Archive for the ‘sense of place’ Category

Notes from Bangladesh: typhoon holiday

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

We got off-season rates at Cox’s Bazar on the Bay of Bengal. It was a wonderful time to be there. Every day we had stretches of sun parenthesized by downpours and impressive winds.

Boats in the Bay of Bengal

Sunken bridge

In the bay

Food ranged from the sublime to the grotesque. The grotesque included the high-carb ‘free’ breakfast at our hotel—flatbreads, Chinese noodles, curried vegetables, dals with beef or mutton, chicken curries, oatmeal, sweet rice puddings, omelettes, boiled eggs, croissants—where families and honeymooners fueled up for the day’s activities.

The sublime included the best grilled fish I’ve ever tasted at a hole-in-the-jungle eco-restaurant that we got to by hiring an electric baby-taxi to drive us up the coast past army teams repairing washed-out roads. The most exotic, and by far the least expensive, was a dining hall where families, labourers, businessmen, and ladies with their friends filled benches at tables on either side of a corridor that allowed waiters to whiz up and down delivering delicious fish curries, bhotas, vegetables, rice, pickles, and much else and where the three of us could eat splendidly and take home doggie bags for an equally splendid evening meal for just over $5.00.

The best grilled fish I’ve ever tasted

On a hotel-arranged tour of beauty spots, little boys with prehensile feet carried Isha up a gully to see a waterfall and across a channel over a decorative bridge.

Carrying Isha up a gully

Next week after a Vancouver visit, I’ll be heading back to drought-ravaged Ottawa, where Danjuma tells me he has plenty of peppers ready to garnish Italian sausage.

Notes from Bangladesh: Change of season and culinary implications

Saturday, June 16th, 2012

My father is back in Dhaka, the cricket pitches are wet, the goats amuse and the food is good.

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Dear Family and Friends,
 
It rained this morning in Lalmatia. The sky was dark and it was going to rain when the marketers (Beli and Lippy) set out for the bazaar in a rickshaw. Everyone was laughing. We are now at the beginning of Asharh, the first month of the two month “monsoon season.” Isha and I were watching cricket from the rooftop when the first large droplets began to fall and the boys scattered. Rain was shooting in through open windows when we got back to our flat.
 
Within an hour, the big boys were carrying pallets of sand onto the field to fill the puddles. The smaller boys were swimming in larger puddles beyond the cricket-playing areas; or they were building canals, dams, and drainage systems to the ditches around the park. The windows in our flat were open again. Isha and I were following a goat around on the cricket pitch, watching it eat the seed-tops off the grass. The marketers were buying vegetables and fish that hadn’t looked so fresh for months. There is nothing subtle or gradual about this change of seasons, and it feels good to everyone.
 
Fish

The pictures speak for themselves. Some shrimp was curried for lunch and two of the fish were fried. Most of the fish will be prepared and frozen for use over the next week or two. The second tiniest fish will be individually cleaned with the heads reserved for a bhota (a paste for kneading into your rice), one of the three or four or five dishes served up at every meal.
 
Water lily stems

The water lily is at the top of a rolled up two or three metre stalk, which is the part we eat. There are at least three types of, including sweet potato leaves, greens in the big white bag; several varieties of cucumbers for cooking or eating fresh; tendrils that hang down from lattices supporting gourds, cooked as a vegetable; and an impressive pile of what is sold in Canada as ‘bitter melon.’ There is a bag of achi (roasted and coarsely ground red rice) and a bag of attah (the wheat flour used for making roti, fresh flat bread, for breakfast). And there are guavas, three varieties of mangoes, and a large clutch of lychees. There was going to be a jack fruit, but the load was too heavy for an additional fruit about half the size of Isha. That will have to come tomorrow.
 
Seasonal best wishes!
P

Fall puppy

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

Plume walking in the hills north of MontrealPlume went for a walk in the Laurentians yesterday, with some friends recently returned from France. You can tell she’s artistic from her wonderful sense of colour.

Summer Sauce for Pasta

Sunday, July 24th, 2011

I’m hung over this morning, I think. It’s been about thirty years since the last time so I’m not sure, but I had a lovely time last night eating and drinking in the garden talking about current affairs and unions and now I’m kind of fuzzy-headed.

Picture me now, lying in my hammock as I copy out the recipe for what we ate from the New Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant cookbook. I would be happy to eat this every warm day all summer long.

Summer Sauce for Pasta
Serves 4

On those hot, lazy, sultry summer days, when, like a character in a Tennessee Williams play, you haven’t got the energy to do much more than lie around the house in an old tattered slip, try this quick, uncooked sauce. It’s fragrant, refreshing, and light.

6 ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 cups sliced mushrooms (8 ounces) [500 g]
6 to 8 ounces [200 g] mozzarella cheese, grated or cut into thin strips
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt

1 pound [500 g] spaghetti or linguini

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (1 ounce) [30 g]

Mix all the sauce ingredients together and let sit at room temperature for an hour or so, for the flavors to mingle.

Cook and drain the pasta. While the pasta is piping hot, serve it in well-warmed bowls, topped with a ladleful of sauce and garnished with Parmesan cheese.

Of course I don’t make it exactly like that. I use fewer mushrooms, less olive oil, more garlic (which I crush instead of mincing) and I hate Parmesan so I use Romano instead. But you won’t make it exactly like that either.

Enjoy!

My goodness this has been an exciting week!

Friday, August 13th, 2010

First my friend tweets that he thinks he may be dying,* then I hear that someone else has skin cancer,** then… Mark wins round trip tickets for two to Paris. And he invites me to go with him!
______________________________
* He’s now in the ICU but appears to be making a full and speedy recovery.
** Which is expected to be fully and speedily recovered from, but still.

Notes from Liberia – third trip

Monday, June 28th, 2010

My father has just returned from another trip to Liberia. The danger pay isn’t what it used to be, but he still loves his work.

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Dear Family and Friends,

I came back from Liberia in early June after three weeks of field work on a mid-term evaluation for a USAID-funded education program.

Liberia is putting itself together… with help from NGOs and International Organizations whose signs are on every corner.

When I was there in 2004, there was still tension. People weren’t confident that the wars were over. Young people who had been fighters and young people who had not been fighters were uneasily moving back together in their old villages – though many former child soldiers, ashamed to return home, stayed in Monrovia, the capital, with no trades except the ones they learned in war. Market women sat in front of the home of a warlord/minister, silently holding up signs that said No More Fighting. My danger bonus was 25%.

In 2009 I visited teachers’ colleges. The students were from all fifteen of the country’s ethnic groups. You could still see wariness, but mainly they were working well together as Liberians. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was President and was respected. My danger bonus had dropped to 15%, and applied only when I was in the countryside.

This year, the streets of Monrovia are livelier; the towns in the hinterlands are more prosperous; and ‘Ellen’ is running confidently for a second term. We once ran into a roving band of ‘commandos’ who were doing a poor job at intimidation, since they no longer carried guns. To [my wife] Vivian’s chagrin, the danger bonus had been eliminated.

I took pictures and am attaching three for flavour.

The owner of the hotel and the founder and patron of Zorzor Rural Women Literacy School.

The first is the front office of the hotel where I had just spent the night. The woman in the yellow dress is the owner of the hotel and the founder and patron of Zorzor Rural Women Literacy School. She, herself, began school after having three children. With the encouragement of her husband, she eventually earned a high school diploma.

Stop Early Marriage!

Stop Early Marriage!

The second is on a door of a mud house in a village a long way off the main road. We talked with townspeople. Different generations are back at school making up for years of lost education during the wars. Three of the young people who talked with us walk 40 kilometres to school at the beginning of the week and 40 kilometres back on the weekend. Others attend night classes at the local evangelical church. These are the survivors.

The class is full, so we know that the teacher teaches and the children learn.

The third picture speaks for itself. The class is full, so we know that the teacher teaches and the children learn. Children and parents judge the quality of schools; if the school doesn’t provide value, the children go to work on the farm.

My email misbehaved during most of the trip. When I eventually understood what was happening, Vivian hadn’t heard form me for ten days and was contacting the embassy to learn whether I was lost. Soon I started getting urgent messages saying “Please Contact your wife!” (One of the education team opposed getting involved, reasoning that I might not want my wife to know where I was. She was over-ruled.)

My assistant, Frank, and I spent three weeks, mostly on bombed-out or mudded-out roads, in a four wheel drive Toyota whose multiple breakdowns effectively randomized the communities we observed. I stayed in a different bush hotel every night, usually paying extra to have the generator turned on in the morning so I could type up the previous day’s notes. Eating was good – eggs and bread in the morning; bananas, plantain chips, and roast corn on the road; foofoo or rice and goat pepper soup in the evening. Liberia is a Christian country, so there was beer with supper. In Monrovia I ate grilled barracuda on the beach or Lebanese tabbouleh, hummus, and kibbee at a rooftop restaurant run by Indians.

In the capital, Frank found me a well-run local hotel on the main commercial strip, which I preferred to the beachfront expatriate hotels where I had previously stayed. I may have been a disappointment at the hotel, however. The first evening, while I waited for my pepper soup, the bar filled up – an attractive young woman on every second stool. Each one winked prettily as I walked out. The second night, they weren’t there.

It was a thirty-six hour trip back – through Accra, Addis Ababa, Rome, and Washington. Quicker though than the trip over, when we were diverted through Dakar to avoid the volcano in Iceland.

On my return there was two weeks of report writing – now over. And then the excitement began: First a 5.5 earthquake that felt like a ghost train running through the house. Two days later, the police invaded our quiet agricultural neighbourhood and removed plants and occupants from houses on our nearby corner.

Happy Canada Day and Fourth of July!

Pat/Patrick