Wednesday, January 30, 2019


Sri Lanka has always stood out to me for one reason but probably not the reason you think. I was always conscious of key aspects of linguistics, but didn’t even know linguistics was a thing until I was in college – and then I minored in it. But as a kid I noticed that the initial “sr” combination was not one that is typically found in English. So, naturally it stuck out to me. The only other place I’ve seen that combination is in the word “sriracha.”

Sigiriya Rock

This island has went by many names, depending on who was talking about it: the first King of Sri Lanka named it Tambapanni (“copper-red earth”) while Hindu mythology just referred to it as Lanka (“island”) and the Tamil term was Eelam. The Greeks called it Taprobana, and the Persians and Arabs referred to it as Cerentivu. When the Portuguese arrived, they called it Ceilão, which in turn became Ceylon by the British. It didn’t change to the Sinhalese name Sri Lanka until the 1970s.

Sri Lanka is a tear drop-shaped island off the southern coast of India. I also think it looks like an avocado. It’s separated from India by the Palk Strait. The Bay of Bengal is to the east of the island, the Indian Ocean to the south, and the Laccadive Sea to the west. There’s only about 18 miles between Sri Lanka and Indian mainland, and there may have been a land bridge between the two at one time. The climate is generally tropical, but it also varies depending on your altitude. They do get quite a bit of monsoon winds and rainfall to go with it.

Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi tree
The first people arrived on the island about 37,000 years ago. The Sinhalese generally start their history at 543BC when Prince Vijaya brought 700 of his biggest fans with him to the island. Buddhism spread to Sri Lanka, and the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi tree, considered one of the oldest human-planted trees in the world, is also thought to have come from the same tree Buddha became enlightened under. It wasn’t all peaceful though: Sri Lanka would be attacked multiple times by its neighbors. However, they would also become the first Asian country to have a woman as head of state (woo-hoo!). Ancient Sri Lanka held close ties to the Roman Empire, built the first dedicated hospital, and traded cinnamon as a major export. During the 1100s, Sri Lanka began to build an extensive irrigation system, bringing Sri Lanka to a peak in power. Sri Lankans spent much of the time between 1200-1500 fighting the Indians and the Chinese. And then the Portuguese arrived during the 1500s and built the city of Colombo. A century later, the Dutch came to the party, and by party, I mean fighting with the Portuguese and kicking them out so they could set up the Dutch East India Company. A mixed ethnic group between Europeans and Sri Lankans emerged called Burghers during this time. A kingdom centered in the central city of Kandy was the last independent kingdom to hold its own before being taken over by European colonialism. Fearing the French, the British moved in on Sri Lanka with their British East India Company and promoted the coffee industry. The British introduced several changes to their social structure during the 1800s and into the 1900s. But Sri Lanka finally declared its independence in 1948. The first few decades saw quite a bit of political unrest and tension, including an attempted coup in 1962. Things started stepping off during the mid-1970s when the LTTE (a Tamil militant group who wanted to create a Tamil state in the northern part of the country) became active, leading to a civil war that lasted from 1983-2009. It’s been estimated that nearly 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the war. However, now that the war is over, their economy has emerged as one of the fastest growing in the world.

I grew up knowing the capital as Colombo, yet when I was putting my list of countries together, I found it listed as Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte. I mean, I realize this is the administrative capital while Colombo remains the commercial capital, but couldn’t they have picked a city with a shorter name? Like, pick one. Pretty sure that all of them are shorter. Luckily, most people just call this suburb of Colombo simply Kotte. Colombo served as the capital city until 1978 when part of the offices moved to Kotte. This city is now a modern city, yet it was designed to keep people out by building a moat and rampart around it. With about 5 million people in the metro area, this diverse area has several schools and universities, sports venues (association football and cricket are especially popular here, but so is volleyball), large corporate offices, government offices, theatres, museums, and shopping.

Sri Lanka has one of the stronger economies in Asia, coming in second to the Maldives in terms of per capita income. Traditionally, they were known for their exports in cinnamon, tea (the famous Ceylon tea), coffee, sugar, and rubber. And with this stronger economy, they have a higher Human Development Index to go with it as well. Currently, Sri Lanka is working to strengthen their infrastructure and expand their markets into telecommunications, finance, and science-based technologies. They’re even working toward their own space program, or at least in coordination with other existing programs.

Because of its geography and history, there are quite a few religions practiced in Sri Lanka. The largest one is Buddhism, and the Theravada form is the most common. Nearly three-quarters of the population are Buddhists. Hinduism is present, which makes sense considering its proximity to India. Islam was introduced by Arab traders, and mostly of the Sunni variety. There is a smaller number of Christians, mostly Catholics and Anglicans with a few Protestants mixed in for good measure.

Sri Lanka has two official languages: Tamil and Sinhalese (sometimes called Sinhala). English is also used as a lingua franca and the language of commerce, science, and education. A Portuguese Creole that’s mixed with Dutch is used in the Burgher communities. There are some Malay communities on the island that use a Malay Creole.

I've been teaching myself calligraphy, and I like this one.
I love finding out word origins. One word that entered the English language has ties to Sri Lanka: serendipity. The word itself means an unplanned fortunate discovery, or as Bob Ross put it, “We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents.” Horace Walpole, a British writer and politician, coined the word in 1754 in reference to one of the island’s former names (as given by the Persian and Arab traders), Serendip. What it specifically was in reference to was a fairy tale about three princes from Serendip who always discovered new things when they weren’t looking for it. I often feel that way in a used bookstores or libraries.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, January 20, 2019


Well, we are definitely in winter now. Last weekend, we had several inches of snow, and then yesterday we got more snow (this time with ice!). Oh, but now we also have frigid temperatures, too! I totally love living where my face hurts. Ugh. Actually, winter has been so mild so far, that even though I hate snow and cold temp, I also don’t want a plague of fleas in the spring.

Maybe it didn't turn out like it was supposed to, but it was still amazing.
But what better way to spend the afternoon staying in from the cold is with the comfort foods of Spain. The first thing I made was the bread: Pan de Aceite. This actually took way longer than I remembered I should’ve planned for. I had to get up early to make the sourdough starter for this bread: I mixed the yeast, sugar, and ¼ c of warm water in a bowl and let it sit for 10 minutes or so. Then I added in another cup plus 2 Tbsp of water to the bowl along with 2 ½ c of all-purpose flour and ¾ c of rye (I used whole grain rye instead of dark rye). I mixed it until everything started to roughly come together, putting some plastic wrap on it and letting it rest for about 30 minutes. When this time was up, I put a little oil in the bowl and 2 Tbsp of olive oil on the dough and mixed everything together. I didn’t get my hand mixer out since it’s not necessarily geared toward bread, but I did kneed it for several minutes before wrapping it tightly in plastic wrap and placing it in the fridge for the next six hours. After the six hours were up, I took it out and cut it into 6 even pieces and rolled them into balls. I grabbed a baking sheet and put some olive oil in the pan, placing the dough balls on the pan, rolling it in the oil to coat them well. I put the baking sheet in the oven (not turned on) to rest for 45 minutes. Mine didn’t rise very much at all, but I took the baking sheets out (preheating my oven to 450ºF at this time) and flattened them slightly, dimpling them with my fingers before I sprinkled a little sea salt and chopped rosemary and thyme on top. Drizzling it with a little more olive oil, I placed both baking sheets back into the oven when it was hot and let it bake for 8 minutes. Then I dialed up the heat to about 500ºF for another 12 minutes. It didn’t get as large a crumb as focaccia does, and maybe I should’ve left it in the oven for a few more minutes. However, it was quite tasty and aromatic, maybe a little salty though.

This was really good and probably healthy for you. Even my zucchini and eggplant hating husband ate some.
My main dish today is Pisto. I didn’t want to do paella because it’s so iconic and everyone seems to do it. I also didn’t want to do gazpacho because it’s more of a summer dish. So, this seemed to be the perfect dish. First I cut all my vegetables: zucchini, red and green bell peppers, onions, and eggplant. I did sprinkle some sea salt on the eggplant. I grabbed two pots: I threw my onions and peppers with a little salt in one pot and sautéed them until the onions were translucent, and then took them out and put them in a bowl. In the other, I added the eggplant and the zucchini and sautéed them together. When these were done, I added them to the bowl with the onions and peppers. Now I added in my spices: a little salt and pepper, cumin, and a pinch of thyme, and rosemary. I added in a pinch of crushed red pepper instead of using whole cayenne peppers and made sure everything was mixed well. In one of the skillets, I heated a little oil and sautéed the minced garlic before adding in a couple cans of diced tomatoes. I let this simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring in sugar and salt to the mix. After the sauce has simmered for the 15 minutes, I added all my veggies back into the sauce and stirred, letting it cook down for another 10 minutes or so. I topped it with some slices of Manchego cheese (and so grateful that Aldi had Manchego cheese! Aldi is the best!). Even though Manchego cheese is a hard cheese, the heat from the dish softened it up a bit and added a nice flavor to it. Some people eat this with a fried egg served on top (which I almost did). I think the only thing I might do differently is serve this with rice.

My hands-down favorite part of the meal.
To go with this, I made something that’s generally accepted as one of the ultimate tapas dishes: Croquetas. I wasn’t able to get the famous Jamón ibérico, which is somewhat similar to Italian prosciutto but not quite the same. So, I used whatever diced ham the John Morrell brand uses. I heated the oil and butter in a sauce pan and added some diced scallions (I couldn’t find leeks thanks to the snowstorm), then I added in most of the ham. I turned down the heat and added in a little flour and stirred. After about 8 minutes, I slowly poured in some hot milk and stirred until it was a smooth paste like instant mashed potatoes. Then I added in the rest of the ham, a little nutmeg and black pepper. I put this in a bowl, covered it in plastic wrap, and allowed it to cool in the fridge for 2 hours. In small bowls, I put some of the panko breadcrumbs with some of the manchego cheese that I grated and a couple of beaten eggs in the other bowl. When the mix was ready, I spooned out a bit and formed it into a rough cylinder shape, dipping it into the eggs, then the cheesy breadcrumbs, and into a skillet with heated oil to fry until they were completely golden browned. This is amazing. Nearly perfect. I really loved this. I think they’re right: there’s a reason why croquetas keep coming up in searches for Spanish food.

I loved all of this. And now I have a new favorite cheese.
I was going to make some Sangria, but I just ran out of time. I mean, I’ve bought pre-made Sangria before, but I thought it’d be fun to try to make my own. I did buy some Spanish wine, though. I found one called Pensador (The Thinker). Spanish wine doesn’t play. I drank a full glass of it and felt it the next day. (Or maybe I’m just pushing 40.) I loved this meal. And the music. And the art. And Spanish poetry. And the rhythms of their dance. And maybe I’ll be fortunate enough to experience it in person one day.

Up next: Sri Lanka

Saturday, January 19, 2019


When people think of Spanish music, typically thoughts of Spanish classical guitar and flamenco probably come to mind. And while you wouldn't be wrong with that, but those styles only scratch the surface of what music Spain has to offer. And as diverse as Spain is, it can certainly vary from region to region, too. You also have to look at its history: every time a different group moved into the area, they introduced instruments and musical styles that stuck to their culture like cat hair on masking tape.

Early on, the music in this area was generally a mix of Roman style (that they borrowed from the Greeks), the Visigoths (a Germanic group who borrowed a lot from the Romans), and the Moors from North Africa. During the Renaissance and the Baroque periods, many Spanish composers traveled abroad to France, Germany, Italy, and other countries to study music and composition and then returned home. Classical guitar method books were also published for the first time.

Classical music basically had its "laid on the couch all weekend" moment during the 17th and 18th centuries. Very little was done, although a few Italian composers were appointed to write for the Madrid court, including one of my all-time favorites, Domenico Scarlatti. (I can definitely see a Spanish influence in some of his pieces.) However, during the 19th century, Spanish composers took a different focus than composers of other countries. They developed their own type of secular-based opera called zarzuela, and many composers really focused on this as a genre. Generally, Spanish composers moved away from the symphonic ensemble in preference toward chamber groups and solo instrumental music. Guitar music and piano music flourished during this time, and composers like Enrique Granados and Isaac Albéniz were and still are widely popular in classical music. I've always wondered why Spanish classical music never seems to really be included in Western classical music studies, and even James Michener wondered this himself in his book Iberia

Yes, those are bagpipes. They're especially used in Galician gaita music.
Acoustic guitars are especially important to traditional Spanish music. However, music styles can vary depending on which region of Spain you’re in. Even at that, the main instruments you’ll probably hear besides guitars and other guitar-like instruments are castanets, tambourines, a variety of flutes, bagpipes (yes, you read that right), other various drums, fiddle, and accordions.

Quite a few dances originate from Spain, and many are tied to regional music styles. Probably one of the most famous dances from Spain is flamenco and has its roots in Andalusia. Aragon is most noted for its dance, the jota, which is a type of stick dance. In the Basque country, not only do you find the jota dance, but the fandango dance (this was mentioned in Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”). Other dances include the rumba and the bolero.

Enrique Granados at the piano
There are so many musicians from Spain that it was hard to give a fair listen, but I did take a quick listen to several. First of all, I took a listen to some classical music. The first one I listened to was some guitar works by Manuel de Falla. I really enjoyed listening to this. I’ve always love classical guitar and wished I could play. I bought a mandolin several years ago and tried to teach myself, but my pianist hands just won’t cooperate. The next one I listened to was Enrique Granados. I have some excerpts from some of his piano stuff. I wouldn’t mind having more of his stuff in sheet music. Isaac Albéniz is another who writes a lot of piano music that I may have to look up, too.

Enrique Iglesias
I listened to Enrique Iglesias, who I really liked in the 1990s/2000s. Man, did some of this music bring me back. (His father is the famous Julio Iglesias.) Lauded as the King of Latin Pop, it’s no wonder that he is still popular after a couple of decades of being on the scene. He’s put out albums in both English and Spanish. Another musician who excelled at the ballad is Alejandro Sanz.

Manu Chao
 And even though Manu Chao is from France, he was originally from Spain and his parents left Spain during Franco’s regime. So for that reason, I’m including him here. I’ve been a huge fan of his music for many years. And what’s impressive is that he sings in Spanish, French, English, Portuguese, and a few others languages get thrown in as well.

Amaia Montero
In the pop category, I listened to Amaia Montero. She kind of reminded me a little of Colombia’s Fanny Lu. She uses the acoustic guitar a lot, and I appreciates that when she belts out, it’s not distorted like some singers get. I also listened to Ana Torroja. She was once part of Mecano, one of the most successful bands from Spain during the 1980s and 1990s. Natalia Jiménez is another pop singer I listened to. Her music seems to utilize more of a traditional sound to it.

La Oreja de Van Gogh
When it came to rock bands, I listened to a few: La Oreja de Van Gogh caught my eye because it means “The ear of Van Gogh,” which I thought was funny. But their music is pretty catchy. It’s more of an indie rock style. Mägo de Oz is a harder rock band, bordering on Celtic metal punk on some songs and folk rock on others. October People is another band that’s more on the indie rock side of things. They remind me a little of 1980s new wave rock. I like their name because I’m an October People (b. Oct. 28). And while definitely rock, Extremoduro seems to blend in a little blues into their rock at times. Despite its name, Warcry is not as hard as their name leads you to think it is. Their music seems like it falls under the rock ballads genre. One band I listened to solely because I think their name came from the Beatles song of the same name: Sexy Sadie. I really like their style, which is more of a 1990s pop rock. And they sing in English.

Mala Rodriguez
I’ve waited years to talk about one of my favorite musicians: Mala Rodiguez. I have a weak spot for female rappers, and Mala does not disappoint. I have three of her albums. Another hip-hop group I listened to was Violadores del Verso. I’d say they tend to be a little more minimalist on the instrumentals (but not always), but it’s still catchy. And I really liked listening to Due Kie. Their music seems to mix EDM, rock, and hip-hop. There’s a lot going on, but I like it.

Up next: the food

Thursday, January 17, 2019


Many books and movies have been written about Spain, and it's hard to talk about Spain without its art and culture. Many of its artists have become so iconic in the realm of art history that their works have become staples in art studies.

The earliest people in Spain left behind many cave paintings spread across Spain and Portugal. And there are still many sculptures and structures built showing the Greek, Phoenician, and Roman influences. As the North African Muslims took over, art began to reflect this change, and there are many examples of Islamic architecture still around today. Islamic designs and architecture dominated many of the previous structures. Even smaller works like pottery and ivory carvings reflected this. As Spain returned to Christianity, their art generally fell in line with what was happening in Italy, France, and Germany. Fresco paintings, panel paintings, and altar frontals are all commonly painted during the pre-Renaissance era.

by El Greco
The Renaissance brought along more dramatic uses of Mannerism with the focus on light and dark (chiaroscuro) that Italy had jumped on as well. During this time, Spain saw its Golden Age, a time of quite a bit of development in its art. One of the biggest names from this time period is a painter known by his nickname, El Greco ("The Greek"). As Spain pushed through the 1600s and 1700s, artists like Diego Velázquez, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, and Francisco Goya.

by Pablo Picasso
Spanish artists during the 19th century generally followed the art movements popular in Europe: Neo-Classicism (like José de Madrazo), Romanticism (Antonio Gisbert, Eduardo Rosales, Francisco Pradilla), Realism (Mariano Fortuny), and Impressionism (Joaquín Sorolla). The 20th century introduced several key artists to the world in a number of genres: Pablo Picasso (Cubism - most famous for his Blue Period paintings, Guernica, and Three Musicians), Salvador Dalí (Surrealism -- I'm a huge fan -- most famous for his bent clocks in The Persistence of Memory), and Joan Miró (Surrealism, Dada, experimental/abstract).
by Salvador Dali
The vast majority of literature from Spain is written in Spanish, although there are smaller numbers of works in Catalan or other languages. The oldest evidence of literature from Spain is “El Cantar de mio Cid,” an epic poem from the 14th century about the true story of the hero El Cid during the times when the Spanish were expelling the Moors. Probably one of the most well-known contributors to Spanish literature is the Baroque author Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. He introduced the world to Don Quixote de la Mancha. The 18th century brought the Enlightenment period of literature, a transitional period between the Baroque and the Romantic period. Prose and lyric poetry still dominated with authors like José Cadalso, Tomás de Iriarte, and Ramón de la Cruz. Realism took us up to the 20th century, which was characterized by looking at the psychology of the characters as they faced conflicts. Authors like Benito Pérez Galdós, Emilia Pardo Bazán, and Vicente Blasco Ibáñez are still read today.

The 20th century had several waves of authors emerging with a particular style and focus, but mostly addressing issues that were important to them as they watched their country’s political and social dynamics change. Censorship was high during the Franco regime as he cherry-picked literature that would appease his self-centered and singular worldview, but really provided nothing of major literary significance emerged (that’s what it’s like for writers when you cramp their style). There have been five Spanish authors graced with the honor of being the Nobel Prize winner in Literature: José Echegaray (1904, drama), Jacinto Benavente (1922, drama), Juan Ramón Jiménez (1956, poetry), Vicente Aleixandre (1977, poetry), and Camilo José Cela (1989, novel/short story).

Up next: music and dance

Monday, January 14, 2019


I’ve had an interest in Spain for quite a while. And my kids go to a Spanish immersion magnet elementary school (well, my daughter finished and is now in middle school). Their math and science classes are taught in Spanish, and most of their Spanish teachers come from Spain. (However, I think most of the Hispanic students who attend are from Latin America.) A few years ago, I read James Michener’s Iberia, which gave a history of many of the key areas around Spain.

The Spanish name for the country, España, is a little unclear on its origin but is generally thought to have stemmed from some kind of Phoenician or even some Greek-influenced one. There are quite a few theories out there, and everyone probably thinks theirs is the right one. 

Spain is located in the southwest corner of Europe, on the Iberian Peninsula. It’s bordered by Portugal to the west and France to the north. The country of Andorra lies in the Pyrenees between Spain and France, while the British territory of Gibraltar (where the famous Rock of Gibraltar is) lies on the opposite end of the country. Spain also has several islands (mainly the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea and the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Morocco) as well as a few exclaves bordering Morocco (Ceuta and Melilla). Spain’s climate can vary, depending on where you are and how high in the mountains you are. They have either a Mediterranean climate, semi-arid, or oceanic climate.

The earliest people in this area were the Celts, Basques, and Iberians, followed by the Phoenicians and Carthaginians before being incorporated into the Roman Empire. It became Gothic during the Middle Ages (as opposed to being Goth), and then Muslims from North Africa crossed the Mediterranean and took over the land for themselves. It essentially became a Muslim state, and many of the existing cathedrals were either torn down or redesigned as mosques. Although Christianity was restored after the Spaniards eventually kicked them out, there are several Spanish words of Arabic origin (sukkar – azúkar – sugar; azzayt – aceite – oil). Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon got married and Spain basically reunited. They hired an Italian named Christopher Columbus (as we call him in English) to find a way to Asia, which ended up one of the biggest screw-ups in history. He found islands, sure, but they were in the Caribbean, which he promptly claimed for Spain. But he also killed off practically everyone already there through torture and disease, raping and pillaging. But it began Spain’s conquests (i.e. stealing) lands in the Americas. Other Spaniards did end up making it to Asia and took over the Philippines and stopped by quite a few other islands as well. During the 1550s, they also made their way around the bottom of Africa. And of course, none of this was done without fighting and arguing with the British, the French, and the Dutch who were all doing the same thing. The 1700s and 1800s were nothing but strife between Spain and France, especially against Napoleon, which left Spain reeling from the impacts of it all. They lost a lot of the land they had accumulated, including Cuba toward the end of the century. While the Second Republic of the 1920s caused a bit of political and social turmoil, they also established universal suffrage. And then came WWII. Francisco Franco put Spain in the same club as Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Communist Russia. When Franco died in 1975, the country began the process of becoming a democracy again. In recent decades, there have been movements for certain minority areas to gain its own autonomy, namely the Basques and Catalonia, but none have succeeded yet. In 2005, Spain joined a handful of countries to legalize same-sex marriage. 
This guy had an obsession with statues of himself on horseback, the last of which were taken down in 2008 (33 years after his death). 

Located on the River Manzanares, the capital city is Madrid. This city is pretty much right in the center of the country. It’s generally hot in the summers with plenty of sunshine to mild in the winter. Not only does the city serve as the nation’s center of government, but it’s also a hub for transportation, commerce and finance (many multinational companies have branches here), media, culture, education, sports (including bullfighting), and entertainment. Madrid is especially known among the art world for its famous Prado Museum, but there are numerous other art museums and galleries spread throughout the city.

Spain has a mixed economy but also has a somewhat high unemployment. Many Spanish companies have risen to international levels, especially with Latin America and Asia. Spain’s known for certain agricultural products: olive oil, wine, olives, cereal grains, citrus fruits, grapes, cotton, and other fruits. It’s also the second most visited country in the world. In fact, the main office for the World Tourism Organization is located in the capital. Cities like Madrid, Barcelona, Leon, and Castile remain top cities for tourism.

Roman Catholicism is still the dominant religion in Spain, although it’s not an official religion anymore. It still has a long history in Spain, and there have been four Popes from Spain. Even though 70% identify themselves as Roman Catholic (and most of those people don’t even attend church at all), nearly a quarter of the people say they have no religion at all. The rest of the people are either Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, or some other Asian religions. There used to be quite a few Jews in Spain until they expelled them all in 1492 until about the 19th century. However, if you can prove you were part of the Sephardic Jews that were kicked out in 1492, then you can request Spanish nationality. I can’t even find my college IDs from 20 years ago.

Not surprising that Spanish is the official language of Spain. The version considered the official version is also called Castilian Spanish. However, there are also other languages that share that official status: Catalan (which I think is like a cross between Spanish and Portuguese), Galician, Basque, and Occitan. Other minority languages include Aragonese in Aragon and Astur-Leonese in León.

I was looking through a list of famous people from Spain, and it was rife with actors, musicians, artists, explorers, filmmakers, writers, athletes, and scientists that I didn’t always realize who were from Spain. They have contributed and shaped the world as we know it (whether for good or bad, it is what it is). I’m excited to take a closer look at a country I’ve been interested in (and from the point of view of moving to).

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, January 6, 2019


Hope everyone had a good start to 2019! My kids’ winter vacation is winding down, and they go back to school tomorrow. And of course, we also have to finish up an American Indian project that’s due tomorrow. Luckily, we pretty much have it all set up; it just needs to be glued down. We can do this. Just trying to convince them to go to bed before midnight may be the challenge.

I think arugula and feta cheese make everything better.
But today, we’re cooking food from South Sudan. I left my bread for last and started with the side dish today: Ful Medames, or Sudanese Fava Beans. For some reason, I couldn’t find dry fava beans, so I went with large lima beans. I was going to soak them for about an hour or so but I forgot. I cooked them down for about 1.5 to 2 hours until they became soft. (Well, most of them were soft.) Once they were soft (at least the ones on top), I drained them into a bowl with a little of the broth and mashed them slightly. Then I added in a little salt, black pepper, and cumin and stirred. Next, I added in my other ingredients: some diced red onions, feta, slightly chopped arugula, and diced tomatoes. I just added enough of each so that it was even. Then I drizzled some sesame oil on top. I thought these were really good, except for the handful of beans that weren’t exactly soft. The feta and arugula was what made this dish.

This is the best way to eat lamb.
Next I made the main dish: Shaiyah. It was also called pan-fried meat, and I went with the more traditional choice of lamb this time. It’s been a while since I’ve cooked with lamb. In a large-ish pot, I added in my cubed lamb (I bought two shoulder cuts and just cut it off the bone), diced celery, bay leaves, salt, minced garlic, black pepper, cumin, and coriander along with a cup of water. I let this cook for 20 about minutes until the water has pretty much cooked off (I still had a little liquid in the bottom. Then I added a Tbsp of oil in a skillet and cooked the lamb and some of the celery on high heat, adding bits of water if necessary to keep it from sticking to the bottom. I fried it until it was browned on all sides and even charred in places. Then I removed it to a plate along with a few raw onion slices and squeezed a bit of lime juice on top of it. I topped mine with some diced jalapeñoes, but no one else wanted any. This was clearly the winner for tonight. Everyone loved it, and they don’t know this, but I’m taking every last bit of lamb in my lunch tomorrow. (I actually think these would make for some good tacos with some arugula and peppers.)

I'm not sure, but this may have been my first time using sorghum flour??
Finally, the bread. I made a Sudanese flatbread called Kisra. I actually had to start this the day before (and truly, since I live in a colder area, it should have been two days before) in order to ferment my dough. I mixed 2 c of sorghum flour with 2 c of water, stirred, and let it sit in a covered bowl on the counter overnight. Once it was fermented (you can see the bubbles in the dough), I added in a cup of wheat flour and another cup of water, mixing everything together. Using my griddle, I heated it up and oiled it down, pouring about 1/3 c of batter onto the hot griddle and spreading it evenly over the griddle. Like injera, I only cooked this on one side of the bread, not flipping it to the other side. I took it off the griddle when it was done and placed it on a plate. It’s supposed to be folded like a letter (in thirds), but mine turned out too crumbly to fold. It just broke apart. It had a good flavor; I liked the combination of the sorghum and wheat flour, but the consistency didn’t seem right.

Overall, it was a pretty good meal. I'd do it again.
And so that’s it. That’s what our newest country is about. It seems that the bad parts of the country –and certainly, it’s a serious part—is all we hear about for the most part. But there are parts in the city of Juba that look like any typical African city. People go to school or their job and take care of their families and go to clubs and pay bills. For them, life is slightly different. I guess it’s important to remember what we see on the news isn’t always representative of the whole.

Up next: Spain

Saturday, January 5, 2019


For most of South Sudan’s history, they shared a common musical heritage with neighboring Sudan. South Sudan is known for a type of music called wayo, a kind of communal music circle that includes a variety of percussion instruments and chanting. It also uses a xylophone-like instrument called the kpaningbo as the center of this musical circle. It’s such a large instrument, that it takes three people to play it! The rest of the percussionists are on bells or other instruments and perform a number of African polyrhythms.

During the civil war, many of the South Sudanese fled their country and headed to nearby ones, namely Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, or Egypt. Others headed toward places like the UK, Canada, or the US. Their vocal music encompasses many different languages from English and Swahili to their local language of Juba Arabic.

Dance has been such an integrated part of music, that even in the midst of bad times, dance is still used as an escape. I came across an article by PBS about the dancehall scene in Juba, and how for many young people living in Juba, they have different lives than what typically makes the news from this area of the world. Dancehall clubs are used as a diversion from the daily grind that these people seek.

Emmanuel Kembe
There are a few artists who I found on YouTube. I first listened to Emmanuel Kembe. His style is typically is based on reggae, Afrobeat, and folk.

Yaba Angelosi
I also listened to Yaba Angelosi. He’s part of the South Sudanese diaspora who moved to the United States, which explains why his videos all seemed to have backgrounds that looked familiar to me. His musical styles are generally R&B with some zouk and Afrobeat mixed in.

Emmanuel Jal
And I was glad that I found a couple of rappers from South Sudan. The first one I listened to was Emmanuel Jal. He’s probably one of the bigger names in South Sudanese musicians, especially rappers. And if you know me by now, you know that I have a thing for female rappers, and luckily I found Queen Zee.

Queen Zee
Up next: the food

Thursday, January 3, 2019


Since the earliest days of people stepping foot in the area of South Sudan, art has been a part of the culture here. Many of these early arts include carving (both in wood and in stone), weaving baskets from various reeds (typically from papyrus), beaded jewelry and accessories, and making clay pots. In many areas, these arts are still alive.

Even though South Sudan has been through many decades of fighting, their sense of art has not left them. Painters like James Aguer use their art as a means of expression, cultural identity, and as a way to address social issues.

"Fight Against AIDS 2004" by James Aguer
South Sudan shares many literary traditions with Sudan. However, more Sudanese literature is written in Arabic, and more South Sudanese authors tend to write in English, but that's not always the case. Stella Gaitano is one South Sudanese author who writes in Arabic. Poetry has also long been a tradition among many tribes in this part of Africa.

Taban Lo Liyong is well known in African literature as a poet, novelist, professor, and literary critic. Alephonsion Deng and his brother Benson along with their cousin Benjamin Ajak are co-authors of the famous book They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky: The True Story of Three Lost Boys of Sudan, about how they escaped government troops storming their village and ran with nothing but themselves; it took them five years and a thousand miles to reach Kenya and re-start their lives. I’m really interested in looking this book up to read later on.  

Up next: music and dance