I wrote this blog when I was in Monrovia, Liberia in 2012. Liberia has been on my mind often these past few months and so I wish I could write something that does justice to the capacity for optimism, mind boggling survival instincts, and tenacious swagger that Liberia embody to me. Sadly, my writing can never bring that to life so instead I will instead share with you my favorite experience with Liberian cuisine.
My favorite dish in Monrovia was palm butter chicken. Palm butter is a rich creamy sauce that you make from palm fruit (the same fruit from which you extract palm oil.) The sauce is thick like curry and eat it with rice. The sauce works with all kinds of meats, but chicken worked with it particularly well.
During our final week in Monrovia (June 2012), my friend suggested we try to learn how to make palm butter ourselves. Little did I know the dish would take 3 people 7 hours to make. It was totally worth it.
The poor soul who agreed to teach us was Sara, one of the most patient and hard working people on the planet.
We started our day by heading to the glorious Maggi market where “every woman is a star” to buy our fresh ingredients.
We were hunting for chicken, onions, palm, spices, coal and chilies.
Mission accomplished. We got it all onions, tomato paste, toxic looking random substances, okra, re-portioned spices and then of course we hit the family planning clinic at the market. I have to say whoever decided to locate a clinic at Maggi market understood their target population. So kudos to you…
After a very successful shopping trip we headed home to make the magic happen.
I’m just going to let the pictures do the talking here, but the gist of it is we took turns churning palm while the others prepped and cooked the chicken, rice and other vegetables. My money says churning palm is going to be a future fitness fad. Remember you heard it here first.
At that point I was collapsed on the corner recovering from all that churning while my friend and Sarah cooked the delicious palm butter sauce. They thickened the pure palm over low heat for 45mins then you add the chicken then voila!
Dinner is served!
Now I leave you with some adorable cat pictures from Maggie Market!
In an attempt to embrace the wisdom that comes with “aging.” Last October, I compiled a list of the life lessons I’ve learned so far. This month I’m back in reflection mode and I’m curious if people feel the same way so here are some of my nuggets of wisdom in proper “list porn” format:
Control is a myth or as the Great Master Yoda says: “Impossible to see, the future is.”
A wise friend once told me: “Your true challenge in life is to accept the unknown.” Few truer statements have been uttered in this life. Recently, I have concluded that happy people are those who work hard to perfect everything within their control and don’t spend their time and energy obsessing over things they know to be out of their control.
Fact: You don’t control when and where you’re born, parents you’re born to, # of siblings and your natural likes and dislikes. You don’t control who you’ll meet and whether they’ll like you ( Sure you can try to be likable, but you will never be able to control the outcome) and finally you have no control over a drunk driver possibly hitting you or one of your loved ones on a random Wednesday.
The universe is full of unknowns . Embrace them and you’ll be surprised how much lighter and happier you feel.
There’s more to life than vacationing
We are obsessed with our vacations and our trips (as we should be) and wanderlust is definitely healthy and fulfilling. I would even argue that most people associate paradise/ultimate winning with pristine beaches, colorful cocktails and doing nothing. That sounds epic, but let’s face it, real life is what happens in between those vacations. You should be spending that time obsessing over your purpose in life (whatever it may be) and depleting your energy in pursuit of said purpose then going for that inspiring rejuvenating vacation so you can live to fight another day (for chosen purpose).
I understand this may seem ludicrous to some people, but what makes vacations so special is their scarcity. Otherwise you’d be surprised how “doing nothing in beautiful places” gets old pretty quickly.
What you want for others may not be what they want for themselves
We’ve all judged the life decisions of people we care about. Be it friends, parents, siblings, children, or significant others. Of course we usually only judge them when they spurn our advice and follow their own hearts.
One way to approach is would be to stop attempting to control the actions of others but the other would be to accept that what you want for those you love may not be what they want for themselves.
People have different passions, drivers and life goals. Some people work for money, others for appreciation or passion, some people marry for love, others for status or security. So, live and let live. Give people your honest opinion when they ask for it, but respect and support them regardless of whether they took your advice.
Also, apply this to yourself because you’ll notice that what you want is not necessarily what you need. So, just digest that for a moment.
Beware of “The Great Gatsby Effect”
I define “The Great Gatsby Effect” as the aggrandizement and perfection your mind bestows on someone/thing/where that you no longer see regularly.
In the case of Gatsby, this happened with Daisy, a beautiful shallow vain selfish woman. Gatsby spend years away from Daisy and his mind started painting her an angelic personification of perfection. His disillusionment was a painful struggle and never should have happened if his mind hadn’t tricked him.
We all have our own version of “Daisy.” It could be an ex, high school crush, charming Italian town, childhood candy or even an old boss. The the sooner we force our disillusionment, the easier it will be to move on and lead a healthier happier life. #Spoiler alert, Gatsby dies at the end of the story and Daisy doesn’t even blink. #Fail
Speaking of disillusionment….
Social media is Photoshop for real life
Unless it produced legit entertainment value, Why would you post an ugly picture of yourself on social media? Why would you share boring life details that no one cares about? Apply the same rules to other people and that should take care of all that “Life is unfair, how come everyone else is doing all these cool things all the time” blues. It literally is Photoshop-style editing that people apply their lives.
Self awareness is a gift and not everyone has been blessed with said gift. Some people talk about themselves for a good 45 minutes without realizing they haven’t asked the other person a single question. Others have a direct approach which they don’t realize might offend others. This list can go on and on. The key takeaway is always give people the benefit of the doubt and try to nudge them in the right direction before you put them in a box and cross them off forever. Always remember that someone might be giving you the exact same treatment.
The more you make the more you spend
During her MBA, my friend’s professor told her that “The greatest gift you can give yourself is the ability to walk away.” He then explained that part of being flexible is not confining yourself to a certain lifestyle. As your income increases, so do your spending habits and if you end up losing that income for some reason, reverting back to your older lifestyle will be difficult and painful. The way I see it, the key is to be cognizant of that and to never take anything for granted. Never lose sight that these lifestyle changes are a privilege and that privilege may not last forever then plan accordingly.
The Best is Yet to Come. ALWAYS.
If you internalize this statement and believe it, I honestly believe it will come true. Good things will happen if you don’t stop seeking them. Enjoy what you have, but never stop wanting more.
For some inspiration check out:
The story of Madam CJ Walker who went from picking cotton at 14 to making building her own multimillion dollar business when she was over 40.
The story of Diana Nyad who swam from Cuba to Florida at 64
Stan Lee who didn’t write his first “Marvel” comic till he was 39
My perceptions and standards have drastically changed since then. Now, instead of trying to explain everything, I’ll walk you through a day in pictures:
Let’s start with some aesthetic pictures that show the lay of the land, and illustrate what typical houses in Isebania, -and most of rural East Africa- look like:
Now that you get the general overview, let’s get go through some of the interesting objects, practices and scenes you deal with here:
The Shower Contraption
You start by turning on the water and then stepping out to the hall to turn on the switch below:
Then the electric heating contraption below starts buzzing and magically heating your shower water. Just for the record I’ve never been electrocuted, but I’ve also never been dumb enough to touch the wires or the contraption when the switch was on.
For those who find that tough and/or dangerous, here is how 99.9% of Isebania gets its water:
If you’ve always lived in places with indoor plumbing, then you never would have needed
Since, I gave everyone debrief of transportation in the last blog, I’ll leave you with this picture:
These things are NASTY. They literally climb “you” at the speed of light and start biting. They’re ruthless to say the least. Avoid at all costs.
The Community and its Priorities
This is a community of subsistence farmers. The priorities are your “shamba”, your cows and chickens (if you’re rich enough to have any), and your children. Your biggest financial hurdles are school fees, healthcare expenses, farming inputs, dowries (paid by men), weddings and funerals.
The Wonders of the Market
The Purchases that Changed My Quality of Life in Isebania
The Fake Floor
Fake floors are available in hardwood, granite, all kinds of colorful ceramic patterns, and carpeting. This how I brought “luxury” to my otherwise gross cement floor.
The Rat-Proofing Bucket
The only way to guarantee the safety of my precious snacks!
The Fancy Mosquito Net
For everyone who has never seen a mosquito net, here you go:
I should add that this “fancy” rectangular mosquito net changed my life. Before that I had a small one (see below) that I got tangled in every night (not fun.)
The Makeshift Board Game
People know how to have a good time here. Who needs overpriced commercial boardgames when you can make your own?
So, in the end I’ll just apologize for my inferior photography skills and my pathetic iphone camera. I’m going to steal some better quality safari pictures from my coworker for the next picture blog in order to end everyone’s suffering. In the meantime, I leave you with this amazing picture of our cat “Kali,” which is “Danger” in Kiswahili.
It’s been a crazy week. I got mistaken for a missionary (twice) and had to awkwardly explain that I wasn’t even Christian. I got offered a room with a glass door and the word “Lounge” written across said glass door in Nairobi, and had to politely explain why that was weird. My bus from Nairobi to Isebania stopped around 30 minutes before reaching (what I thought) was the final destination. Thankfully, a nice nun-in-training helped explain to me that the driver just stops and pays for you and your luggage to get a matatu (micro-bus) to the final destination. 2 days ago I suffered all malaria symptoms, and went to a clinic to get tested. Results were negative (sigh of relief,) it’s only a nasty stomach virus which apparently is like a right of passage thing.
I have a ton of blog-worthy stories about work, and fun stories like how some co-workers told me the “locally” brewed beer (Changa) cures typhoid, but might destroy your eyesight. However, I’m starting with a blog that just lays out context for all future blogs so here we go.
So, I’ve been telling everyone I’m moving to rural Kenay with Nuru International and I think it’s about time I stop referring to my new home as “rural Kenya.”
So, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Isebania! The place that a non local would know only if : a) they were a missionary or b) they work for an NGO -that’s according to every single person I spoke to between Nairobi and my new full time residence at Nuru house.
I live in what is referred to as “Nuru House” with 10 other expats. Here are a couple of pictures of the house so you get the picture. I’ve had to learn to co-exist with all kinds of fun “creatures,” and I now think of geckos as an excellent pet that scares away other insects.
There is only one road here, which is the road you would use to cross the border. Otherwise, there are dirt roads for things like hospitals and schools and then just natural raw land.(I wasn’t kidding about the remote rural location.)
The main or rather only means of local transportation here is a “boda” or a “piki,” which is a low budget dirt bike (I’ll get some pictures later.) A 20 minute ride costs around 50 cents and boda drivers are crazy resourceful. In one week here, I’ve seen them attach my giant suitcases, a large aluminum pot full of hot pasta alfredo, Eggs and over 20 Kg of vegetables and that’s usually in addition to me……
It took me 3 rides to go from being terrified of bodas to asking Charles (the trusted expat boda driver,) for driving lessons.
3 tomatoes are around 20 cents and an avocado is around 10-15 cents. Kale is the local lettuce. Refrigerators are rare, so if you want any type of meat, you need to go the butcher the day of the kill or learn to butcher animals yourself. Needless to say, I’m becoming a semi-vegetarian.Dairy products are also rare because of the same refrigeration issue. For water, people dig shallow wells or use the closest questionable stream.
I already know I hate ugali (maize mixed with water to form a hard dough) and love chipati ( sort of like fried naan.)
Everyone here is a subsistence farmer and grows maize to feed their family during the long rains (Feb-Sep) and sometimes a cash crop (in this area, it’s tobacco), during the short rains (Oct-Jan.) All irrigation is done solely through rain. There’s zero power/water infrastructure so farmers are dependent on the fertility of their lands and the whims of the universe. This year the universe has been cruel and there has been a drought, and just to be clear, in an area like this drought=famine.
As you would expect, women are second class citizens here. Women were not allowed to legally own land up to 2009 and upholding the law remains a bit tricky. When you ask some of the guys at work about their kids, some of them would only count their male offspring.
Mazungos or “white people” which I have now re-defined to “non-local,” are a rarity. When locals here see Mazungos, they would actually yell out “Mazungo” at you and start waving. Others would yell “Mazungo, how are you?” or all kinds of Swahili greetings that I am yet to decipher.
Being called a Mazungo was probably one of the weirdest experiences of my life…… People expect you to learn KiSwahili and KiKuria (the local dialect,) so wish me luck! We all know I’m not exactly gifted with languages.
Everyone wakes up around 6.30 and our house goes into lock down at 6 pm and no one here has a smart phone! Next blog will definitely be about my new sociological experiment that is life without a smart phone…
My dad died last September – Yes you can’t say “passed away” or “left us” or “departed.” You have to say “die.” The first lesson about grief is realizing the harshness of it. It’s not something you get over by using words that are easier on the ears. Saying “passed away” won’t make my father’s death any less final. Grief is just a harsh reality that you need to embrace with your heart and mind. You just need to yield and surrender your all.
It will take over your life, but the quicker you let it in, the quicker you will adapt and just learn to live with it until it became a scar that is part of you, but not one that dominates you.
I’m definitely not there yet. I tried to resist. I thought: “People die, “hard fact,” I need to get used to it. I need to be stronger for all those “weaker” souls who aren’t as strong as I am. Boy was I wrong.
I’ve always been been proud of my ability to control my emotions and never understood why it was so hard for others. Now I understand. I have become a ticking time bomb prone to explosion at any given moment.
At first, this idea terrified me, but there was nothing I could do about it. When grief hits you, there is absolutely nothing you could do, you are helpless and broken and you need to acknowledge that you have a problem. It’s time for you to say words like “died,” “مات” despite all the pain. It’s hard.
A month after he died, I forced myself into a state of denial. I tried to ground my denial in faith and optimism. It didn’t work. I had to let things be and stop forcing it.
My advice to you if you are afflicted with the loss of someone you care for is: let grief consume you and embrace it because otherwise, you are forced to deal with an infected hole in your heart that requires intervention rather than a hole that would have simply healed with time.
I am by NO means the “average” Egyptian woman. I have had a privileged “liberal” upbringing, an understanding family, and an unhealthy bubble of similarly minded women that kept me sane.
Yet, in many other ways I AM the average Egyptian woman. I am terrified of walking the streets of Cairo without an adequate male “guardian”. People care more about the length of my skirt, my marital status and the time I get home than they do about my education, interests or skills. I feel judged and scrutinized over my every word, action or look.
And, I have lost all hope for an Egypt where women can walk the streets without fear.
Fact: An estimated 83% of Egyptian women report to have been exposed to some form of sexual harassment. Be it verbal, molestation, groping, or assault. -Personally, I find that number too low.
Fact: This year we saw female protesters grossly violated and humiliated such as the infamous girl with the blue bra and the courageous Samira Ibrahim who has been named one of Time’s 100 most influential people for going public with the “virginity test” the Egyptian military put her through.
Fact: The Virginity test army doctor accused by Sameera Ibrahim was acquitted March of this year. Also, No case has been bought against the criminals who attacked the girl with the blue bra.
-FYI, these atrocities and what they represent are not even considered “real issues” by the Egyptian public.
Fact: This year alone, International media was rocked with the sexual assault testimonials of three female journalists. Mona El Tahawy was assaulted by riot police – Central Security Forces – at Mohamed Mahmoud St while, Laura Logan, and Natasha Smith who were sexually assaulted by the masses in Tahrir square during the momentous celebrations of Mubarak stepping down, and Morsy’s presdiential win.
Fact: Not a single candidate running for office post or pre revolution made sexual harrassment an issue nor made it part of his/her campaign program.
Fact: Mrs. Kamilya Helmy, the head of the “International Islamic committee for women and children” claims the constitutional language of “equality despite gender, religion or race” is destructive western language intended to destroy Egyptian family values and advance gay rights. Her Arabic article can be found on the Muslim Brotherhood’s website here. – I’ll try to translate it in full later.
Fact: Egypt’s newest first lady, Mrs. Naglaa Mahmoud most likely does represent the average woman.
From this NYT article, we learn that she prefers to be called “Um Ahmed” or “Mother of Ahmed.” She never went to college and got married at 17. The article also followed Um Ahmed’s career. She was “a homemaker,” then she translated sermons for women who were considering converting to Islam in the US. After she returned to Egypt, she taught “young girls about marriage” via one of the Brotherhood’s female divisions. The NYTimes quoted the curriculum saying “Men are designed to lead and women to follow.”
Another sad fact. Instead of asking the first lady her stance about women’s issues such as sexual harassment, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or honor killings, they asked how she plans to “greet” foreign dignataries and criticized her attire.
I hate being one of those pessimistic people who listed problems without offering any solutions, but I really genuinely don’t know how to fix this. Ideas, anyone?
“Smell No Taste” is the name of a famous Liberian village located between Roberts Intl. Airport and the infamous “Firestone” plantation. The village got its name because its residents were used to smelling the food and riches coming from Firestone, yet they never got to taste it.
It’s sad to say most Liberians feel the same way about the “expat development world.” There are hundreds of NGOs in Liberia yet the locals remain cynical about the true motivations of all these “expats” having learned their lesson from the days of the “Firestone Republic.”
Last week I had a meeting with the team working on Liberia’s World Trade Organization (WTO) membership proposal. The team had just recieved their second sponsorship rejection from an International Ogranization. The rejection email included a recommendation that the Liberian government hire an “international consultant” to help with the proposal. This is how my Liberian coworker reacted “All these people want is to look for jobs for their friends. They just want us to train them and teach them then they go make a ton of money.”
This is a very serious accusation. It just goes to show you that Liberians today still believe they’re being dealt the “Smell, no taste” hand. Today Forbes published “World Bank Mired In Dysfunction: Mess Awaits New Head” about the dysfunction and corruption of the World Bank. These problem could be generalized to most large International Organizations who lack objective supervision. This article couldn’t be more timely.