Sunday, December 9, 2018

South Africa 2: Going to Robben Island, Nelson Mandela's prison

       "There are personal actions each of us can take within our sphere of influence and expertise to help... No one of us can do it alone, but there is power if we leave old factions behind and build bridges to work together..."
                                              --Sharon Eubank

    "The world is truly round and seems to start and end with those we love."             --Nelson Mandela 

     "It is easier to change society than it is to change yourself."                     --Nelson Mandela

Robben Island, with Table Mountain in the background and penguins just behind us.
As the plane left the ground of Cape Town, South Africa for my return home, I reflected on the many lessons I learned in the almost two weeks of being there. I thought of the stare down with a male ostrich and how when I got back in my car at Table Mountain National Park, I would forever see animals in a different way. I was just taking his picture, but his iron-will eyes communicated to me the determined love he had for his family behind him--that he would protect them--at any cost. 

I remembered holding an elephant's trunk with my son who has autism and how we all joyfully walked through a field together. Again, an animal's eyes looking at me, but this time with a beckoning for friendship. Seeing playful flapping of whales dancing together in the Atlantic Ocean brought a majestic magic that made me feel like I was ten again. With many whales surrounding the boat and then on a cliff above them, I was riveted with their every leap. I will not forget the wonderful and creative people who I met--our conversations which I have played in my head again and again. But the overarching lesson came from a man who South Africa celebrated his 100th birthday this year--Nelson Mandela.

You cannot miss Nelson Mandela's influence all over the country. His face is ubiquitous-- on almost every paper currency, signs, and artwork. Quotes from his life are also everywhere. Yet, it wasn't until I went to Robben Island where he was imprisoned for about 18 years, and then for another nine years in another jail, that I began to understand, perhaps, just a little, the meaning of the word Forgiveness.  Mandela not only preached but pleaded for the new nation, without apartheid, to reconcile, to forgive. There were many who wanted him to preach revenge. Mandela refused. Instead, a man who had been long-suffering for 27 years envisioned something far greater--a country of peace, without divisions.

Mandela endured, along with the other political prisoners years of sleeping on a cold cement floor--devoid of medical supplies, proper food, hot water, newspapers, or a radio. Up until 1973, he was only able to see a visit every year for 30 minutes. He was not allowed to see his children until they were 16. His letters were only to be 500 words or less every six months. Yet, he did not complain or regret his decisions to be there. He earned an advanced law degree after ten years of struggling to get the textbooks.

With all that he outwardly, publicly endured, his inward transformation is what intrigues me the most. In a tiny cell, he even praised his ascetic living, calling it "an ideal place to learn to know yourself, to search realistically and regularly the process of your own mind and feelings." The austerity, he added, "gives you the opportunity to look daily into your entire conduct, to overcome the bad and develop whatever is good in you."

The jail cell Nelson Mandela would be known as #44364. He was the 443rd prisoner the year of 1964 and was known by that number all the 18 years he was at Robben Island.

South Africa dismantled apartheid over two decades ago now. Fifty years of apartheid took its toll on the country, but what astounded me was that it was in Robben Island where Mandela, the lawyer, called the prison "the university of his life." In the most unlikely of places, often times lonely, and afflicted with heat and disease, he learned even harder lessons of the soul--how to forgive. His fellow prisoners were the professors, all learning from one another.
He would have solitary confinement for months, little food. Before 1973, he was able to see a visitor for 30 minutes once a month, and write and receive a letter every six months. Nevertheless, he taught, "If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner." His first words out of prison were the insistence of forgiveness.

He came to the prison in 1964, and would not walk out a free man until February 11, 1990. After years of trying to peacefully disband apartheid, in the early 1960s, he began to think violence was the only way. But after being in "the university prison"--listening to illiterate men who had not received the education he had, men who came with different opinions and persuasions, they decided peace and reconciliation were absolutely the only way to bring democracy to South Africa. Mandela's first words out of prison were:

  "I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you, the people. Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here this day. I, therefore, place the remaining years of my life in your hands."

Later when he was released after 27 years, he befriended some of his prison guards at Robben Island. In 1993, both he and F. W de Klerk, the president of South Africa, received the Nobel Prize together, the man who had released him from prison. They were political rivals who needed one another: their unlikely successful negotiations saved a civil war in South Africa. Mandela's resolute will to peacefully carry on dialogue changed his country and the world. 

His example made me desire to resolutely desire to freely forgive. And when I think I am in a tough place, learn from everyone--to create a university where everyone around me are my teachers. 

A boat of political prisoners arriving into Cape Town from Robben Island, about a thirty-minute boat ride Cape Town.
Mandela invited 1,000 former prisoners five years after they were released from prison, in 1995. Every person picked up a rock to make a memorial to commemorate "the human spirit." Every tour guide at Robben Island is a former prisoner, adding to the impact of the tour.

Tom Moses, our guide, telling about his prison experience. He knew Mandela and thought of him as a father figure. He said to us that when they came back to remember their time as being prisoners, Mandela told them, "Let us never be sad here. It is a place where the human spirit has triumphed. 
With our tour guide, Tom Moses, who has vowed to educate and help others to always remember the political prisoner experience at Robben Island.

The prison halls...

Outside the cells where the prisoners would play soccer and sometimes tennis. Mandela was supposedly an expert tennis player.

The place where they had the occasional meeting

Political prisoners, depending on how dangerous they were deemed to be, had different diets.

During the tour, you can go to several dozen prison cells of other prisoners--the community of people who mentored  each other in their "university/prison."

Another prison colleague with Nelson Mandela

In each cell, there were signs about the prisoner. This story shows the compassion and forgiveness  that was engendered in the "prison/university,"
The prison buildings at Robben Island

More pictures of the prison ground

    Some of the very few pictures of Nelson Mandela we saw around              Cape Town

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Monday, December 3, 2018

Signs that have made me smile...

Let us always meet each other with a smile for a smile is the beginning of love. 
  --Mother Teresa

Signs... a message to protect and alert you to danger, to give new insights, to make you laugh. Here are just a few I have seen that have added a chuckle to my day. What messages do you see or better yet, create to make the world smile?

Maybe this doesn't look so funny at first glance but just wait. This is Tresa, my wonderful friend who I had many hilarious adventures with. She came to Doha, and I asked her if she could make a sign for a party we were having at the "Singing Sand Dunes," a place where you slide down the dunes and the entire dune rumples. Well, we laughed a long time because she accidentally wrote "Sining Sand Dunes." She forgot the G and even though Sining is not spelled right (It should be "sinning", we roared with laughter. Tresa died about a year later from ovarian cancer. BUT she never stopped laughing and seeing the joy that any little escapade or person could give her. We always joked that we could act like we were 14-year-olds together. We worked together well and got a lot done, but a joke, laugh (We both snort--a funny honking that accidentally comes out of your nose when you laugh) were never far away. I am sure the angels up in heaven are all laughing a lot more with Tresa by their sides.

Here are both the signs.
Once you go out of Doha, you could definitely happen upon a camel. It has happened to me.  Every time I see it, I remember I am not at home anymore.

I have always loved penguins--ever since Mrs. Seiler read us Mr. Popper's Penguins in second grade. I have to say it was so much fun to see rocks covered with penguins in the ocean just south of Cape Town, South Africa. I guess the sign was there to make sure none of them got loose!

Someone being creative in a cafe in Plettenberg, South Africa. I like the way this person gives so much advice in just a few words--almost like a poem.

Another sign to remember you are a foreigner in a strange land. Hippos are not your ordinary roamers on the road. 

On a bike ride around Montagu, South Africa, I spotted this road sign in the small town. The story behind it is that a woman allowed her cats to roam around the town, but was worried one of them would get hurt in the traffic. She decided to petition to have a special sign made for her two cats. Her request was approved and the cat sign was put up. The happy story was that her cats were always safe on the streets of Montagu, South Africa.

I guess this sign doesn't look that funny, but it shows a South African saying, "Now Now," that means, "Don't worry I am coming" or "Your request or question will happen soon" or "By and by it will happen. Just be patient." So when you say "Now, Now" in South Africa, it does not mean immediately as the words infer. It means "Just by and by." And you never know how long that means. 

I would normally say "bump," not "hump" to alert you to a bump in the road. I think it comes from  the Middle East having camels with humps?

Another sign I see often on the roads here. Men wear thobes in the Middle East so you wouldn't  see it at home. 

A sign in Provence, France on the road to alert you to all the sheep. 

Loved the creativity of this sign maker in Malaga, Spain at a small cafe where we had some hot chocolate.  I agree completely!

This vendor/entrepreneur in a marketplace in Marrakech, Morocco made us all smile. And did we go to his store? Of course! Humor and wit always go a long way. For some more smiles about Marrakech vendors, here is a blog about winding around the honeycomb stalls:

When we arrived at his stall, there were more signs to make us chuckle. I was impressed! I didn't buy anything, but we all laughed and congratuleated him on his business acumen. 
To be aware of stray tortoises in Montagu, South Africa. Not your usual reminder!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Comfort Food Around the World

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire. It is the time for home.” 
                                                       --Edith Sidwell

And because I like soup:

"Only the pure in heart can make a good soup."  --Ludwig Beethoven

"A first-rate soup is more creative than a second-rate painting." --Abraham Maslow          
   "This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook--try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!"    --Julia Child                                                                                             
Every fall I seek out comfort food--from my own heritage, friends from around the world, and the people I come across in food stalls and markets in my travels. I have learned a lot. Sometimes my family laughs because I speak to people when we both can barely communicate. But I genuinely want to learn from them.

My favorite incident was in an Italian market in Florence, Italy, buying some dried herbs. Honestly, an older gentleman and I were communicating, even though we spoke no common language. We were excitedly waving our hands around--understanding one another's enthusiasm and love for adding herbs. Hilarious, when I think of it. I walked away, having a whole new respect for the Italian way of enhancing dishes with herbs. Also, I learned how to make a good soup about an hour later  from another Italian cook who spoke no English.

It is the season for rustic, signature dishes that feed our soul. Autumn is a time to cook and collaborate with others to stir up some luscious tastes and smells. What are some of your comfort foods? Who are the people you will gather around you to share your table and stories? Bon Appetit!

Chinese Stir Fry and Dumplings

Elias and his art teacher, Anny (from Taiwan), making Chinese comfort food--fried rice. There are so many versions,--mostly what you have on hand

A meal or snack for all of Asia...

Making Chinese dumplings with Jason, from Taiwan

When I lived in Taiwan and China, dumplings were our favorite comfort food to make with friends and families--especially for Chinese New Year. They take a long time to make, but they are worth it.


In order to make all the tasty comfort foods, you need spices--one of my favorite places to go to in the Souq in Qatar. You can find saffron, and any herb or spice you wish. A haven for most any cook. You can find different mixtures of garam masala (a mixture of Indian spices that is particular to a family or region), za' atar (a Middle East dry mix of thyme, oregano, marjoram, toasted sesame seeds, and salt. Sometimes sumac and parsley are added to the mixture. It is used as a rub for meat or fish dishes. I love to experiment and try out new spices and herbs.

Some good friends in Voeux, France, in the Provence region. I didn't want to go home with all of Lilianne's homemade meals. Every night was a wonderful soup and salad. Here is one, but you can experiment. One of my very favorite flavorings is Herb de Provence--a mixture of rosemary thyme, oregano, and basil (the usual Italian mixture), but in Provence, they add lavender (of course), fennel, sage, tarragon, and savory. As Julia Child says, "In France, cooking is a serious art form and a national sport!"

My son-in-law has brought the crepe to our family in full force--making it a tradition. Before he married my daughter, he helped me choose a crepe pan that is now a staple in our home. I treasure it and even travel with it. Ha! Last Christmas he woke up early with our daughter to make us Christmas morning crepes with Guerre cheese and ham. The secret to making a good crepe is mixing the batter in a blender and refrigerating it overnight. Also, if you want to make a galette (with buckwheat flour), here is a recipe:  Personally, I like them even better than a crepe.

Some of my Swedish/Icelandic relatives. These two are triplets, but the other one is missing...  Making some Risgrynsgrot (Rice pudding)

Risgrynsgrot Recipe

A dessert or a porridge--depending on when you eat it--in the morning or evening. Tradition says the affinity of eating risgrynsgrot began in 1328 at a funeral wake. But now it is always included in the Julboord (Christmas buffet) and during the holidays. It is left out for the Christmas elf, and if not put on the porch, it is said the elf can become mischievous. One almond is put in the pudding and if anyone finds it, they will have a wonderful year ahead. 

4 eggs, 1 cup sugar, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1 cup cooked rice (do not use the minute rice), 1 12 oz can of evaporated milk, 1/2 to 3/4 cup low-fat milk, and cinnamon

In a medium-sized bowl, beat 4 eggs lightly, add 1 cup sugar and beat a little. Add the nutmeg.

Add one can of evaporated milk

Pour into a 2-quart dish and add the low-fat milk.

Sprinkle cinnamon on top. Dollop a few tsp of butter on top, if you want. 

Bake at 325 degrees for one and a half hours or until the top of the pudding moves a little in the center if you push it gently. 


If you ever go to Sierre, Switzerland, go to this small restaurant that mainly serves raclette. Basically, it is melted cheese over vegetables and a little meat. The most important ingredient besides the cheese are the small potatoes.

Every night they have five main kinds of cheese to serve you from around the region. Each town has its own cheese, depending on what they feed the cows on how it will taste. 

My good friend, Annagreth, from Interkerken, Switzerland, introduced us to raclette. A wonderful social meal that can last for hours, kind of like its cousin, fondue.


Always a tradition for our family every year--Vinarterta. Martha Stewart recently wrote about our family's long-standing tradition. But I prefer my stained and wrinkled recipe, written in my grandmother's beautiful handwriting. One of the best things about it is that this cake can last a long time on the shelf. Instead of prune filling like my grandma or Martha, our family has a raspberry jam filling. Basically, it is just a big sugar cookie cake with jam. I have carried it with me on many a trip so we keep up the tradition... And I love to think of my grandmother and ancestors making it too. 


Hungarian Goulash and crusty bread on a cold day

The traditional trdelnik or chimney cake, a hollow roll made on some coals, that is rolled in cinnamon and sugar, and all concoctions of deliciousness with ice cream inside--made in Hungary and the Czech Republic.

If you are walking around on a cold night, you can warm your hands by the coals and then eat some ice cream.

The art of making the trdelnik...

The finished product: awaiting the ice cream
Going to Hyderabad, India was a whole new awakening of the senses. Once you get off the plane, you start to smell the spices. My son's favorite is Chicken Biryani:

We went for a wedding to a small village about four hours outside of Hyderabad, a place where most everyone had never seen Westerners. I will never forget the skills I saw as the entire village prepared for the wedding feast--a meal that fed about 3,000 people.

Eating in shifts all night long...


Can't forget Lucy, my friend from Ukraine, who is now in a pastry school in Croatia. But my favorite thing she makes is her borscht. Trust me, the ultimate in comfort food


Introducing the tagine while in Morocco... I have tried to begin duplicating tangine dishes from North Africa, particularly Morocco, which is more seasoned with lemon. I even got my own tagine that is slow cooking, pairing flavors of sweet and savory, like quinces, honey, or dates with meat and/or vegetables. The couscous soaks up the flavor of the main dish. Wonderful on a cold night.

Couscous with steamed vegetables--made for vegetarians or with lamb, chicken, and fish.

Parisa, an Iranian restaurant here in Qatar, located in the Souq Waqif (market). The bread is made in the traditional way with rocks on top, It is long and flat and eaten with almost every meal.

South Africa

I think, perhaps, I was the most most surprised at South African cooking. I was not expecting the incredible originality, freshness, and exciting mixtures. All I can say is people know how to be creative with food in South Africa--my kind of place. Everywhere there was a garden people were cooking from.

I met Diana from Managu, South Africa at a Saturday town market. It is a town up in the mountains where creativity reigns and people live close to the earth. She persuaded me to taste her cashew and garbanzo quiche. She was very happy that I liked her creations so much. She says she is a vegan, except when she gets a Camembert cheese craving.
Ruskins are popular, a crusty bread, with lots of homemade jams and marmalade. One traditional pastry is the milk tart
There is even a National Melktert Day every February 27. The milk ration is higher milk than eggs in other custards. A must, really!

I was so thrilled with this vegetarian dish at Karibou Restaurant in Cape Town that the chef gave me the recipe. I am very excited to try it. 
Czech Republic

The traditional Sauerkraut Soup in Prague--one of the most memorable best soups of my life. Still trying to duplicate it... Believe me, it is incredible--tangy and savory all at the same time. 

Sometimes my Jordanian neighbors cook double portions and give us part of their dinners. My personal favorite is the lentil soup--my new comfort food--a favorite all over the Middle East. 

Loved this picture in the Rio History/Art Museum of a family enjoying making food and singing together.
The national dish of Brazil called Feijao we had in Rio de Janiero. Bean soups are always a comfort food for me.
But I have to say the Brazilian fruit cannot be beaten ANYWHERE--mangos, apple custard, dragon fruit, and all other sorts of fruit I had never tasted. They like to pair strawberries and dates, a new combination I did not know.

Shrimp risotto. My son-in-law loves to make paella. It takes a while, but it is worth it.
I found this sign in a restaurant in Magala, Spain that I could not resist posting. One of my favorite signs I have seen... No apologies...

A book I picked up here in Doha... The author shares my adventurous palette and to bring the world into our homes.
If we begin to understand people's food more, maybe we can begin to understand who they are, what is important to them, and heritages vastly different than our own. 

Elias, my son with autism, loves to bake and cook. To him, it is creating, enjoying all the senses, and that keeps me trying to satisfy that yearning for him to learn about other cultures and bake/cook healthy (Well, most of the time) food. Since we have to eat every day, we might as well make it fun, fresh, interesting, and creative. Plus we are learning to expand our box...