Friday, August 31, 2018


It’s been a busy month getting the kids off to a new school year. My daughter started middle school this year, which has a 7am drop-off time. So, she and I have been struggling with this early wake-up time. I feel like I’ve been a zombie for the past few weeks. But both kids are doing well and adjusting – both have been picked as Top Five Students of the Week for each of their grades. So, I suppose they’re getting off to a good start. 

This dish was fantastic! Definitely had a fan club.

And it’s taken me a while to cook the food from Sierra Leone (mostly because we’re trying to fix up our house to move into, so all of our extra money has been pouring into floors and cabinets lately). But here we are finally. I divided this cooking between two days. The first dish I made was West African Plasas, or Chicken in Peanut, Spinach, and Tomato Sauce. I got out my large pot and heated up some oil in it. I added in my chicken thighs (with the bones and skins on them) to brown them on all sides. When they were browned, I took them out and put them on a plate off to the side. In the same pot, I added a touch more oil before caramelizing my onions and then adding in 2 cans of tomatoes, a can of tomato paste, a thawed and drained package of frozen spinach, 1/3 c of peanut butter, a vegetable bouillon cube, a little salt and pepper, and a cup of chicken broth. Once it comes to a simmer again, I added my chicken back into the pot and pushed it down into the sauce, covering it some. I covered my pot and turned my heat down low, letting it simmer for another 20-30 minutes. I served this on top of rice. I really liked this, even though I couldn’t really taste any of the peanut butter at all. And I got quite a few compliments from people at work when I took it as leftovers. 

I normally love banana bread, but this needed a little something more.
The bread I made was Rice Bread (slightly different than the one I made for Liberia). I started by mashing six kinda ripe bananas in a bowl until it was like a lumpy pudding. Then I slowly added in 1 ½ c of rice flour (I used white rice flour) into the bananas. After stirring to avoid lumps, I slowly poured in almost a cup of sugar, stirring it well again (the riper the banana, the more sugar it makes naturally; since mine weren’t as ripe, I added more sugar). Finally, I added in 2 tsp grated nutmeg, ¼ tsp of cinnamon, and 3 oz (6 Tbsp) of vegetable oil and stirred again. Once I gave it another couple of good stirs to make sure everything was smooth and consistent, I poured it into one of my baking pans (I oiled it beforehand). I couldn’t find my loaf pan, so I had to use a different one. No worries. Setting my oven to 350ºF, I baked this for about 60 minutes. It didn’t seem quite done, so I put it back in for a little longer. I really liked the flavor of the nutmeg with it, but the slightly gooey texture kept making me think it wasn’t done.  

Although everyone thought the mild sausage too spicy, I liked this dish.
The final dish I made was Egusi Soup. I started by browning some mild sausage (the recipe says “meat” – no clue as to what kind; I imagine it’s whatever’s on hand). In a separate bowl, I mixed together a half can of diced green chilies (if you want heat, use some hotter peppers), a half can of diced tomatoes, and about a quarter of a diced onion. Then I took mashed them all together with my pestle and added it to the sausage, letting it simmer for 10 minutes or so. I didn’t have time to look for egusi at the international store, but I did have a small bag of walnuts that I ground up. Not a perfect substitute, but it added a nice flavor. Then I added in my ground “egusi,” a condensed stock cube (in lieu of a Maggi cube – those things are full of MSG), and a tin of smoked salmon. After a few minutes, I added in some spinach leaves and a bit of salt and pepper, simmering for another 5-10 minutes. I could’ve actually left out the salt completely. I served this with some steamed white rice. I was skeptical about the salmon-sausage-walnut combo, but you know what? It was quite tasty! Outside of being a little bit oily, I thought it was fantastic. The rest of my family thought it was too peppery. (Wimps.)

Pictures or it didn't happen. He actually ate part of my food... and liked it.
It took me a while to complete this one, but it got done. I'm not used to having to cook during the week. And even though sometimes I'm grateful for a break, it actually made me a little stir crazy to NOT be cooking something exotic in the kitchen for a while. (My husband probably enjoyed that part. Just kidding -- if you ask him, he'll deny it, but then give you "that look.") All in all, I think everyone enjoyed this meal, even if it was spread out over a couple of days. And oddly enough, I kept running into articles, books, organizations, and people with ties to Sierra Leone.

Up next: Singapore

Saturday, August 11, 2018


The music of Sierra Leone shares many similarities with other West African countries. It is made of their own native traditions mixed with elements of French, British, Creole, and Caribbean music. A variety of percussion instruments (including different kinds of drums and rattles), acoustic guitars and a number of other modern instruments are used in their music today. Not to mention many styles of vocal singing. 

During the 1950s and 1960s, Ebenezer Calendar & His Maringar Band borrowed the parts of calypso and other Caribbean musical styles to create maringa, or what is also known as palm wine music in nearby Liberia. It grew out of the music people made when they sat around drinking palm wine and a few people would grab their guitars. It gave way to influencing the soukous and highlife styles.

Gumbe is a style that was introduced by the Jamaican maroons when they arrived. The music is centered around the gembe, a large drum with legs. While the drum has some spiritual uses, it has a stronger tradition of being used as a method of communication, stemmed in a history of sending messages to fight the British.

Other pan-African styles are also heard in Sierra Leone. Out of combining several different genres including funk, soul, rumba, the style known as Afropop was born. And many musicians created their own styles and variations off of that. Many modern genres likes pop, dancehall, reggae, rap, R&B, jazz, and a mainly British style called grime (an electronic form that mixes in rap, reggae, and related styles.)

There are three main dance styles are have been popularized in the 20th century: Asiko (or Ashiko), Maringa, and Milo jazz. Gumbe music has a lot to do with their dances and is played as accompaniment to it. Each ethnic group has their own dances. One of the more popular dances in Sierra Leone is the Devil Dance. The people here don’t view devils as the evil entity that most Westerners do. It’s more of a visible representation of secret societies and their leaders. Graham Green wrote about devils and the devil dance as he made his way across Sierra Leone in his book Journey Without Maps.

I only listened to a few musicians/bands from Sierra Leone. The first one I listened to was African Connection. They had a great funk sound to them – I was really digging it. It was complete with the bass and a horn line, but I think I definitely heard some African-influenced percussion rhythms at times. I super liked these guys.

Next on my list was Seydu. I listened to the album Sadaka, and I thought it was very relaxing, very chill. He utilizes the acoustic guitar sound quite a bit along with using African rhythms to accentuate the movement of his music.

The music of Abdul Tee-Jay reminds me of what I think of when I think of African music. I’m not sure exactly what it is: the guitars they use, the rhythms and melody lines, the horn lines that answer each other, the lyrics that I don’t quite understand. But there’s something happy about it, though.

In a way, the music of Bosca Banks reminds me a little of Abdul Tee-Jay, but with more modern, synthesized sounds to it. Not to mention that Bosca Banks sings mostly in English, compared to most of the other musicians I listened to sing in other languages.

Up next: the food

Sunday, August 5, 2018


Sierra Leone has many ethnic groups living within its borders, and everyone offers their own perspective on some common ubiquitous art forms. Carving is a common style of art found here, and most commonly found using ivory, stone, or wood.
There are certain regional styles, such as use of color, patterns, or technique. Common wood-carved pieces include masks and figurines used for ceremonial or spiritual purposes. Stone carvings were a tradition of the Temne people; many were lost and/or destroyed by the Mende people when they took over the Temne lands. (Nice job, guys.)

In light of Ramadan, there were quite a few lantern contests where people would make wooden lanterns and float them down the river. Many of them were designed to look like landmarks, people, animals, or supernatural beings. Although it pretty much ended when the civil war broke out, there are some people who have tried to bring back the tradition.
By Mudiama Kammoh
When many countries gain their independence (or starting the uprisings leading up to it), there is usually a surge in a patriotic or national art movement. However, Sierra Leone didn’t really go through that during the 1950s and 1960s when they gained their independence. Their movement came during the civil war of the 1990s when youth artists began to paint national and patriotic themes and leaders during that time.
By Louise Metzger
Some of the more well known artists include Cam Coker, Louise Metzger, Alusine Bangura, Mudiama Kammoh, Tarawali Tarazadio, Kwame Haleston, and Alphonso Lisk-Carew.

Literature is typically written in English. There was quite a thriving literary scene before the civil war took place, which pretty much went underground or stopped completely. Except perhaps for some journalistic works, or works from those who fled the country and wrote from abroad. As the country healed from nearly a decade of turmoil, literature and publications have been slow to pick up. But it has picked up, as people wrote about their country and their experiences as a way to heal themselves. Civil War literature and children’s literature have both increased in readership and publication since the end of the war through the publishing efforts and support by organizations like PEN International.

Some of the main authors from Sierra Leone include Eustace Palmer (professor, author, literary critic), Wilfred “Freddy Will” Kanu Jr (author, hip-hop recording artist), Karamoh Kabba (novelist), Adelaide Casely Hayford (feminist, public speaker, started a girls school, short story author), Gladys Casely Hayford (poet, playwright, musician, teacher, daughter of Adalaide Casely Hayford), Syl Cheney-Coker (poet, novelist, journalist, editor), Winston Forde (novelist, playwright), Elvis Gbanabom Hallowell (poet, storyteller), Ambrose Massaquoi (poet, short stories), Lucilda Hunter (novelist, librarian), Shiekh Umarr Kamarah (poet, linguist, professor), and Dr Siaka Kroma (novelist, professor).

Up next: music and dance