Monday, February 18, 2019


This morning, I read an article about how Sudanese women are using secret Facebook groups to post pictures of police and others abusing protestors to identify them. Not only did these women unload on the contact info, but other tidbits like previous employers, where they went to college, families, friends, ex-girlfriends, and even down to what color their front door is. What led to these protests in the first place? Mainly, I’m gathering it’s a hodgepodge of garbage policies against women, sky-high inflation, and inaccessibility for basic goods and services. (The government even cut their Internet off, so they immediately went to VPN connections. Haha, nice try. “Nevertheless, she persisted.”)

image from an Al Jazeera article

The name Sudan is stemmed from its location south of the Sahara desert and originally meant “land of the Blacks.”

Sudan is a rather large country in the northeast corner of Africa. It’s surrounded by Egypt to the north; the Red Sea, Eritrea, and Ethiopia to the east; South Sudan and Central African Republic to the south; and Chad and Libya to the west. Most notably, the White and Blue Nile Rivers meet together in the city of Khartoum. The land has deserts, mountains, and plains and is rich in mineral deposits. The southern part gets more rain than the north, and there are actually swamps and rainforests in the south. The north is mostly desert and is plagued by sandstorms (called haboob – hee hee) that can be so thick that it blocks out the sun.

Check out this haboob hitting Khartoum
As the Sahara began to dry out much of the lands of northern Africa, people started settling closer to the fertile lands of the Nile. The Kingdom of Kush laid its stakes at the point where the White Nile and Blue Nile met. It was even mentioned in the Bible. Other Nubian kingdoms emerged and incorporated into others. Initially, they held off Arab expansion in the area and Christianity prevailed. Nubians developed their own language, and women held a high social status that included owning land, making their own financial decisions, and education. Around the 11th and 12th centuries, many of these kingdoms started to fall, some to Arab leaders and some to other African peoples (mainly the Funj). Between 1500-1700s, the Funj expanded and then saw the rise of Islam in this area. During the 1820s, the Ottoman ruler of Egypt invaded the northern part of Sudan. By the 1870s, the Mahdist forces essentially forced the people to adhere to Islam or be killed. Sharia Law took over and is still in place today. They ended up invading Ethiopia, and the British stepped in and fought for control against the French and Belgians. Around the turn of the 20th century, Sudan was controlled jointly by Egypt and Britain (because being controlled by one country doesn’t suck enough). The British basically divided it into two sections: north and south. This lasted until they gained their independence in 1956. There were several coups during the first several decades, and then Col. Omar al-Bashir declared himself the president in 1989. (And he’s still there.) Things went downhill after he forced a one-party system and a pro-Islam government, favoring Sudanese Arabs over non-Arab Sudanese. This contributed to the War in Darfur (on the western side of the country). This conflict is seen as a genocide, and the Janjaweed (an Arab-speaking nomadic militia) is often at the heart of these acts of brutality. A peace agreement was finally signed in 2006.

The capital city, Khartoum, is divided by two rivers: the White Nile and the Blue Nile. Bridges connect many parts of the city together across both rivers. This city of 5.2 million people was only established since 1821; however, it was just north of the far more ancient city of Soba (not to be confused with the Japanese noodle). Today, the city is the center of government, transportation, media, education, and commerce.

Sudan was once considered the 17th fasted growing economy roughly 10 years ago (2010), and it was mostly in oil. However, when South Sudan broke away, it took with it nearly 80% of their oilfields. This left the country in what’s called stagflation, where the inflation is high and the economic growth slows. Up until the discovery and establishment of the oil industry, agriculture has been the main economic driver. However, years of drought and a weakening of global agricultural prices crippled their staples. They have started to develop some hydroelectric dams along the rivers. Even at that, a large portion of the people live below the international poverty line (ranked at less than US$1.25/day).

The vast majority of Sudanese follow Islam (nearly 97%), mostly as Sufi or Salafi Muslims. Smaller groups of Christians do exist in Sudan, mainly following Protestantism or Roman Catholicism, although there are still some pockets of Greek Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Eritrean Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Anglican, and other denominations of Christianity. 

After a change in their constitution in 2005, the official languages are Arabic and English. The most widely spoken language is a variety of Arabic called Sudanese Arabic. This variety borrowed quite a bit of vocabulary from other regional languages (namely Mabang, Nobiin, Fur, and Zaghawa) that it’s created quite a unique version of Arabic. In areas along the Red Sea, the Beja language can be heard while the Fur language is spoken in the Darfur region.

Most people think of Egypt when they think of pyramids, but Sudan has its own pyramids, too. Located near the city of Meroë, these pyramids are a collection of 200 pyramids built over 2000 years ago. The Meroitic Kingdom, in the eastern part of the country, ruled that area for nearly 900 years. Another archeological site called Kerma is about 5000 years old and also includes a large tomb known as Western Deffufa. Sudan’s culture extends back to antiquity, and it’s certainly been in the news during recent years (not quite for positive stories, though). But it’ll be interesting to see the cultural influences behind Sudan today.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, February 10, 2019


Well, it’s time for my annual anxiety activity: filing taxes. Luckily, it didn’t end as bad as it did last year, and for that I’m grateful. We might finally be able to move into the house we’ve been slowly working to fix up for the last four years. It’s been a long time coming. But as the snow falls outside (this has been one cold and snowy winter so far), I’m going to make Sri Lankan food this afternoon.

I made a mini flower bread out of my scraps. I suppose it's more like a bud.
The bread today is Sri Lankan Flower Bread. I already had to assure my husband that it’s not made with flowers, it’s just in the shape of one. I started out by mixing my flour, yeast, salt, and sugar into a bowl. Then I added in my water and half of a beaten egg, keeping the rest of the egg in the fridge for later. I mixed everything again and then added the butter and mixed it until it started to come together; I kneaded it for about five minutes until it was smooth and elastic. I covered it with a piece of cheesecloth and let it rest for about 45 minutes. When this time was up, I rolled it out to a square that was about a ¼” thick. Mine was about 7”-8” long on each side. Then I cut it into about thick strips about ¾” to 1” thick. Taking six strips in one hand, I twisted them and wrapped them around and tucked the end in underneath so that it looks like a flower. I placed this bread on a greased baking tray and covered it again, letting it rest for another 30 minutes. Just before it’s ready to go into the oven, I used the egg I kept back and brushed the top of the bread. I put this in a 400ºF oven for 20 minutes until it was browned. I served this with a little butter and blackberry jam. This may have been one of the best parts of this meal. It was fantastic. The crumb was just right and the flavor was good.

Oyster mushrooms are highly underrated.
I realized I put together a vegetarian menu for today. And my husband didn’t even complain! Today’s main dish is Oyster Mushroom Curry. I washed the oyster mushrooms and cut them into strips, mixing them with chili powder, cumin, turmeric, and garam masala (in lieu of fenugreek). After I mixed everything together, I put it off to the side to rest. In a skillet, I heated some oil and added in some garlic, green chilies, ginger, cinnamon, and lime zest (in lieu of curry leaves). Once I let this sauté for a minute, I added in my diced tomatoes, mixing everything together. I covered it for about 2-3 minutes to let it all stew together before adding in the coconut milk and a little salt. I let it simmer for a few more minutes before serving this with rice. I liked this, but I think the tomatoes and the spices overpowered the oyster mushrooms. Otherwise, I liked it.

Technically, these are all fruits (minus the onion).
I decided to make several smaller salads to go with the curry. The first salad I made was Pineapple Cucumber Salad. I diced my cucumber and put it in a bowl, along with some canned pineapple chunks that I drained well. I used some diced tomatoes (also drained). I added a little bit of lime pieces, salt, and pepper. I also added in a little bit of finely diced red onion. I was kind of skeptical of the tomato and pineapple together, but it really wasn’t that bad. I mean, it’s probably not unlike a mango salsa of sorts, right? Same idea, I think.

Not bad. Not bad, at all.
The second salad I made was Picant Carrot Salad. This easy salad consists of shredded/grated carrots, a bit of diced red onion, diced green chilies, salt, pepper, and lime juice. I just mixed everything together and let it sit for a while to allow for all the flavors to meld. This one did surprise me that it was pretty good. I didn’t think the lime juice and the carrots would be as tasty as it would be, but I enjoyed it quite well.

And finally, the third salad I made was Water Spinach With Coconut. I didn’t actually use water spinach (also called kang kung). It’s apparently considered an invasive plant here in the US, so I used bok choy instead. I chopped up the boy choy leaves and put them in a bowl. In a separate bowl, I used my pestle to mash up diced shallots, garlic, diced green chilies, and lime zest (instead of curry leaves). I threw in the coconut into the mixture and mashed it with the paste. In a small pot, I added in the bok choy and the paste and heated it for 2-3 minutes covered and 2-3 minutes uncovered. This was the weakest one of the bunch. I think if I blended the paste in a blender rather than by hand, it might have turned out better. But it just didn’t quite have the taste I was expecting.

Overall, I'd say it was a pretty good meal.
Last year, I burned up my blender while cooking. (Ok, I also wasn’t using it as directed.) But today, my microwave went kaput. I was trying to melt some butter and it started buzzing after nine seconds and got really bright. It was almost as if there was metal in there, but there wasn’t. I tried it again a couple times later, with the same effects. And we’ve only had this microwave a couple years! So, needless to say, I know what we’ll be getting on my next paycheck.

Up next: Sudan

Saturday, February 9, 2019


The music of Sri Lanka is diverse and is a reflection of its geography and history. It generally falls into four categories: ancient folk music, traditional music tied to Buddhism, music that was influenced by Portuguese, Dutch, and British influences, and music of nearby India (and especially that of Bollywood).

One of the folk traditions centered around caste-based folk poems called Jana Kavi. They're now used as a means of cultural expression and sometimes sung at annual rituals. Another type of folk music is called Virindu, a song sung to an improvised poem. It's typically sung accompanied by the rabana drum. Oftentimes, two Virindu singers would compete, kind of like an ancient rap battle.

Once Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka, people and priests alike began taking some of these folk songs and creating ones to tell Buddhist stories and poems. Music was a little more theatrical, using pageantry, puppetry, and drama. 
Similar to classical music of nearby India, classical music of Sri Lanka utilizes quite a few different instruments. Percussion is at the heart of their music and integrally tied to their dance music. It's the rhythm and driving force. To get a range of sounds and timbres, they use drums of differing sizes and materials such as the yak-bera, dawula, gatabera, thammattama, rabana, and the udekki. There are also sets of small cymbals adjoined by a string called a thalampata. You'll also hear a variety of wind instruments such as different kinds of flutes, an oboe-like instrument called the horanawa, and a conch-shell instrument called the hakgediya. A few string instruments are sometimes used as well, like the ravanahatha, a type of stringed instrument made of a coconut shell, bamboo, and gutstring, often recognized as one of the world's first violins played with a bow. 

When the Portuguese arrived during the 1500s, they introduced Western classical music to the people of Sri Lanka. They also brought along a number of new instruments as well (guitars and such). Western classical music took its place as a form of music that was enjoyed by the upper class, although it was taught at many of their high schools and college levels. Today there are many symphony orchestras, youth orchestras, and choirs who study and perform it throughout the island.

Paranoid Earthling
I’ve been pretty busy this week, and Spotify hasn’t been my friend lately in giving me a reliable way to search. But I did listen to a few rock bands that I found from Sri Lanka. The first band I listened to was Paranoid Earthling. I really, really like this band, but sadly, I can’t find them on iTunes or Spotify. I really wanted to download an album or just be able to play it in my car. They remind me a little of Wolfmother in a way.

I also listened to Stigmata, another heavy metal band. I like many of the songs they put out, which tend to be more on the melodic side of metal. And for that, I really appreciate. I did find them on Spotify and look forward to listening to them a bit more.
Finding hip-hop artists/groups from Sri Lanka was a little harder to do. I found a playlist on YouTube and came across one called Smokio. I listened to a song called “Mudukkuwen Eliyata” that features Iraj. I liked what I heard, and the video gives a good look at what his city looks like. I also found one called Drill Team, and listened to their song “Deviyange Bare” featuring Sanuka. I liked their style for that one song I listened to. They use a lot of singing intermixed into their rapping.

Up next: the food

Monday, February 4, 2019


Visual arts have a long tradition in Sri Lanka, dating back to a century or two before the common era. One of the most notable examples of early art are the Kandyan era frescoes.

The Kandy Empire was active 1469-1815 and promoted arts and Sri Lankan culture. This was during a time when most of the people didn’t have any kind of formal education and were illiterate. As Buddhism spread, monks painted these pictures of Buddhist stories so that anyone could follow the stories. These fresco paintings were complex, most notably marked with a variety of flower decorations and people drawn to the side. What’s also impressive is that there are over 40 shades of paint used in these frescoes using a number of different natural-based paints and dyes. And these paintings can be seen in at least 36 different temples. 

Outside of that, Sri Lanka has also produced a number of other crafts. Woodcarving is popular and is used to create figurines, tools, utensils, jewelry, boxes, toys, etc. They also created wooden masks, which were generally tied to healing rituals to fight again the devils (called yakkas) that they thought caused disease.

They also used a handloom to create different decorative textiles, garments, and bags. The Portuguese and Dutch introduced lace making, also known as beeralu lace, which they caught on and created their own intricate patterns. Batik dyed cloth, which has its origins in Indonesia, is also popular in Sri Lanka. Coir products, made from soaked coconut husks, are typically twisted and spun into a rope-like material and coiled around to make mats and brooms.

Sri Lanka is also known for their rustic clay pottery, which is still popular today, despite being one of the most ancient traditions. Their lacquer ware, called laksha, offers a way of bringing beautiful color to bowls, boxes, and other works of pottery and woodcarving.

Storytelling has been a part of Sri Lankan literature from its earliest days. Like other ancient cultures, many of their early folk stories were told orally. However, of their written works, most of it was written in Pali, Tamil, or Sinhala. After the British arrived and up to current times, many writers write in English as well as in Sinhala and Tamil, with Sinhala being the dominant language.

Mahagama Sekara
Although poetry, drama, and novels are found in Sri Lankan literature, short stories seem to be the go-to style for many of these authors. And radio plays also seem to be quite popular. In classical poetry, two poets who stand out are Gurulugomi (12th century) and Thotagamuwe Sri Rahula Thera (15th century). Other poets and writers who write in Sinhala include Mahagama Sekara (prominent in poetry and literature), Gunadasa Amarasekara (poet, writer, essayist), Parakrama Kodituwakku (mid-20th century poet), Eric Illayapparachchi (writer, poet, lyricist), Lucien Bulathsinhala (playwright, poet, writer), Chandraratna Bandara (award-winning novelist), Munidasa Kumaratunga (novelist, linguist, poet, pushed for Sinhala language over Sanskrit), G. B. Senanayake (free verse poetry), and Sybil Wettasinghe (children’s literature and illustrator).
Michael Ondaatje
Two authors who were known for writing poetry in Tamil include Eelattu Poothanthevanar and Neelaavanan. One Sri Lankan-Canadian author is widely known: Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient received the Man Booker prize in 1992. Another Sri Lankan-British author, Romesh Gunesekera, also received the Booker prize for his novel Reef in 1994. There are several other award-winning novelists living in Sri Lanka and abroad.

Up next: music and dance