Thursday, December 31, 2020


When I was in 8th grade (around 1993), my cousin talked me into doing summer marching band. She conveniently left out the “marching” part of that conversation; I wanted to quit so bad. I was sore and hated every minute of it. Until the end of the season, and I loved it. I ended up marching for five years in middle/high school and two years in college. That first year, we performed the music of the 1989 musical Miss Saigon, which was also my introduction to Broadway musicals (and I found out it was loosely based on Madame Butterfly). I listened to it over and over, and since I was only vaguely familiar with the conflict in Vietnam, this was my only tie to any kind of history of it. I didn’t even study about it in high school (don’t get me started), so for decades, this musical was all I knew about Vietnam.

The name comes from the word Nam Viet (apologies for not being able to use the correct diacritical marks in the Vietnamese language), which means “Southern Viet” and was in use around the 2nd century BC. The Viet part comes from the name Bach Viet, the people who were living in southern China and Vietnam. The name Vietnam was first seen in a 16th century poem by Sam Trang Trinh. During the 19th century, in an effort to separate the traditional name Bach Viet into its Chinese and Vietnamese counterparts, Vietnam was used to recognize the people on the southern end.

Vietnam lies on the eastern shore of the Indochinese Peninsula. It’s surrounded by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, and Cambodia to the southwest. It’s southern edge has a coast along the Gulf of Thailand and a long eastern coast along the South China Sea. Its narrowest point is only 31 mi across. Most of the land is mountainous, hilly, and covered in forests. The Mekong River Delta in the south is much more populated than some of the other river deltas in the north. There are also a number of coastal islands that dot the coast along the way. The climate can vary depending on which region you’re in. It can be quite hot and humid in the rainforest areas of the south and more temperate the higher in the mountains you go. They do have a rainy and dry season and are affected by the monsoon winds that blow from the northeastern Chinese coast. The country is also affected by tropical storms and typhoons and many of the effects of climate change. But this wide range of climate types help them have a mega biodiversity.

The Fall of Saigon

Evidence shows that humans have been living in this area of the world since 500,000 BC and even learned how to cultivate rice around 1000 BC. The Hong Bang Dynasty is often considered the first Vietnamese state, and they were quite connected to Chinese dynasties. In fact the northern part of Vietnam for all intents and purposes was considered part of Chinese territory. They eventually won their independence from under Chinese rule and even warded off Mongol invasions three times. Between the 11th and 18th centuries, Vietnam expanded its territory south. This set things off internally, and there were many civil wars happening across this region for many years. Emperor Nguyen Anh was able to smooth over some of the conflicts (with the help of the French) and reunify them in the 1800s. In the meantime, Europeans have been trading along the Vietnamese coast since the 1500s. Or at least, tried to. The Portuguese were the first to try off and on, and Dutch traders did some trading there too along with the British and Spanish. During the mid-1800s, there were a lot of conflicts between the Vietnamese and the Catholic missionaries who were basically making the Vietnamese upset over their push of Christianity. France stepped in and ended up taking over the lower third of the country, creating a colony called Cochinchina. This brought quite a bit of changes and western influence over this region, including setting up plantation crops in tea, coffee, tobacco, and indigo. However, the continued fighting inspired a few Vietnamese leaders to call for their independence from French rule. It wouldn’t happen yet, and France ruled over it. That is, until the Japanese invaded during WWII and stripped the country of its resources, leaving many Vietnamese to starve to death. The place was a mess after the war, and the Allies divided the country in half; the French still tried to hold rule, but the Viet Minh had other plans (which included guerilla attacks). French Indochina was finally broken into three countries in the 1950s: Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. The Vietnam War gets a little complicated, but essentially North Vietnam tried to take over the South’s government. Russia backed the North, and the US (and France) backed the South. It was years of bloody battles, which finally culminated with the Fall of Saigon in April 1975. The two halves eventually reunited, but still dealt with a transitioning government in the midst of other regional conflicts (like the Khmer Rouge). Since the 1980s, Vietnam has made quite a few changes in its policies and socio-political sphere so that some political-economists think that Vietnam may be part of the next group to watch as up-and-coming developing countries.


The capital city is Hanoi, the country’s second largest city (after Ho Chi Minh City [formerly Saigon]). Located in the northern part of Vietnam along the Red River Delta, it also served as the capital of French Indochina and then North Vietnam. It’s a city of old buildings highlighting its ancient past mixed with French colonial-style buildings of a more modern European style. Today, the city has several shopping districts, theatres, sporting venues, restaurants, and several universities and colleges.

For most of Vietnam’s history, it was an agricultural-based economy, mainly in rice cultivation. They also did quite a bit of bauxite mining as well (bauxite is a key mineral used in making aluminum). For many years, farms and factories worked as a collective under state control. But the quality and conditions were poor and improperly run, to say the least. Their main trading partner was the Soviet Union, and when they broke up, Vietnam had to change up its plans a bit. They allowed for more private ownership and restructured their economy to fit in with the global market. Their deep poverty rate fell by a ton, and in the early 2000s, they discovered oil. Today, it’s one of the larger oil producers in Asia and has focused on science and tech-based industries (in fact, the creator of the famous Flappy Bird app was a Vietnamese developer). Tourism still plays a driving factor in their economy with millions of people all over the world visiting Vietnam each year.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Although their constitution declares that people have the freedom to practice and choose whatever religion they want, the bottom line is that nearly 80-85% of the people don’t really believe in any god or adhere to any religion at all. Of the few who do, about 5% are Buddhist, and the rest are followers of Christianity, native/folk religions, and Islam. This actually surprises me a bit because when I was interested in Buddhism several years ago, I bought a book by the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hahn. One statement he made was that someone once asked him if he was from North Vietnam or South Vietnam, and his answer was “The middle.” (I thought it was metaphorical, but he was born in Hue, which is actually, almost right in the middle.)

Not surprising, the national language is Vietnamese. It’s a tonal language in the Mon-Khmer language group. Because of its close ties to China, early Vietnamese used Chinese characters. But after the Portuguese Jesuits arrived, they romanized their writing system and used sets of diacritical marks to indicate the different tones. The French language is still spoken by many of the highly educated Vietnamese as a second language, and many of the older generation can still speak some French as well (Vietnam is still included in the Francophonie countries). Some areas and families who had ties to the Eastern Bloc countries still utilize languages like Russian, Polish, German, and Czech. Today, English, Japanese, and Korean are popular second languages, especially in terms of strengthening global ties.

One of the coolest bridges I've seen is in Vietnam!

Years ago, I went to take a part-time job grading standardized tests. I actually really liked that job. In my little group, there was a woman whose last name was Nguyen (pronounced something like “wen”). But I looked at her, and she was as pale as I was with red hair. We got to talking, and her husband was Vietnamese. She told me that after they got married, they flew to Vietnam to visit his parents and family who were still there. Naturally, I asked what she thought. The first words that came out of her mouth were, “I hated it.” I stared at her in disbelief. She corrected herself a bit: “It’s a beautiful country, it really is. But it’s also soooooooooo humid, and I just don’t do well in high humidity. So, I was basically miserable the entire time.” So, there’s also that, haha.

Up next: art and literature

Worldly Rise Year End Stats -- 2020 Edition

If 2019 felt like a decade long, then 2020 was a half century. But we’ve made it through, I suppose, for what it was. I’m sure we all picked up a new quarantine hobby or interest and learned something along the way. But even if you just watched Family Guy or South Park and spaced out, that’s ok too (because I also did that). But I did keep cooking, and now I only have a handful of countries to get through until I can say “mission accomplished.”

— In 2020, I started with Syria and ended with Venezuela.

— At the end of 2020, I completed the 189th country for this blog. This now makes me 96.4% finished with this project.

— Of all the countries I have completed so far
52 (27.51%) have been in Africa
47 (24.87%) have been in Europe
26 (13.76%) have been in Asia
15 (7.94%) have been in the Middle East
15 (7.94%) have been in Oceania
13 (6.88%) have been in the Caribbean
12 (6.35%) have been in South America
7 (3.70%) have been in Central America
2 (1.06%) has been in North America

— Of the 189 countries I have completed so far, 510 languages are represented in some capacity, either as an official language or at some kind of national/regional/vernacular level. Here are the ones who hold some level of status in three or more countries:
English: 70
French: 41
Arabic: 28
Spanish: 24
German: 14
Russian: 14
Portuguese: 11
Romany/Romani: 10
Armenian: 9
Croatian: 9
Italian: 9
Ukrainian: 9
Greek: 8
Hungarian: 8
Albanian: 7
Bulgarian: 7
Serbian: 7
Swahili: 7
Slovak: 6
Turkish: 6
Azerbaijani: 5
Romanian: 5
Rusyn: 5
Chinese (Mandarin): 4
Belarusian: 4
Berber (Tamazight): 4
Garifuna: 4
Occitan: 4
Polish: 4
Slovene/Slovenian: 4
Tatar: 4
Yiddish: 4
Afrikaans: 3
Bosnian: 3
Carib: 3
Catalan: 3
Chechen: 3
Circassian: 3
Crimean Tatar: 3
Danish: 3
Dutch: 3
Fula: 3
Kurdish: 3
Kyrgyz: 3
Malay (Bahasa Malaya): 3
Mandinka: 3
Sami: 3
Somali: 3
Swedish: 3
Tamil: 3
Tigrinya: 3
Urdu: 3
Uyghur: 3
Uzbek: 3
Wolof: 3

— As of December 31, 2020 at 9:15 p.m. EST, I have had a total of pageviews 828,088 (an increase of 72,234 from this time last year). I have posted 827 blog posts (an increase of 85 posts) since I started in February 2012 and now have 28 followers (I didn’t gain any more followers this year on the blog site, but I do have 145 people who follow it on Facebook).

— Here are the top ten countries based on the number of pageviews (of all time). Every country on this list is still in the same position as last year:
1. United States
3. Russia
2. Philippines
4. Canada
5. United Kingdom
6. Germany
7. France
8. Australia
9. Ukraine
10. Other [probably people using a VPN where Google can’t track them, perhaps]

— I will finally finish this blog in April 2021, starting with Vietnam. My list originally ended with Zimbabwe, only counting the countries that were part of the UN. But then I realized there were three countries that are not part of the UN (Kosovo, Taiwan, and Vatican City), so I added those at the end. It’s weird to think that I’ll update this list again in a few months when everything is complete.

Monday, December 21, 2020


The final country of 2020. I’m not sorry to see this year become the past. It’s been challenging to be sure, and I think 2021 will be largely the same. But doing this blog has been a nice distraction, even if it’s been difficult at times to find some of the ingredients along the way. I’m really grateful right now to still be doing this. I’ll admit, there have been times when I’ve just been too mentally tired to write or cook, but I’m glad I’ve pushed through it. In a few short months, I’ll be working on compiling all my recipes to put into a book when I’m finished. But for today, it’s Venezuelan food.

These surprised me quite a bit. I just wish I put more fillings in it.

The first thing I made was a dish that’s served around Christmastime, so I thought it the right season for this: Pan de Jamón. In a large bowl, I put a ½ c of warm water in a bowl and sprinkled the yeast over it and let it sit for about 5 minutes. Then I added a cup of flour and an egg. I mixed all of that together. Then I added a stick of softened butter (that I cut into Tbsps) and another cup of flour and mixed again. After that, I added in another 1 ½ c of flour, ½ c of milk, 3 Tbsp of sugar, and ½ tsp salt and mixed everything until it was smooth. (You may need to adjust with more flour or water, depending on if it’s too dry or too sticky.) I placed my dough in an oiled bowl and covered it with plastic wrap for about a half hour to let it rise. After it had risen, I divided the dough into two pieces and rolled one out into a rectangle, about 10”x12” (and I realized after I rolled it that I forgot to brush it with melted butter first). I placed thin-sliced ham over the dough, leaving about an inch around the edges. I sprinkled raisins and some of the sliced green olives over the ham. Starting with the long edge, I rolled up the bread as tightly as I could get it, and using some of the juice from the jar of olives on the dough, sealed up the edge of the seam. I made sure to lay them seam-side down on a baking sheet that I covered with parchment paper. Then I tried to tuck in the ends when I was done. I did the same thing with the other piece of dough. I mixed an egg yolk with a tsp of sugar and brushed the top of the rolls with it before covering it with oiled plastic wrap and letting it rest for another hour. I baked this at 350ºF for about 35 minutes until it was golden brown on top. This was really good. To be honest, I was quite skeptical about the green olives and raising in it, but amazingly, it turned out really good. It wasn’t overpowering at all.

A good soup for cold nights.

The next thing I made was Venezuelan Hen Chupe Soup. To begin with, I browned some diced chicken breasts (we couldn’t find cornish game hens) and set it off to the side when it was done. In a large pot, I added about 8 c of chicken stock, some onions, and some minced garlic. After I brought that to a boil, I added in some diced potato and some corn on the cob that I had cut into small pieces (my knives must really suck because that was way harder than I imagined it would be). I let it cook down covered for about 15 minutes until the potatoes were soft. Then I added in a can of creamed corn and a can of sweet corn and cooked covered for another 10 minutes. Now is the time I finally added my cooked chicken pieces into the soup along with some cilantro and let it cook for another 5 minutes, adding in a little salt, too. I lowered my heat a bit and added in a bit of table cream (I just used some heavy whipping cream). As I added it in, I made sure I kept stirring continuously until it was all mixed in well. Then I turned off the heat and let it rest for about 5 minutes. To serve this, I added some queso fresco crumbles and cilantro on top. I really enjoyed this. It was kind of like a chicken corn chowder but with more broth to it. My husband was a little skeptical about it, and the kids weren’t really sure how to eat the corn on the cob pieces. But I really liked this.

I really liked this, although I struggled not to add in some cumin.

One recipe I couldn’t resist making was Guasacaca, only because I knew this Venezuelan version of guacamole would go over well with the family. I took one avocado and mashed it, while I chopped the other two. I mixed the chopped avocados with the mashed one in a bowl. Then I stirred in a bit of vinegar and olive oil. To that, I added in a bit of finely chopped green and red bell pepper, tomato, onion, and minced garlic. I seasoned it with a bit of salt, pepper, and hot sauce. It’s different from how I normally make it (I use cumin in mine), but it was still really good. I liked the vinegar in it. We ate it with some tortillas, but I also spread it on my sandwich, too.

I like this. I mean, I really, really like this. Really. Like. This.

Because I ran out of time but thought these were too important to pass up, I made Venezuelan Arepas the next day for brunch since I took the day off. In a medium-sized bowl, I added in 2 c of water and 1 tsp of salt. After the salt had dissolved, I slowly added in 1 ½ c of maize meal. I think it technically calls for white maize meal, but I was also trying to guide my husband through the grocery store by phone to find this, so I was basically just getting whatever they had. I mixed the meal really well to prevent any kind of clumps and then let it sit for 5 minutes to thicken up. It was still too liquidy to hold together, so I added in another ½ c of maize to it, and then it was pretty close. After this rest time, I stirred in a tsp of vegetable oil to the mixture. I divided the dough into four balls and then flattened them until they were about a ½” thick. In a hot skillet, I put just a little oil in the bottom and pan-fried these for 5-7 minutes on either side until they were browned. When these are done, you’re supposed to split them open and fill them. But I got lazy and didn’t feel like fussing with it, so I ate them like a pupusa. You can really fill these with whatever you like, but I cooked some scrambled eggs with a bit of salsa and chopped green onions and topped them with that. It was actually really good as a brunch meal, and I think the kids liked it this way too.

Overall, this was a fantastic meal. A+.

I thought this meal was really good. Definitely the kind of comfort food I can get with during this time of year. I admit, it’s a little awkward to write about how great Venezuelan food is knowing that I’ve watched a couple of documentaries and news stories over the last couple years about the conditions in Venezuela, namely a 2018 segment on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. The incredible inflation has caused food shortages, and many people just aren’t getting enough to eat, while the leadership is eating well. It’s a story of utter mismanagement and corruption in its leadership. But despite this, the people are resilient (I mean, what choice do they have really?). But I’m glad that I’ve learned so much more to this country than what’s just in the news. I keep telling myself that the government is different from its people. I see it in a different light, and I only hope for the best for the people there.

Up next: Vietnam

Saturday, December 19, 2020


The music of Venezuela has taken in some of the musical flavors of the Caribbean and Latin America. Some of the most iconic and representative styles in Venezuela come from musicians living in the grasslands plains, or llanos. One of the styles that is widely known is called joropo. It has similarities to the fandango, and shares roots with African, indigenous, and European music. It's also popular in Colombia. The accompanying dance is just as popular as the music. Depending on your region and style of joropo, the instrumentalists can vary but generally can include a harp, guitar, mandolin, violin, cuatro (like a small guitar), bandola (related to a mandolin), maracas, and a vocalist.

Other types of folk music are played here as well. Genres like jazz, salsa, malagueña, bambuco, waltz, rumba, calypso, and bossa nova have made their way into Venezuelan music. In many cases, they’ve merged with other local styles, like joropo.

One of the biggest dance crazes was the Venezuelan merengue rucaneao that was popular during the 1920s. Compared with the more popular Dominican merengue, the rhythms are different, although it’s still a partner dance. The rhythms in Venezuelan merengue are characterized by a triplet followed by a duplet, as in ⅝ time, or a three-against-two rhythm. This may have been part of the African musical influence. The dance was particularly popular in dance halls called mabiles in Caracas. Couples would dance together with exaggerated hip movements, which was partly the cause for the controversy around this dance.

I found quite a few Venezuelan bands and musicians on Spotify, and I started with a few pop musicians. I say pop, but it’s really a Latin pop. I first listened to Ricardo Montaner, and I also listened to José Luis Rodríguez who also goes by the nickname “El Puma.”

Ricardo Montaner

There are quite a few rock bands of all kinds. Here are a few that I listened to that I liked: Los Chamos (boy band/rock), Franco de Vita (Latin pop/rock), Los Amigos Invisibles (kind of a jazz-influenced rock), Desorden Publico (ska/pop/rock), King Chango (Latin ska), Culto Oculto (experimental rock), Caramelos de Cianuro (rock/punk), Mikel Erentxun (pop/rock), Candy66 (nu metal), and La Vida Bohème (indie rock).


I found a couple of electronic groups too: Patafunk, who does more of an EDM and Latin/reggae styles, and Nuuro, who also goes by Arca apparently. I really kind of liked both of them, but they are both distinctly different.

I even listened to three hip-hop musicians. The ones I listened to were Canserbero, Nacho, and Apache. I liked all three of them, and each of them has their own style. I was surprised that I didn’t find more Latin urban music from Venezuela, but perhaps there are a lot more underground musicians out there.


Up next: the food

Thursday, December 17, 2020


Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a lot of information on pre-Columbian art from this area. It’s reasonable to assume that some existed because some of the indigenous cultures were quite advanced. And there are pieces that are included in displays and exhibits in museums like the National Gallery of Art in Caracas. Just as to what those pieces are of, I guess I’ll have to go visit one day and see.

Batalla de Carabobo by Martín Tovar y Tovar

In the early days of colonial Venezuela, much of the art was religious themed. Artists brought the skills and techniques they learned in Spain and other areas of Europe to this new land. During the 19th century, Martín Tovar y Tovar, an accomplished painter and portraitist, began the push to focus on painting historical scenes, and perhaps with a heroic point-of-view on it. Things were changing rapidly during this time. By the time the 20th century rolled around, artists were keen on keeping up with the modernism that was sweeping the art world.

The Death of Sucre in Berruecos by Arturo Michelena

Some famous artists to take note of include Jesús Rafael Soto (optical illusion art, kinetic art, painter, sculptor), Arturo Michelena (painter, known for his historical art and portraits), Carlos Cruz-Diez (kinetic art, optical illusion art), Armando Reverón (painter, sculptor), Manuel Cabré (landscape painter), and Cristóbal Rojas (impressionist painter).

Carlos Cruz-Diez

Prior to colonialism, literature was only in the form of stories and myths people told. These ancient tales were passed down from generation to generation. Some of these stories were thankfully written down later on. As the Spanish explorers landed in this new-to-them land, the first written accounts were mainly as chronicles and letters of their time there as they established communities. However, it wouldn’t be until the 19th century before any major novel to be published.

Andrés Bello - I think he looks a little like Mr. Molesley from Downton Abbey

The 19th century saw many changes in Venezuela’s political and social scenes, many of them turbulent and violent. And out of this upheaval, writers like Andrés Bello created works that would shape the face of Venezuelan literature. Bello was an educator, philosopher, humanist, poet, and legislator, and for a little while, served as one of Simón Bolívar’s teachers. Although he wrote quite a bit of civil codes (he did a lot of work in Chile), legal booklets, and some scientific and philosophical booklets, he also wrote a fair amount of poetry along with that. He also had written on the differences in Spanish language grammar between Latin American and Castilian Spanish.

Eduardo Blanco

Another influential writer was Eduardo Blanco, famous for his work Venezuela Heroica (1881). This novel is divided up into five vignettes taking a romantic view of Venezuela’s history, mainly battles that occurred during the War for Independence and the people who helped fight in them. Other than being a writer, Blanco served as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Venezuela (1900-1901) as well as being the aide-de-camp to General José Antonio Páez, who was completely flattered at his portrayal in the book. His other novel Zárate (1882), another national history novel, is thought to mark the beginning of the Criollista movement in Venezuelan literary history.

As Venezuela discovered oil and pushed the country into modernism, writers in the 20th century helped build that foothold. Rómulo Gallegos’ 1929 novel Doña Bárbara not only had a great influence in Venezuela but in Latin American literature as a whole. In fact, there have been numerous movies and TV series based on this book. And I just found out the Telemundo show La Doña (available on Peacock, which is NBC’s streaming service) is also based on this novel. I might check it out later.

Eugenio Montejo

Other writers of note include Arturo Uslar Pietri (writer, historical, television producer, the only writer to win the National Prize for Literature twice in its first five decades), Teresa de la Parra (novelist), Rafael Cadenas (poet, educator, essayist), Salvador Garmendia (novelist, short story writer, children’s literature writer), and Eugenio Montejo (poet, essayist, founder/co-founder of a couple literary magazines and journals).

Up next: music and dance

Monday, December 14, 2020


When I was in college, I volunteered as a tutor with an Adult ESL class held at a career center near where I grew up. I became friends with several of the students who came twice a week. One girl who was about my age was originally from Venezuela, but her fiance was from Spain. I remember having a conversation about different varieties of English, which then I asked her about different varieties of Spanish. She told me that when she traveled to Spain to meet his family, there were several times when she didn’t understand what they were saying just because the words were so different.

Angel Falls, Venezuela

There are a few ideas on where the name Venezuela came from, but the most widely accepted version says that Spanish explorer Alonso de Ojeda was traveling with the Italian navigator Amerigo Vespucci who spotted the stilt houses in Lake Maracaibo and it reminded him of Venice. So, they named the area “Little Venice,” or Veneziola. That changed to Venezuela in Spanish.

This country lies on the northern coast of South America, surrounded by Guyana to the east, Brazil to the southeast, and Colombia to the west. It has a long coastline along the Caribbean Sea and includes several islands off the coast. The islands of Aruba, Curaçao, and Trinidad and Tobago are also not far from the coastline. Lake Maracaibo is the largest lake, and there are several rivers and branches of river systems, including the Amazon and the Orinoco (remember that Enya song “Orinoco Flow” that’s quintessentially 1990s?). Angel Falls is the world’s largest uninterrupted waterfall, and there are several famous tepuis, which are flat, table-like mountains. Because of extreme changes in altitude throughout the country, their climate is quite diverse: from jungle to highlands, to glaciers. And with that, an extensive biodiversity to match. In fact, it’s one of 17 “megadiverse” countries.

Simón Bolívar

People have been living in this area for nearly 15,000 years, and evidence of tools have been found in several sites. Several indigenous tribes are native to Venezuela: Kalina (Caribs), Mariche, Caquetio, Auaké, and Timoto-Cuicas (who were the most advanced ones). Christopher Columbus came across this land on his third trip and was really taken by the looks of the place. The country was placed in the hands of Spain, who then started their campaign of converting all the native peoples to Roman Catholicism (of course they did). Some converted peacefully, others resisted. During the early 18th century, most of Venezuela was included in the Viceroyalty of New Granada. They finally declared their own independence in 1811. Simón Bolívar helped lead the way in this new war for independence, earning himself the moniker El Libertador. After several years of fighting, Bolívar eventually brought Venezuela along as part of the newly created Gran Colombia, which Venezuela would stay a part of until 1830 when it would gain its independence again. Slavery was abolished in 1854, and in the late 1890s, Venezuela would enter into a border dispute with Britain over the border between Venezuela and British Guiana, which there’s still a dispute technically going on today. Oil deposits were discovered in Lake Maracaibo during WWI, which had a huge impact on its economy until the 1980s. After WWII, a series of coups changed politics from that point forward. The government went into deep debt and practically collapsed in the late 1950s. From 1983, Venezuela started seeing its currency decline and an increase in poverty, crime, social and political instability. In 1999, Hugo Chavez became the president of Venezuela and dramatically changed the state of the country. Things were still rocky under Chavez, and he was even ousted for two days before retaking control. After he died in 2013 from cancer, Nicolás Maduro took over as president, and he’s not done a lot to improve the lives of Venezuelans. Incredible food shortages, high inflation, high crime, and political instability plague the country, causing nearly two million people to flee. Human rights organizations have had their eye on these situations for years.

The capital city is the city of Caracas, located on the Guaire River and not far from the Caribbean Sea. Caracas is one of the cultural capitals of the country, with museums, theatres, shopping centers, and some of the tallest skyscrapers in South America. Unfortunately, it has one of the highest murder rates in the world. It also has a ton of universities and a ton of sports venues too. I did read that in Caracas at Christmastime, there’s an odd tradition of going to early morning church services ON ROLLER SKATES. They even clear the streets for them so it’ll be safer. I really want to know the story behind this.

Oh, and did I mention that drilling in Lake Maracaibo has left it a complete environmental disaster?

Nearly 80-85% of Venezuela’s exports are in petroleum and related materials. They have one of the cheapest prices for petrol due to heavy subsidization. Prior to the discovery of oil, coffee and cocoa were the top agricultural exports. But utter mismanagement, a banking crisis in the 1990s, and general corruption, poverty and inflation has plagued this country, despite having oil. It’s gotten much worse in the past 5-6 years. Consumer pricing has gone up 800% as shortages affect essential goods. Despite this, there are still areas that attract tourists and depend on them.

Not surprising, nearly 88% of Venezuelans are Christian, and of those, 71% are Roman Catholic with the rest being Protestant. I was amazed to find that about 2% are atheist or agnostic and 6% are indifferent to the whole idea of religion. There are smaller groups of people who follow other religions like Buddhism, Druze, Islam, Santería, and even Judaism (although there are quite a few antisemites who caused their numbers to dwindle).

The official language is Spanish, and most people are monolingual in it. There are a ton of indigenous languages spoken in Venezuela too, including Wayuu (the most spoken one), Pemón, and Warao. There are also large pockets of other languages spoken by immigrant communities, such as Chinese, Portuguese, Italian, Arabic, and German. English is the most studied foreign language, and in some cases serves as a lingua franca. 

Several years ago, I saw value in reading novels aloud to my kids even as they were older. The first book I chose was The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. They actually really enjoyed this book about finding a world that has dinosaurs living in relative peace on top of a hard-to-find tabletop mountain in South America. One of these tabletop mountains (also called a tepui) is Mount Roraima, located in the Canaima National Park on the border of Venezuela, Brazil, and Guyana. This particular one is thought to be the inspiration for his famous novel. It’s also thought to be the inspiration for Paradise Falls in the movie Up as well.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, December 6, 2020


We made it through Thanksgiving, and this year I had to cook everything myself for just my family. And I didn’t get any of my mom’s pumpkin pies, so I wasn’t able to do my “pumpkin pie for breakfast” tradition. And now I’m trying to get Christmas presents ordered and still pay bills. You know, the usual struggles doubled by the pandemic. What I’m really looking forward to is taking my mandolin in to a luthier to have them look it over and figure out why a couple of my strings are buzzing. I’m new to this, and you can only Google so much.

These were amazing. Hands down, they were the best part of the meal.

But today is the day I’m making food from Vanuatu. The first recipe I made today is Banana and Peanut Butter Biscuits. Once I really thought about it, I figured they were probably talking about British biscuits (which are cookies in US English) rather than US biscuits (which are not sweet). It makes sense in this definition since the British were there for so long. So, the first thing I did was mix together 1 ¼ c flour, ½ tsp baking powder, ¾ tsp baking soda, and ¼ tsp salt. In a different bowl, I mixed together one stick of softened butter, ½ c of peanut butter, and 1c sugar until it was smooth, and then I added in two bananas and smashed until it was all smooth. I left my bananas a little chunky. Then I added my flour mix to the peanut butter-banana mix and stirred until it was all blended well. Then I spoon-dropped them onto a baking sheet that I lined with parchment paper. There was no oven temperature listed, so I just assumed 375ºF and left it in there until I could smell them, so about 20 minutes or so. They were really soft cookies and spread quite a bit, and even after letting them sit up for 10 minutes or so, they did firm up a bit but still fell apart pretty easily. If I were to do this again, I might think about raising the temperature to 400ºF and see if that helps with the shape any. But they were really tasty, and I think it’s safe to say that everyone liked them.

I really liked the subtlety of the flavors with the fish. I will probably make this again.

The main course is Citrus Baked Fish in Coconut Cream. I used tilapia filets for this, and my recipe was kind of sketchy and lacked details. I lined a baking sheet with foil and laid out my filets on it, dusting with a little salt. Then I thinly sliced a lemon and an orange and laid them out over the fish. After sprinkling a bit of pepper on top of that, I poured over a little coconut cream on top of the fish (basically just using about a half can). Normally, these would be wrapped in banana leaves, but it’s not usually a thing found in regular grocery stores. I took another piece of foil and covered everything, folding both pieces of foil so all the juices will hopefully stay inside. I put this in the oven at about 375ºF (I’m guessing that’s ok for a “moderate oven”) and baked it for about 45 minutes. I actually liked this. It had a nice faint citrus taste to it, and the combination of orange and lemon was something I had not had before (typically, I’ve just had lemon on fish). The cream added a slight sweetness to go with the sourness of the citrus. If I were to do this one again, I’d add more pepper to it to offset both of those flavors. I really liked this, and I think my husband liked it, but the kids were kind of skeptical.

I actually liked the mango with the vegetables. Too bad no one else did.

To go with this, I made Sweet and Sour Vegetables. I cut the amounts way down for this one. First I fried some onion in a large skillet for a couple of minutes. Then I added in my chopped vegetables: you can choose what you want, but I picked green beans, red bell pepper, carrots, and snow peas along with some water and coconut cream. I just added in enough vegetables that I think would be enough for four people. And I just used the other half can of the coconut cream from earlier. I let them fry for about 5-6 minutes until they were half cooked. Then I added in some diced mango to the vegetables, seasoning it with salt and pepper. I covered it with a lid and let it cook down until most of the water and cream were gone. Honestly, I liked this. I thought it was fantastic. But the others were extremely wary about fruit and vegetables cooked together. And my husband thought the mango was squash and already started retching inside.

If my opinion counts more than everyone else's, then this was a great meal!

My husband and I were in a discussion after I read him my menu a few days ago. I told him about the biscuits, asking him his opinion on whether he thought they meant cookies rather than what we call biscuits here. He agreed, based on the ingredients, but then said I should really aim to find purely authentic recipes, not ones colonial powers introduced. I disagreed. Sometimes I just can’t find a lot of available recipes from countries, especially now that I’m trying to find something I haven’t cooked before. But if a recipe was introduced in the early-1800s, then it’s been a thing in that country for 200 years. So, isn’t it kind of theirs now? Most recipes we have in the US were influenced from somewhere else. I don’t know. What I do know is that I could use another cookie. Or biscuit. Or whatever.

Up next: Venezuela


Traditional music in Vanuatu, called kastom singsing or kaston tanis in Bislama, utilizes quite a few different instruments. Some of these instruments and styles may vary from island to island, using percussion instruments like slit drums and rattles as well as aerophones like flutes and conch shells that you blow into. On a few of the islands, other types of drums and string instruments were used, but their use didn’t last long after colonial times for some reason.

Slit drums actually hold a special status among instruments used in Vanuatu. First of all, slit drums aren’t actually drums. They’re more like a hollowed-out piece of wood or bamboo with two slits in the top. If they’re different thicknesses, they’ll produce two different tones when hit with the sticks. Although these slit drums are popular all over the South Pacific islands, Southeast Asia, and Africa, the people of Vanuatu often use a hollowed log to make these drums and then add carvings to the outside of it. These drums are also used to accompany different dances, and on a rare occasion, used as a means of communication.

Many of the dances performed in Vanuatu are steeped in ritual, magic, and storytelling. One of the more well-known and unique dances is the Rom dance from the island of Ambrym. This island is known as being the center of “black magic” due to its two volcanoes filled with molten lava lakes and black sand covering its beaches. This dance comes with chanting about the myths and mysteries of the island, and the dancers are cloaked in dried banana leaves that have been used to create a cloak and a mask.

During the 20th century, string band music became pretty popular throughout Vanuatu. These bands included guitars, ukuleles, drums, and other instruments together. They often sang popular songs in Bislama and other local languages, but they also sang songs about places they’ve visited, romance, or politics and awareness.

Vanessa Quai

By the 1990s, commercial music was taking off, and genres like pop, reggae, reggaeton, African zouk music had a huge influence on their music. Probably the most famous musician from Vanuatu is Vanessa Quai. She’s become quite popular throughout the entire South Pacific region and can sing in multiple languages. Her music is a little pop, a little hip-hop, a little reggae.

Huarere is one of the most popular string bands from Vanuatu. They utilize some great harmonies, and I can see a lot of reggae influence in their music, too. As far as I can tell, they’re singing in Bislama.


I also listened to a couple of reggae bands. The first one I listened to was Stan and the Earth Force. It seemed to have a bit of an old school reggae style. I really liked it. It seemed to draw a lot on Jamaican reggae styles. The other reggae band I listened to was Metoxide. His style was a little more modern, in my opinion. I actually listened to this for a while because I enjoyed it so much.

Finally, I came across a hip-hop group from Port Vila that I enjoyed listening to called Confliction. I was very impressed with them. It’s quite catchy! I appreciate them using different styles of the music, and their cadence and flow is good. Perhaps it’s part of the hip-hop culture, but they also rap in English.

Up next: the food

Wednesday, December 2, 2020


Vanuatu’s early residents left behind rock drawings depicting animals, life events, and stylized ancestral spirits. These drawings were also decorated with geometric shapes. Another ancient form of art is sand art. Unlike the sand art we did as kids with layers of colored sand in a bottle, this sand art is essentially elaborate designs drawn in the sand. Sometimes they can resemble a person or animal (like turtles or fish) and are generally created around symmetrical designs (typically quatrefoil or trefoil designs). This style of sand art is included in UNESCO’s Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity list.

Ni-Vanuatu also creates a variety of crafts. Some of these include wearable crafts like shell necklaces, ankle rattles, masks, and headdresses. The masks are often decorated with feathers, tusks, leaves, and natural paints. It also includes carved arts like bowls and utensils, canoes, figurines of animals, as well as weapons like bows, arrows, clubs, and spears.

Modern European-style painting techniques were introduced by both the French and British. Today, you can find many art galleries in several of the islands showcasing local artists' works. There are also several public buildings with elaborate murals of island life and local history. One famous artist is Aloi Pilioko who is known for his colorful mural on the side of the post office in Port Vila.

The vast majority of the canon of literature from Vanuatu is steeped in the oral traditions of telling myths, legends, folk tales, and even sung poetry. These stories are passed down from generation to generation, often preserving a history of their culture. With the arrival of European missionaries, they taught the native Ni-Vanuatu written language in their schools. And they were quick to create Bibles and other dictionaries from Bislama to English and French.

Modern literature slowly cropped up in the 1960s when there was a push for a larger movement in teaching and producing South Pacific literature. And it wasn’t until the University of the South Pacific in Suva (Fiji) became the catalyst for accomplishing this major feat. Soon writing classes, literary circles, literary journals, and publishing houses were established as they created this new community of writers.

One of the most famous writers from Vanuatu is Grace Molisa. She became one of the foremost voices in feminist literature, and more specifically, poetry. Writing in both English and Bislama, she wrote quite a bit about post-colonial life in Vanuatu.

Marcel Melthérorong wrote the first novel from Vanuatu in 2007 called Tôghàn, about living in between Melanesian and European cultures. Writing in French, his novel was lauded as a fresh, new voice in French language literature. In fact, at its reissue in 2009, recent (2008) Nobel Prize in Literature recipient Jean-Marie Le Clézio added his forward to the novel.

Up next: music and dance