struggles for independence. Politics and Mozambican/African identity are also common themes as well.
Mia Couto
One of the most famous writers from Mozambique is Mia Couto. A biologist by profession, Couto has won several awards and his works have been translated into a dozen languages. What’s surprising to some who analyze his works is that he breaks the mold of identity: a white man with a feminine name who is African.

Other writers of note include Paulina Chiziane (novels, short stories), José Craveirinha (poet, short stories, journalism), Lília Momplé (short stories), Eduardo Mondlane (academic, politician), Luis Bernardo Honwana (short stories), Ungulani Ba Ka Khosa (short stories, founder of magazine Charrua), Lina Magaia (journalist, novelist), Amélia Muge (lyricist, poet), Noémia de Sousa (poet), Marcelino dos Santos (poet), and Glória de Sant’Anna (poet).

Up next: music and dance

Sunday, November 13, 2016


“I like to spend some time in Mozambique / The sunny sky is aqua blue / And all the couples dancing cheek to cheek / It’s very nice to stay a week or two…” Bob Dylan sang those words in 1975 when Mozambique first gained its independence. It’s probably one of his lesser-known songs, but it’s one of my favorites. His romantic views certainly created a different view of this country than what most Americans probably saw or to say the least, expected from him.

The entire country is named after the tiny island called Moçambique, located south of the city of Nacala. It’s thought that it was named after an Arab trader who landed there before the Portuguese colonized it and set up their capital there before moving it to the current capital.

The country of Mozambique is located in the southeast corner of Africa. It’s surrounded by Tanzania to the north, Malawi to the northwest, Zimbabwe to the west, and a small border with Swaziland to the south. Across the Mozambique Channel is the island of Madagascar. I always think Madagascar looks like it was carved out of Mozambique, like they would fit together like jigsaw pieces. The Comoros Islands are off the northern coast of Mozambique. Generally, Mozambique has two seasons: rainy and dry. Rain amounts depend on the region and the altitude. 

The first people to come down here were part of the Bantu migration. They established agricultural communities here and brought with them practices like herding cattle. They also had figured out how to smelt and smith iron. Settlements began popping up along what was known as the Swahili Coast, which later became important stops in the trade routes between southern Africa and Arabia, Persia, India, and Portugal. Once the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama landed in southeastern Africa, he claimed it for Portugal and immediately set up trade posts. There were quite a bit of lucrative deals and slavery transactions between the Portuguese and Arab traders up until the 1700s. And while the Portuguese had control over much of the eastern seaboard of Africa, the Arabs pushed the Portuguese farther to the south. During the 1800s, European powers—namely the British, the French, and the Portuguese—continued to make strides in their involvement of the trade, commerce, and politics of southern Africa. Although slavery was technically abolished during the late 1800s, Portugal thought privatization would be the best way to administer their African holdings. So, instead of “slavery,” the people here were often forced to work in mines and other sectors and barely paid (if that). As policies were put in place to benefit the Portuguese population while practically ignoring the needs of its native population, talk of independence began to grow. The native Mozambicans began to form a guerilla response to the Portuguese. While tensions built up for nearly a decade, it culminated in 1975 with a military coup, and about a quarter of a million Portuguese left the country. In fact, they were forced to leave the country within 24 hours with only 44 lbs of luggage; most left so much of their assets and items that they returned rather broke. Things weren’t easy after independence: they were immediately involved in a civil war from 1977–1992. They held their first democratic elections in 1994. While those on the losing sides complained about the results throughout the years, it has generally went well. For the most part.

The capital city, Maputo, is located in the southernmost area of the country. Before independence, it was known as Lourenço Marques. It has about 1.7 million people, about the same as the Indianapolis metro area. Serving as a port city, it is also the center of commerce, government, education, and culture. Several movies have been filmed in Maputo like The Interpreter and Blood Diamond. There are also several sports venues, museums, theatres, parks, and markets that entertain locals and tourists alike. 

The vast majority of Mozambicans work in agriculture and fishing. Other economic drivers include energy, metallurgy, tourism, and transportation. After they gained their independence, the country went through some economic struggles, especially in response to the civil war that ensued along with weather-related problems that affected crop production. A few years ago, they replaced their currency with the New Metical, and through privatization of business from state-owned enterprises, Mozambique has went through a series of measures to try to strengthen their economy and move past recent corruption scandals.

A little more than half of Mozambicans identify with Christianity, thanks to the Portuguese influence. Roman Catholicism and various Protestant denominations are represented here. About 18% of the population follow Islam. Of the remaining people, roughly 19% don’t practice any particular beliefs or are not religious, and a smaller number of people belief in something else, including those who believe in animism. 

The official language is Portuguese, and most of the people who live in urban areas speak it as their first language. There are several other tribal languages spoken by significant portions of the population. The largest (spoken by nearly a quarter of the population) is eMakhuwa. There are several mutually intelligible languages and related dialects that are also spoken. Other languages include Swahili, Xichangana, eLomwe, CiSena, and eChuwabo. 

Mozambique’s coastal waters contain coral reefs with some of the world’s highest biodiversity. More than 1200 species of fish have been identified swimming off of the coast. Several endangered species of sea turtles call Mozambique’s coast their home. I guess there must be something in the water. And you know me—I love words. And I love word games. The word Mozambique is the highest scoring one-word country name you can use in the game of Scrabble, coming in at a whopping 34 points! It’s also one of those words that contain all five vowels. So, if you want to impress someone, you know what word to play.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, November 6, 2016


I had the best birthday and anniversary, and the kids had a good Halloween. I can’t believe it’s November already. But I tell you what – I’m ready for this election to be done and over. I’m sick of the phone calls from pollsters and having my newsfeed filled with craziness. Just let me know my fate already.
This was actually a fairly easy dinner to make. I should make this more often.
One other thing I’ve been looking forward to is this Moroccan meal. Ever since we named our cat Morocco, the kids have been asking when we’re getting to Morocco, and we’re finally here. The first thing I started with is making the main dish for the day: chicken tagine. It’s kind of a national dish from what I’ve read. I began by browning some eggplant and some boneless skinless chicken thighs together. I browned the chicken but didn’t cook it all the way through. Then I took the skillet off the heat. I placed the chicken and eggplant in my crockpot, layering it with some chopped onion and carrots, dried cranberries, and dried apricots. Finally, I mixed together my liquid mixture and poured it on top of the chicken: 2 c chicken broth, 2 Tbsp tomato paste, 2 Tbsp lemon juice, 2 Tbsp flour, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp salt, 1 ½ tsp cumin, 1 ½ tsp ginger, 1 tsp cinnamon, and ¾ tsp of black pepper. Once everything was stirred and mixed in the crockpot, I put it on low and covered it for the next 8 hours. Just before this was done, I made some instant couscous for this to be served on top of. This turned out really well. The chicken was so tender, it practically shredded on its own. And the fruit and the spices blended well enough so that neither was overpowering. I really liked this dish. And making it in the crockpot made for an easy dinner idea.

Since I have an extra loaf, I might make some chili to go with the other loaf. It would be perfect.
Next, I made the bread: khobz. Moroccan khobz bread is slightly different than other flatbreads in that it’s a little bit thicker. I mixed together 4 c of all-purpose flour, 2 tsp of salt, and 2 tsp of sugar. Then I made a well in the middle and poured in my yeast. (I actually had to pause just before this so I could run to the store for yeast. I could’ve sworn I had some! You know what they say about assuming, right?) On top of the yeast I threw in the well, I poured in 2 Tbsp of vegetable oil and 1 ¼ c of warm water. Working it with my fingers, I brought the dough together and kneaded it for nearly 10 minutes, adding in a little flour to keep it from being sticky. Then I divided it into two balls, covered it, and let it rest for 10 minutes. After this time, I flattened the balls until they were disks about ¼” - ½” thick, covering it again for about an hour or so. At this time, I put the bread loaves (that are on greased and floured baking sheets) into a 425ºF oven for about 20 minutes. I rotated the pan halfway through and kept an eye on how golden it was and whether it sounded hollow when I tapped on the bottom. Of course, as I was taking the loaves out and putting them on cooling racks, I realized I forgot to score the bread before putting them into the oven. But, no matter. It was still good. Because it is thicker and slightly denser, it makes for a great “dippin’ and soppin’” kind of bread.

The better to help you see, my dear.
I went with two side dishes for this meal. The first one was Moroccan Spicy Carrot Salad. In a small saucepan, I mixed together my carrots (I used a bag of frozen carrots), water, garlic, olive oil, paprika, cayenne pepper, salt, and black pepper. Bringing all of this to a boil, I let it cook down for about 20 minutes until the carrots were soft. Not all of the water had evaporated, so I drained most of it off. Then I stirred in my wine vinegar (all I had was red wine vinegar) and cumin and took it off the heat. Just before I served this, I garnished it with some chopped cilantro. I thought it was good, but I think it would have been better if I had used a different kind of vinegar. Perhaps either white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar instead. I don’t think I used enough cayenne pepper to make it spicy. It was more like a spice-ful carrot salad. 

Quite nearly perfect.
The second side dish I made was Moroccan pomegranate and roasted vegetable salad. In a bowl, I mixed together diced sweet potato, carrots, and a parsnip along with some ras-el-hanout (a spice mix that I had to make myself), olive oil, salt, and pepper. Once everything was evenly covered, I put it on a baking sheet that I put in a 400ºF oven for about 40 minutes. The vegetables should look like they’re starting to char. When the vegetables had cooled, I tossed them with some baby spinach, pomegranate seeds, feta cheese (I actually found feta cheese with peppercorns in it!), and some balsamic vinegar. I was supposed to add in some red onion to the roasting vegetables, but I forgot. So, I just diced up a little and added it into the mix at the end. This was clearly the winner of today’s meal. In fact, I am thinking of bringing this to Thanksgiving in a couple of weeks. The sweet-sour of the pomegranate seeds and the spices on the roasted vegetables along with the creaminess of the feta cheese and the sweet acidity of the balsamic vinegar made this absolutely wonderful.

Overall, I give this meal an A!
This meal taught me one thing: stop assuming that I know what’s in my refrigerator and cabinets. I swear, every time I sit down and make up my grocery list for the ingredients in my recipes, I think to myself, “Do I have [whatever ingredient]? I think I still have some left.” Do I actually get up and check? No. Do I check to see if I even have enough for what I’m doing? Absolutely not. And then when I get to cooking, I search through the refrigerator or cabinet to find I either don’t have some ingredient like I thought I did or I don’t have enough. Thus, the trip to the store with flour in my hair and/or face and my mismatched clothes that I usually wear when I cook. I want to tell people, “I’m not white trash; I’m just a cook who forgets things.” These are the things life is made of, I suppose.

Up next: Mozambique

Saturday, November 5, 2016


There’s no doubt that Morocco is a multi-ethnic country, from both a historical stance and a cultural stance. Their traditional music is multi-faceted, and the different ethnic groups have their own varieties and variations of their music. 

Andalusian music (music of Andalusia, or Muslim Iberia [Spain and Portugal]) is a mix of the music of the Maghreb with the music of Iberia. Other popular styles of traditional music include Berber music, Sufi music, mystical Gnawa music, Chaabi music, and classical Malhun music. Some of the differences between these different styles include whether it’s for a religious or spiritual purpose or who performs it or what function the music is for.

While there are certainly differences between the various styles of music, some instruments are used throughout the region. Vocal music is still at the heart of their music. Instruments such as the rabab (like a fiddle), oud (lute), qanun (zither), tambourine, kamenjah (like a fiddle that is played upright held by the knees), darbuka (type of goblet drum, usually made of metal or pottery), handwa (small, brass cymbals), swisen (small folk-lute that is typically pitched higher; there’s also a bass version called a hadjouj), and the garagb (metal castinets) among others.

And like the diversity you find in their music, each ethnic group has their own dance as well. A few of the more common dances from Morocco include the shikat (belly dancing), ahwash (danced in the High Atlas Mountains, where women dance to a circle of male drummers), guedra (a type of Tuareg Berber dance performed by women), and the gnaoua (performed by men to drive out spirits, typically danced with acrobatic moves). 

And certainly as they moved forward into independence and the latter half of the 20th century, their music was influenced by European and American music along with other areas of Africa and the Middle East.  The first one I sampled was the music of Cheb Mimoun. There are several Moroccan musicians who perform their own version of rai music, a style of music far more popular in neighboring Algeria. The music uses some traditional instruments mixed with some modern ones. I think the rhythms drive the music—not just in the percussion lines but in the instrumentals as well.

Hanino is another musician who falls into this rai music genre as well, but to me, it’s a little more modernized. There are times when I swear he’s using autotune. There’s something I like about this, though. 

There is also a huge hip-hop scene in Morocco. For the most part, they base their style off of American-style hip-hop. I first listened to Dizzy Dros. The music is catchy and the change ups are spaced well. I liked his rhythm and flow; his voice reminded me a little of Cypress Hill in a way at times, except that he was rapping in Arabic with some phrases in English mixed in. I listened to the album 3azzy 3ando Stylo, and what impressed me was that the album was long—it had 21 songs!

Another big name in Moroccan hip-hop is Muslim. His style wasn’t too much different than that of Dizzy Dros, although, I think sometimes he integrated traditional melodies into his music. The way he raps was a little more dark, maybe more gangsta? I don't know. I liked what I heard, though; I saw he collaborates with quite a few other artists. 

I also came across a Moroccan rock band called Lazywall. Most of their songs are sung in English, and I think they’re great. Their style is an early-to-mid 2000s-style alternative rock, kind of similar to Audioslave. Ok, I am actually pretty damn impressed with them. In fact, I followed them on Spotify just so I can listen to them later in the car. They might be my new favorite band of the day. 

There are other genres represented in Morocco as well. One Moroccan DJ and singer, who goes by the name Dub Afrika, has a few songs that are pretty catchy in the dance/club category. There’s also a small metal scene; I listened to a song by the band Sakadoya called “Back to the Age of Slaves.” It’s pretty metal in every sense. While everyone knows by now that I’m not such a fan of screaming in music (I do have my moods and moments where I don’t mind it), their instrumental playing is on point.

Up next: the food

Wednesday, November 2, 2016


Much of Morocco’s art is a blend of indigenous Berber traditions with Spanish, French, Andalusian, Arab, and Jewish. Their craftwork includes jewelry (gold, silver, beadwork), textiles, leatherwork, and other mediums that blend art with functionality

Architecture here can vary across many styles based on when it was built and whose style it was based on. Because of its location and historical heritage, buildings can range in a number of styles and ornamentation. The first major foreign influence was Islam. They introduced tiling, geometric patterns, fountains, elaborately decorated doorways, and of course mosques. The Spanish also introduced arches (although I thought that arches were part of Islamic architecture as well, but maybe these are archier or something), tile roofs, and gardens. When the French moved into Morocco, they further changed the cityscape. They required buildings to be no more than four stories tall, regulated that balconies can’t overlook into someone else’s home (that seems fair), and required that at least 20% of the residential property be devoted to garden or courtyard. Although colors and materials may vary, woodwork and ceramic work seems to span all styles. 

From the outsides of the home to the insides, color and geometric design dominates Moroccan art. Intricate wood carving techniques are passed down from generation to generation. With these skills, people carve furniture, tools, and utensils. Ceramics, such as ornamentation and bowls, are often created and painted in a number of colors and designs. They’re also known for their brightly colored woven carpets, utilizing many colors and geometric designs.

The art scene in Morocco today is among some of the leading displays of African art. Art galleries dot the country, and all of the major cities hold their own art festivals throughout the year, sometimes multiple times a year. Moroccan artists have not only excelled in art shows and exhibitions in Morocco but many artists have showcased their work across Africa, Europe, and the Americas. 

The literature of Morocco is written in many languages, from Berber and Moroccan Arabic to colonial languages such as French and Spanish. And really from about 1000-1900, poetry is one of the main styles of literature. Much of the early poetry was centered around court life and historical writing. As mosques began popping up across the country, they also served as a sort of de facto library, housing numerous manuscripts and book stops for the people in the community.

One of the most important developments in literature is tied to the city of Fez. During the 12th century, the world’s first university was the University of Fez, and it had a great impact in not only writing and developing a literary society but also teaching younger generations how to continue their efforts.
Ahmed ibn Nasir's travelogue
Starting from about the 16th–19thcenturies, a number of other genres were also introduced during this time. Travelogues like the rihla (an Islamic journey) written by the Ahmed ibn Nasir were pretty common along with other religious writings. Biographies, historical writings, songs, and other styles were also written during this time.
Mohammed al-Mokhtar Soussi
The 20th century brought forth many changes, not only in their literature but also in a socio-political sense as well. Mohammed Ben Brahim was part of the first generation of writers who was prolific during the decades they were part of the French Protectorate. A second generation of writers such as Mohammed al-Mokhtar Soussi, Abdelkrim Ghallab, and Allal al-Fassi helped push the transition between occupation and becoming independent. After Morocco gained its independence, a third generation of writers emerged and further impacted their literary scene. Writing in a number of mediums—novels, plays, poetry, journalistic works—modern writers during the 1960s and 1970s pushed the boundaries of what was literature and certainly pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable.

Peter Orlovsky, left, Jack Kerouac, and William S. Burroughs (fully clothed)
The 1950s and 1960s were also a time when many American and European writers were flocking to Morocco as an escape and “sabbatical.” Perhaps it was the sun, the Mediterranean climate, or the food, but quite a few writers spent time in Morocco working on their writing: Jack Kerouac, William S Burroughs, Tennessee Williams, Brion Gysin, and Paul Bowles just to name a few.

Up next: music and dance