Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Blog Archive

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Recipe for Poulet Yassa | Senegalese Chicken

It may be hard to see under all those onions, but there's chicken there! Yassa chicken is a Senegalese recipe that's become popular throughout West Africa. It's a stewed chicken that's tasty and moist with a tangy lemon onion sauce. It's a fairly simple recipe, but does need to marinate for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight, so you'll have to plan ahead. Serve it with rice and you've got a tasty West African dinner. Other than the fact that Pea doesn't like onions, we all enjoyed this dish (with onions removed for her). 

Poulet Yassa

Serves 4
  • 4 chicken pieces (breasts, thighs)
  • 3 large onions, finely sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 6 carrots, finely sliced
  • 1/2 cup of lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp vegetable oil, divided (or peanut oil if you have it)
  • 2 tbsp grainy or dijon mustard
  • good pinch of cayenne
  • 1 tsp salt 
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 cup of water
1. Prepare the marinade with the onions, garlic, lemon juice, mustard, cayenne and 1/4 cup of oil. Put the chicken pieces in the marinade, and marinate for at least 2 hours, up to overnight.

2. Remove the chicken pieces and reserve the marinade. Heat the 2 tbsp of oil in a large saute pan, and brown the chicken on both sides, about 2 minutes on each side. Put the chicken aside. With a slotted spoon, take out the onions from the marinade, and saute them on low until they are soft, for about 6-8 minutes.

3. Add the rest of the marinade, the water and the sliced carrots in the pan with the onions and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer and add the chicken. Cover and cook on low for 25 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.

4. Serve with rice and enjoy!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Dentist Bird: A West African Folktale & Game App | #ReadforLiberia

I was recently approached by Literary Safari to take a look at their interactive folktale app - an app that teaches a West African folktale, with 100% of proceeds used to help keep children in Liberia reading and learning amidst the Ebola outbreak. Need I say more? I immediately checked out their site and downloaded the app to try it out. Although they approached me - and I'm glad they did - I receive no compensation for this post and all opinions are my own.

With this app, we are introduced to Dentist Bird, a retelling of the West African folktale "How Plover Bird Came to Clean Crocodile's Teeth". It's a Liberian folktale of a crocodile with a toothache and his worried friends - animals that can be found in the Liberian rainforest and a clever plover who can make medicine to help relieve crocodile of his pain and strike a good deal to keep herself and all future plovers safe from this hungry reptile. It's a great story that teaches compassion and empathy.

There are three components for kids in this app: Read, Play and Learn.

Read (and play). The story is interactive and you can choose to read it yourself, or hear it read with the words showing to follow along. With each "page", there's an interactive component, and you can gain points from mini games within the story while helping plover bird make medicine for crocodile. While reading the story, you're also introduced to the sights and sounds of the Liberian rainforest - with visually engaging illustrations, animal sounds and music based on West African instruments. 

Play. There's also a fast paced game, Mission of Mercy, where you need to move quickly and overcome obstacles while getting medicine to the crocodiles. I have to admit, it was a bit tricky for me :) but Elle (12) and my nephew (5) played just fine and had fun with it. 

Learn. There are also learning pages, where kids can learn quick facts about animals in the Liberian rainforest by matching their sounds. You can also learn a little bit of geography with interactive maps you can zoom into to find Africa, Liberia, the river the story is based on. 

Watch this 10 sec video of actual plovers cleaning a crocodile's teeth!

They've even included a parent's guide and a teachers guide, both of which offer ideas on how to make the most of this app, how to engage with the kids while using the app, and how to extend learning after. There are paired readings of folktales from around the world, prompts for discussion about compassion and oral health, printable activities and reproducibles like animal cards, maps and much more.

I really like that this app introduces kids to another culture and environment, and encourages compassion in a fun interactive way. It's geared to kids in Kindergarten to grade 3, and my 5 year old nephew really enjoyed it. I was a little surprised that Elle, 12, also enjoyed it! I asked her to try it and give me her opinion and she absolutely recommends it for younger kids.

Here's a preview of the app:

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Cocoa Production in West Africa | With Recipe for West African Hot Chocolate

Do you know where your chocolate comes from?

Chocolate is made from cocoa beans, which grow primarily in the tropical climates of West Africa, Asia, and Latin America. West African countries, mostly Ghana and the Ivory Coast, supply more than 70% of the world’s cocoa. The cocoa they grow and harvest is sold to chocolate companies around the world, who process it into the chocolate products we know and love. 

A cocoa pod contains 20 to 50 beans - about 400 dried beans are needed to make 1 pound of chocolate
Cocoa pods in cocoa plantations in Ghana & Cote d'Ivoire. 
Photo Credit: Left & Centre by Rebecca Bollwitt; Right by JB Doane (CC - adapted into collage)

In West Africa, cocoa is a cash crop, that is to say grown primarily for export - in fact, 60% of Cote d'Ivoire's export revenue comes from cocoa. 
Although not native to West Africa, cocoa thrives in the tropical, forested areas where cocoa farms are found. Harvest occurs over several months, sometimes throughout the year because pods don't dry at the same rate or at the same time.

Over 1/4 of Ivorians are involved in growing cocoa beans

A harvested cocoa pod, split open to reveal the pulp and seeds.
Photo Credit: JB Dodane (CC)

Cocoa pods grow directly from the trunk or a large branch of the trees. They are picked off trees when dry and ready for harvest. The pods are split open, usually with machete, and the pulp & seeds are removed while the rind is discarded. The pulp and seeds are left to ferment - as the pulp ferments and liquefies, it trickles away, leaving behind the seeds. The seeds are then fermented and dried, generally for up to two weeks, depending on the weather. The dried cocoa beans are then packed and shipped to factories in the UK, Netherlands, US, and other countries.

  • There's a short article, with two videos created by Ivorian youth about cocoa plantations and their owners here.
  • There's an interesting video of cocoa farmers who have never tasted chocolate before here.

It's estimated that one person can harvest 650 pods a day, and that a person can separate beans from 2000 pods a day (!)

Cocoa beans drying in a village in Ghana
Photo Credit: Francesco Veronesi (CC)

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Afrobeat & Highlife: Popular Contemporary West African Music

Photo Credit: Joaquim Coelho (CC)

One of the ways we immerse ourselves into a culture is to listen to its music, traditional and modern. It's interesting to compare our pop music to that of the culture in question, and to hear the different instruments and compositions of both modern and traditional music. Music is such an important creative expression in all cultures, and I find it important to be able to appreciate all types. Throughout the year, we have been listening to West African music every time we eat West African food and work on a craft or activity. We regularly borrow CDs from our library or listen to songs available online (for free). 

For general playlists of West African music, we've been using the following:

  • Spotify -- this is a program you can download and search their playlists database. By searching for "West Africa", various playlists come up, some with contemporary music as well as some with folk & traditional music.
  • Songza -- I use this playlist database as an app on my phone, but you can also access their playlists online (within North America it seems). They have a great playlist called "Essential West African Sounds" (we listen to this playlist a lot); and one called "Essential Afrobeat" - see below for details on this genre.
  • Africa: 50 Years of Music -- This is an exceptional 18 CD collection that aims to represent the music of Africa - no small feat indeed! The collection has 3 CDs focused on West African music that are great to listen to. This is a very pricey set that's difficult to come by, but if your library has it (ours did), it's worth checking out.

There are a two genres (of the many in the region) I'd like to highlight because they come up so regularly as being influential in the West African contemporary music scene:

Highlife music originated in Ghana at the turn of the 20th century and by the 1930s had spread throughout West Africa. This genre still continues to be popular as well as its modern derivatives. It's characterized by jazzy horns and multiple guitars, and more recently has a synth driven sound. 

  • Old School Highlife music -- 1.5 hour playlist here
  • Modern Highlife dance music -- 1 hour playlist here

Afrobeat was created and named in the 1970s by Fela Kuti, a Nigerian superstar. It combines traditional Nigerian music with highlife music as well as American funk and jazz. Fela Kuti sang about government corruption and injustice, and was arrested and imprisoned many times. 

Afrobeats is today's popular Nigerian music that combines Afrobeat with hip hop and R&B.

  • Fela Kuti Afrobeat -- 3 hour playlist here
  • 70s Afrobeat -- 38 video playlist here

  • *please note that we have only listened to these playlists, and not watched the videos, therefore I am unaware of what, if anything, might be considered inappropriate for children.

    I hope you get a chance to enjoy some West African music!

    We have more posts related to West African music:

    Learn about Griots, traditional West African musicians, singers, historians & storytellers here.

    Learn about traditional West African instruments, and how they sound here.

    Learn how to make your own Shekere, based on the traditional West African gourd rattle, here

    Tuesday, January 27, 2015

    Our French Canadian Roots: Recipe for Cretons | A Quebecois meat spread

    Sharing our French Canadian heritage with a monthly recipe from our childhood, hoping to inspire similar traditions and memories for our daughters

    If I hadn't grown up with cretons, I can't say this photo would appeal to me. Nor the term "meat spread" (although, isn't paté meat spread?) But this is tasty stuff, spread on toast, and a classic Quebecois breakfast that has made its way in the Acadian food culture as well. Hubby and I both grew up with cretons placed at the kitchen table with breakfast, and he has been hankering for a recipe close to the one his grandmother used to make for years.

    This was the first time I've made cretons myself. I've eaten it home made when visiting my extended family, but that hasn't been in many years, and the girls have only ever tried store bought versions. Hubby's parents who live in an Acadian area often buy us some to take home when we visit, and occasionally we find a container of it at a local grocery store. We buy lots, and freeze it. So I was a little nervous about following my grandmother's recipe - and had to keep reminding hubby I didn't know what his grandmother's recipe was like, worried it would disappoint. Despite my misgivings about the spices (cloves, really?) this was a success - and hubby loves it! This means of course, that I'll have to make it fresh from now on.

    Cretons is made with ground pork, onions and spices, and simmered for hours. It also needs to be refrigerated before eating - and the best way to eat it is with toast. Most people in Quebec like to spread a bit of mustard over it on their toast, but we like to eat with freshly ground pepper and some sharp cheddar on the side. 


    • 1 1/2 lbs ground pork
    • 1 cup 18% cream
    • 1 large onion, pureed
    • 1 tsp ground black pepper
    • 1 1/2 tsp nutmeg
    • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
    • 1 tsp garlic powder
    • 2 tsp salt
    Combine all the ingredients into a large pot, and break up the ground pork. Bring to a simmer on medium heat, then let simmer, covered, on low for 6 hours, checking occasionally to stir. About halfway through, mash the meat a little bit with a potato masher. When it's done simmering, let cool then refrigerate overnight. 

    This is what it looks like after simmering for about 5 hours - I realize it's not too appetizing looking :)

    Serve cretons by spreading it over toast. Enjoy!

    Find our other French Canadian recipes here.

    Monday, January 26, 2015

    Multicultural Children's Book Day: Book Review & Activity for "The Olive Tree"

    I'm so excited to be part of Multicultural Children's Book Day, taking place on January 27th. Anyone who follows this blog knows the importance I place on books and reading multicultural books with our kids - diverse stories are one of the best gateways to explore the world. I've been given the opportunity to review a lovely story set in Lebanon, which has been a great introduction to our family's year long virtual travel to Lebanon beginning in late February. 

    Multicultural Children's Book Day was created by children's reading and play advocates Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book & Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom. Their mission is to "not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these of books into classrooms and libraries." What a wonderful mission and goal to support!

    Did you know?
    Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. 

    Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day, Mia and Valarie are on a mission to change all of that. Another goal of this exciting event is create a compilation of books and favorite reads that will provide not only a new reading list for the winter, but also a way to expose brilliant books to families, teachers, and libraries.

    You can find an amazing compilation of diversity book lists & resources for parents and educator here.

    Our Weekend in a Nutshell

    We had a fun relaxing weekend - that is, most of us did. Pea had to hunker down and study for exams she is taking this week. We did ensure she was fed and watered, and between feedings the rest of us headed out to enjoy a bit of fresh air. 

    I am once again trying to make getting outside a priority - this comes and goes for me, and here I go again! Someday, maybe, it will just be a wonderful, healthy habit. Until then, I have to make a conscious effort and, having been the example that I am over the years, I also have to drag the kids moaning and groaning. That is until we get to the park or the beach or the woods. They really do love it, and so do I. This past weekend we spent time at the beach and at a local park that surrounds a huge pond. We'd had a bit of mild weather lately, and plenty of rain, so we weren't able to take full advantage of the immense expanse of ice on the pond. Elle and I are looking forward to slipping and sliding our way on there! Perhaps next weekend :)

    Sunday, January 25, 2015

    The Baobab Tree: The Tree of Life in West Africa

    Long ago, as the earth was being created, the gods created the Baobab tree as the first to be put on land. The baobab tree was majestic, and being the first thought all the other trees should know this. The baobab insisted on being treated as the most important, most spectacular tree in the land. The other trees found it tiresome and even hurtful. When aware of the baobab's arrogance and boastfulness, the gods became angry. They pulled the baobab from its roots, and planted it upside down. Which is why the roots are now the baobab's branches.

    Or so the legend of the Baobab Tree goes - that is, one of the many legends. These are pretty spectacular trees that play an important role in local ecologies as well as cultural heritage.

    Baoabab tree in Burkina Faso
    Photo Credit: Eric Montfort (CC)

    Also called the Tree of Life, the Upside-Down tree, and the Monkey Bread tree - the Baobab (bey-oh-bab) tree has a rather odd appearance with branches that are without leaves for most of the year, giving them the appearance of roots. Of the 9 species of baobab in the world, 2 are native to Africa and can be found throughout the savanna and drier regions of Africa - throughout much of West Africa as well as sections of east and southern Africa. (The other seven species are found in Madagascar and Australia). They can live for thousands of years - isn't that incredible?

    Their diameters can be as large as 60 feet (!!) and can grow up to 75 feet tall. These trees survive the 9 months of dry seasons because their trunks store water - as much as 120,000 liters of it! During droughts, elephants have been known to break into tree trunks to get to the water. In fact, historically, many settlements were established in their areas because of the presence of a baobab tree (and its water). 

    The fruit of the baobab is called "Monkey bread". The fuzzy outer skin eventually dries hard like a coconut, and it's the pulp inside that has all the nutrients. 
    Photo Credit: Ollivier Girard for Center for International Forestry Research (CC)

    Saturday, January 24, 2015

    The Custom of Scarification in West Africa

    Over the years, as we've read and looked at different books, videos and websites, we have occasionally come across images of people from West Africa with marks on their faces - these marks, as we've come to learn, are from ritual scarification. 

    Though the practice is dying, this is an age old custom. There are many reasons for the custom, depending on the ethnic group, family and individuals. Since each ethnic group has its own distinct patterns, they are a means of identification - and within certain ethnic groups, the markings may differ to identify social classes and even families. Scarification is also considered by some to be a means of ensuring a connection with and protection from one's ancestors, with the hope that this will bring good health and safety in one's life.

    These photos were taken in the early 1940s. I've included them in order to show how different the markings can be from one person to another, though I don't know what these varying markings means (tribe? social class? family?)
    Source: John Atherton (CC) Adapted into a collage

    Typically a rural practice, it's usually considered a formal initiation into a community. It's usually performed on children - sometimes as young as infants - though the age depends on the cultural practices of the area, when a proper practitioner is available, and the child's health at the time of availability. Some children undergo scarification during puberty rites.

    The Houeda ethnic group in Benin perform the scarring on children during a ritual to connect them with their ancestors. The children are given new names, their hair is shaved and then they are taken to an oracle to help them communicate with previous generations. It is becoming more common for parents to opt out of the scarring while having their children participate in the other aspects of the ritual.

    These children are all from Benin, and the photographs were taken in 2009 & 2010. On the far left, this young girl is from the Fulani ethic group, and on the far right, the boy is from the Gourmanche ethnic group.
    Photos Credited to: Dietmar Temps (CC) Adapted by cropping into a collage

    These permanent body markings can be found on the face and/or the body. They are usually done with a knife or a hot iron. In some cases, such as with the Fulani tribe (see title image or young girl above, left), a natural dye is put in the wound to color the scar. In other cases, they are such fine marks that you only really see them up close. Some markings are so intricate and numerous, they are done over years.

    Scarification is becoming much less common - in fact, its been called an "endangered" custom. Although to some, these markings continue to be a mark of cultural heritage and beauty, scarification can also be seen as a stigma. People with marks often find themselves ridiculed, taunted and even discriminated against, especially in larger urban areas. The practice is also decreasing because of the pain it inflicts and the growing knowledge by younger generations of the risk of infection. I've also read that some states in Nigeria have officially banned the practice on children. 

    What are your thoughts?

    If you'd like to read more, there's an interesting article on the Huffington Post about the stigma associated with scarification; and another article about it's cultural importance on Unseen Benin. Be careful if googling the subject, you might come across explicit images of the process. (The two links I   included do not show the process, though the latter has a video at the end with a warning that it's explicit - I took heed and didn't watch it)

    Title image credited to Dietmar Temps (CC) Adapted with words overlay

    Friday, January 23, 2015

    How to Make a Shekere (a traditional West African instrument)

    After learning more about West African traditional instruments, I thought it would be fun to make and play a shekere. We have a basket of instruments that I've been collecting since Pea was a toddler - none of which we've mastered, but a good fun ruckus has been made plenty of times over the years. Now in their teens, the girls aren't as keen anymore - though I very much still am - but luckily I have a few young nieces and nephews to be continuing the fun with for years to come. And whether or not my teens will be joining us, I'll be shake-shake-shaking our homemade shekere.  

    Shekeres - gourd rattles
    Photo credit: North Charleston (CC)

    The shekere (pronounced SHAY-kuh-ray) originates from West Africa and is now used in the Americas and Caribbean as well. It's a handmade rattle made from hollowed out, and dried up gourds and covered on the outside with a netting of beads, seeds and shells. It goes by different names and comes in many shapes and sizes - the size and shape determines the sound and volume of the instrument. It's traditionally played as an accompaniment to drumming and dance. It's played by shaking it or slapping it against the hands. 

    You can hear how great the shekere sounds being played here

    Thursday, January 22, 2015

    Recipe for Tatales & Bambara | Plantain Pancakes & Beans from Ghana

    Here's another dish that features the popular staple food plantain. Tatales are sweet and savory pancakes made from mashed plantain, cornmeal and spices. They're often served as a side dish or lunch. The classic way to eat them is with bambara bean stew, that really complements the pancakes. 

    We really enjoyed this, and the kids even asked for seconds. There is a nice sweetness to the plantains, that need to be over ripe to use in this recipe. The beans really do taste good with the pancakes, and happily, we discovered a few days prior to making this that Pea no longer minds beans, which worked out quite well! Bambara beans are not readily available, so a common substitution are black eyed peas. This makes a great vegetarian meal by the way. Do keep in mind that the tatales do not make good leftovers. 

    Wednesday, January 21, 2015

    Attaya: Senegalese Tea Ritual | Recipe to Try it Yourself

    Attaya is a Wolof word for the process that is tea preparation and presentation in Senegal. It's a very important part of daily, social life and it can be served at any moment. Attaya is served everywhere - in homes, at the work place, out on sidewalks - and is the customary beverage offered to guests. It's also enjoyed in The Gambia, Mali and Niger.

    The tea ritual takes a long time - usually between one to three hours. Everyone gathers around, and while the tea is being prepared and enjoyed over the course of three rounds, everyone chats and catches up. 

    Tuesday, January 20, 2015

    Akuaba Dolls: West African Fertility Dolls | How you can make a felt doll or paper collage

    Akuaba dolls are traditional wooden fertility dolls from Ghana and surrounding areas. These dolls were used in the hopes of conceiving a child.

    Traditionally, when a woman could not conceive, she would consult a priest or herbalist who would supply her with an akua'ba doll. She was to use this doll as a surrogate child - carrying it on her back tied with cloth in the position a real child is carried, adorning it with jewelry, bathing it and putting it to bed - until she became pregnant.

    Giving birth in the Ashanti culture is an important rite of passage. In fact, the inability to conceive was cause for suspicion of poor health or even witchcraft. Legend has it that a young Ashanti woman named Akua was barren but desperately wanted to have a child. She consulted a priest who instructed her to have a carving made to look like a baby and to treat is as a surrogate child. She was laughed at and teased by her fellow villagers, who began to call the doll Akuaba, which means "Akua's child". However, when she did conceive and give birth to a beautiful baby girl, the practice became adopted by others.

    Sunday, January 18, 2015

    Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop | #23

    Welcome to the Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop! This month I'll be joining Multicultural Kid Blogs and various excellent bloggers in co-hosting a blog hop featuring what I love most: learning about different cultures with kids. This link up is an excellent resource for virtually traveling the world - I hope you'll join us.

    The Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop is a place where bloggers can share multicultural activities, crafts, recipes, and musings for our creative kids. We can't wait to see what you share this time!

    Created by Frances of Discovering the World through My Son's Eyes, the blog hop has now found a new home at Multicultural Kid Blogs.

    Saturday, January 17, 2015

    Traditional West African Instruments

    One of the ways we immerse ourselves into a culture is to listen to its music, traditional and modern. Music is such an important creative expression in all cultures, and I encourage our family to appreciate all types. Throughout the year, we have been listening to West African music every time we eat West African food and work on a craft or activity.  

    There are many traditional West African instruments, and I'd like to highlight a few here, because we've come across them often in our exploration. 


    The Djembe drum
    Photo Credit: Left Cadena Menon; Right Ruff Root Creative (CC adapted into collage)
    Whenever there's mention of a workshop or performance of "African drumming" in our area, it is always with a djembe drum, so it was the first instrument we learned about.

    Thursday, January 15, 2015

    Recipe for Ivorian Kedjenou | Chicken Stew from Cote d'Ivoire

    Kedjenou, a slow cooked chicken stew, is a traditional and signature dish in Cote d'Ivoire. The chicken and vegetables are placed in a jar shaped clay cooking pot known as a canary that's tightly sealed with banana leaves and cooked over hot coals. The pot is shaken occasionally to prevent the food from sticking. In fact, the word kedjenou is from the African language of Baoulé and means "to shake". We used a cast iron dutch oven that has a tight fitting lid, but you could also use a regular pot and cover the top with a sheet of aluminum foil first (pinching it along the edge of the pot) then placing cover over the foil. It's important the seal is tight in order to keep in the moisture and steam, because no liquid is added to this dish. Kedjenou is usually served with attiéké, a couscous like dish made from grated and fermented cassava. I haven't been able to source this so we served it with rice (which is also common). This is a really tasty meal, perfect during the colder months of the year!

    Tuesday, January 13, 2015

    West African Folktales

    Folktales are stories passed down from generation to generation, and reflect the culture, customs and values from which they come. In West Africa, parents love to tell traditional stories to their kids, and these stories, legends and histories are told from one generation to another. Whether told while being tucked in bed or when gathered around a communal area to hear them told by the elders, folktales are an entertaining reminder of traditional community life and values.

    Saturday, January 10, 2015

    Around the World with Pancakes: Croatian Palacinke

    We're trying out pancakes from around the world, looking beyond fluffy pancakes and beyond breakfast food

    A few months ago, we "sauntered off for the morning to Croatia" for some pancakes (and I'm finally posting about it). My mother was joining us for brunch and these seemed like the perfect pancakes to share and enjoy. And enjoy we did - these are rich, delicious and filling. The girls wished there had been more to hoard  share.

    We started off by locating Croatia on a map, and perused a few of these stunning photos of lush landscapes and dreamy ancient coastal cities.

    You can find 88 strange & intriguing facts & myths about Croatia here.
    Sea view of Rovinj, Croatia
    Photo Credit: Andrey (CC - adapted from original into collage)
    Palacinkes are essentially stuffed and rolled crepes. In Croatia, palacinkes are served many ways: sometimes with a savory or sweet cheese filling, with rosehip jam, or savory with meat or mushrooms. We chose to try the sweet cheese filling, made with cottage cheese, and baked with a topping of sour cream, that are also eaten as dessert in Croatia. 

    Thursday, January 8, 2015

    West African Game: How to Play the Nigerian Game "Derrah" | With Printable Game Board

    Derrah is a game that's been played for several hundred years in Nigeria by the Dakarkari people, and is also known as Dara and Doki. It's played in various regions in West Africa. According to the Cincinnati Art Museum, good players were highly regarded, with champions traveling from village to village to challenge local players. 

    This game can be described as a more complex Tic-Tac-Toe - we are all enjoying playing it. Strategy starts immediately, as game pieces are put on the board. Played on a 5 x 6 grid, both players try to form rows of three, which gives them the opportunity to get rid of one of their opponent's counters. This is called "eating their enemy" just like a lion eats its prey. 

    Traditionally, a board is simply 30 holes dug out of the sand, with nuts and sticks used as counters. 

    Tuesday, January 6, 2015

    "The Singing Man" | Learning about West African Griots

    In West Africa, written history is relatively new, begun by European colonists in the late 1800s. However, they have long kept their own history, in their own languages, orally. It is in great part because of Griots that West African history and ancient culture has been preserved.   

    It is said that "when a griot dies, a library has burned to the ground."

    Griots (pronounced: greeohs) are unique to West Africa and began in the Mali Empire in the 14th century. Also known as Jeli, they serve many roles, such as historian, storyteller, praise singer, musician, and poet. Traditionally, they were also advisers to royalty, messengers and often served as mediators between neighbors and villages when issues or disagreements arose. Royalty and nobles had their own griots, and many villages had a griot as well who was there to record, in their songs and stories, the births, deaths, marriages, hunts, droughts, wars and other important events.

    Post card c.1904 of a Senegalese chief and his griot
    Photo Credit: The Casas-Rodriguez Postcard Collection (CC)

    As storytellers, griots teach history, moralize and entertain with stories of kings, heroes, battles and local myths and gods. As singers, they know a wealth of traditional songs. Within their stories and songs, they sometimes incorporate current events, satire and political commentary with their knowledge of local history and gossip. As praise singers, a good griot will sing praises of one's family lineage based on songs that one's great, great, grandfather will have paid to be composed. 

    Monday, January 5, 2015

    Our holidays in a Nutshell

    Our family Christmas Eve dinner with my sister, brother in law, nephew and father who was down from Ontario
    We had a lovely, low key holiday this year. Hubby and I each had nearly two weeks off work, spent with our wonderful family and friends. It was a great time of connecting, sharing, and recharging our batteries.  Lots of feasting and board games, and we did indeed enjoy tourtiere and sugar pie on multiple occasions :) In fact, my vegetarian mother was so keen on taking our French Canadian roots into a multiple course meal that she put together a New Year feast that included no less than six meat dishes! 

    And now we're off to a new year. Since we began our West African explorations in February of last year after Chinese New Year, we will be continuing on until this year's Chinese New Year. There's so much left to write about, and I'm hoping my recharged batteries will ensure it gets done! 

    Happy New Year everyone!
    May it be filled with the blessings of love, gratitude, family, friendship & good food :)
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