Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

A Few Days in Kigali

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016

My first stop on this adventure has been Kigali in Rwanda.

Travelling the world in 2016 is a very different prospect from what it was in 1999 when I first set off with a friend from Australia to Europe. I used AirBnB from the UK to find and pay for a room in a house in Kigali. I had some contact with my host before arriving. My plane landed in Kigali at about 11pm. By the time I got out of the airport it was midnight. But that was ok. There was an ATM where I could get local cash and a little kiosk selling SIM cards. So I had a local SIM in my phone with a data connection and could text my host to tell her I was on my way. I got a taxi to her place. She met me and gave me all the information I needed to get me set up for the next day. I could contact friends and family in Europe and Australia to let them know I was safe. Very different from 1999.

And despite having slept a lot on the plane I still slept well that night.

The next morning (Tuesday) I slept in and very lazily got up and sorted. I had a shower and washed some clothes from the previous day at the same time (stamping on them in the shower helps to push the detergent through them quite effectively and saves water).

I headed out with a few aims in mind: cross a road; buy water; get on a bus (preferably the right bus); go for a walk; find food. And I succeeded in all of these. I’m foreign, these things take considerably longer than they would for a normal, local person. But that’s part of the joy. 🙂

I got the bus into town and got off vaguely where I thought I wanted to be (not that I really knew where I wanted to be). I wandered around for a while and proceeded to get lost. (Well I was outside the Russian Embassy, just down from the Marriott hotel – so I wasn’t really lost – I just didn’t know where these places were.) I then checked the map to discover that I was heading in the opposite direction from where I wanted to be. So I turned around.

This is what travelling is all about. 🙂

I found somewhere for lunch and had a traditional Rwandan buffet. Though I just stuck with the veg options. I did realise part way through that I was breaking several of my food guidelines – I ate salad, I ate from a buffet, I didn’t peel the avocado myself. But my host had said that she brushes her teeth with tap water, so I guessed that any salad that had been washed in tap water was probably ok. I had a Coke with my lunch just to be on the safe side. Given that Coke can strip oil stains off driveways I figured it would kill anything I may have just put in my digestive system! (Note: this is a joke: I did not drink the Coke thinking that it would protect my health.)

After lunch I went for a wander to the Azizi Life boutique. Azizi Life are the organisation I’m visiting next week for their cultural experience days. There’s a café next door, so I sat in there for ages pottering around on my laptop and reading a bit. After all, this is meant to be a holiday!! 🙂

My host, very kindly came to meet me – she has a car. And we decided to go for dinner. She took me to this very lovely place where we sat by the pool overlooking the hills of Kigali. Gorgeous. And the pizza was pretty good too. 🙂 My host is lovely and chatting to her over dinner was fascinating. AirBnB is a fantastic idea!!

Wednesday was a ride on a moto (see the separate post about that) and a trip to the Kigali Genocide Memorial (a few separate posts about that). And the afternoon was buses to a coffee shop with a lovely view and great cake and a chance for me to write some blog posts after the morning.

This was also when the rainy season started. But there’s a separate post about that too.

So a lovely two days in Kigali. I think I could spend a lot of time here and not get bored, but I’m off tomorrow for the next stage in my Rwandan adventure.


Thursday, November 20th, 2014

I’m a happy person. I smile a lot. I bounce a lot. I love life.

And some people ask me how I manage to be so happy all the time.

The first thing I say is that I’m not happy all the time. But I don’t like not being happy so I try to restrict the not happy times to a minimum. I also try not to share the not happy times with all and sundry. So I guess I probably am happier a lot more often than very many other people. And I certainly appear to be happy more often than many others.

What’s the secret of my happiness? Well, it’s somewhat simple. And yet really rather difficult at the same time.

I make a conscious decision to be happy. I work on discovering what makes me happy. And I do as much of that as I can. I understand that I can’t devote all my time to things that make me happy. I also need to do tedious household chores so that my housemate doesn’t kick me out (that would make me majorly unhappy). I need to work (and my job doesn’t always make me happy) so that I have enough money to pay my bills and pay for the things that make me happy.

Now this all sounds simple. And it is. But it does require effort. I actively need to work out what makes me happy. And what is the right thing to make me happy at any given time. And I need to cultivate moments in my life where these activities are possible. Here are some of them: drinking a decent cup of tea, meeting up with friends for a good chat, conversations with friends that leave tears of laughter running down my face, falling in love, great productive arguments with friends about important issues that get me really fired up, dancing, reading a good book, eating good chocolate, watching something good on TV, making bread to share with friends, hot showers, sleeping in. The list does go on (as do I!). 🙂

So that’s step one.

Step two is about choosing to be happy. That’s about looking for happiness in everyday situations. It’s about choosing to take joy in the cup of tea, rather than just drinking it. It’s about actively seeking out happiness rather than waiting for it to pop up and say hi. And the amazing thing about this is that happiness is a habit. Once you start looking for it, it becomes so much easier to see it. And then you don’t have to try so hard to find it anymore.

Step three is about making other people happy. Happiness is contagious. And once you start being a source of happiness for other people then their happiness creates a virtuous circle that spreads and does find its way back to you.

So it’s easy: I make myself happy. I choose to be happy. I make other people happy.

But it’s also quite tricky: it involves a concerted effort and some hard work (at times).

But it is completely worth it!

And being happy makes me happy!! 🙂

Back in the UK

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

I’ve been back in the UK for a day and half at time of writing. And what a day and a half it has been.

I’ve brushed my teeth with tap water. I licked my fingers when I was eating cheese on toast. I ate cheese on toast. I ate cheese and it was even better than I remember it! I have used idioms and slang and spoken quickly and mumbled. I have worn socks. I have used toilet paper. I have had hot showers. I have clean feet. I chopped vegetables and a piece of mushroom feel from the chopping board to the bench and the bench was clean enough that I could pick up the piece of mushroom and throw it into the frying pan with its mates. I have lain in bed rejoicing in the peace and quiet (no ceiling fan, no monsoonal rain, no dogs, no shouted arguments, no religious observances). I have walked along the pavement and looked up at the buildings rather than down at my feet to see what I’m standing on. I’ve made myself cups of tea whenever I wanted them (with no sugar). I’ve drunk soy milk. I’ve been to a pub. I’ve washed clothes in a washing machine and they smell wonderful! I’ve watched crappy TV in English!

And most importantly, I’ve met up with some of the most wonderful people in my life. I’ve talked, I’ve laughed, I’ve joked. I’ve made new friends.

And I’ve danced. And words fail completely to express how incredible it was to be dancing again.

I loved my time away. I’m looking forward to going back again next year. But I’m really enjoying being back.

One of the wonderful consequences of my exceptionally transient lifestyle is that I spend a lot of my time rejoicing in the newly remembered wonders of my current location. And it has the added benefit of giving my friends something to laugh about each time I get giddy about drinking tap water! 🙂

Poison Vegetables and Scurvy

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

I’m not sure exactly how members of the coastal fishing communities in Trivandrum aren’t suffering from scurvy en masse.

Their diet consists predominantly of rice, fish curry, fried fish, sweet milky tea and coconut oil.

They eat some vegetables: onion, garlic, ginger, tapioca.

They eat bananas each day and other fruits during the appropriate season.

About once or twice a week they might have a vegetable curry (aviel or sambar) but that consists of maybe two or three small cubes of vegetable and curry sauce per person.

So I genuinely am not sure where they are getting vitamin C. Perhaps one of the types of fish they eat has it. Perhaps there is enough in the cow’s milk they drink as part of their tea. There is a lot in green chilli, but they don’t usually eat the pieces of green chilli and even if they did then I don’t think there would be enough volume of chilli to contribute much vitamin C.

It seems that vegetables are a very, very recent addition to the coastal diet. Some of the existing grandparents don’t eat them and never have. And yet, some are living to their 80s and beyond.

One of the problems at the moment is that apparently the vegetables are poisonous. I have been told this by three separate families. They don’t know how I don’t die given that I don’t eat meat or fish and I do eat poisoned vegetables. I don’t know how they don’t die given they don’t eat vegetables and the fish they eat comes out of the same ocean that is used as a toilet and dumping ground for domestic, commercial and industrial waste.

But it seems the vegetables are mostly grown in Tamil Nadu and lots of pesticides are used on them. Which is why the locals believe they are poisoned. They say that the only good things to eat are the fish that come from the ocean, because these are pure and have not been tampered with.

It’s times like these that I wish I knew a lot more about nutrition and food safety.

Back In Sri Lanka

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

At time of writing I’m back in Sri Lanka. And it has been almost two years since I was here last. I can’t believe it has been so long!! I don’t wait to leave it that long again.

This place is in my heart and my soul and I am always struck by how much at home I feel when I come back here. 🙂

I absolutely adore it.

And I have some wonderful friends here too who I haven’t seen enough of. And I miss them when I’m not here.

And the gentleness of Sri Lanka (at least compared with India) has been wonderful.

Two days in Colombo by myself to wander the city and go to coffee shops and eat rice and curry and soak up the sun and walk beneath the trees and talk to old friends and meet up with old friends all did wonders to undo a lot of the ravages of India.

I’ve been giggling at all the people sweeping (there is always someone sweeping in Sri Lanka). I’ve eaten kotthu and egg rotti and pol rotti and pol sambol and dhal curry and polis (young jak fruit) and beetroot curry. I’ve had iced chocolates and mango smoothies and green tea (with mint). I’ve spoken Sinhala. I’ve pushed my way onto and off of buses. I’ve not had to go to Immigration! I’ve slept on buses. I’ve got on and off buses in the right places. I’ve queued (for some definition of queueing – sharpen your elbows, take a deep breath and push) for train tickets.

So all in all, it has been a wonderful rebirth coming back here again. I feel so much better for it. I’m happy, I’m at peace, I’m loving it.

And I must continually remember that this is what this country does to me and that this means I must make it a point to come back regularly.

Mama kameti!!!

A Few Days In Kovalam

Friday, September 12th, 2014

I’ve had a few days in Kovalam. On my own. It has been very nice.

I’ve had real problems with food recently. I’m not entirely sure why. Part of it is that I’m sick of curry and chilli, but that’s not the whole story. Part of it that so much of food is psychological and wrapped up in cultural habits and rituals. And being pressured to eat and being made to feel guilty about not eating have partly conspired to make me want to avoid eating completely.

So I’ve not been eating much.

For the past week or so, I’ve been eating one meal a day and that’s all. No other snacking. Just one meal at lunch.

And sometimes, I haven’t been able to finish even that.

I’m just not hungry. Or I am hungry, but my body is processing the hunger reflex differently from how it usually does it. I just don’t want to eat and I can’t stomach the thought of it if I am faced with it. (Pun intended.)

But for the last few days here in Kovalam, I’ve been eating. I’m now up to two meals a day and I’m finishing both of them.

Part of it is because there is a choice here at the German Bakery and the choice is good (veg pizza, roast vegetables, stir fry veg and tofu, cheese on toast, etc.). But I think a lot more of it is because I’m here on my own and I have no pressure to eat, no guilt, no rituals to try to adhere to. And this makes me happy.

It has also been nice not to have to talk to anyone for a few days. Ok, everyone, please stop laughing. I know I talk a lot. I mean, a lot. 🙂 But it has been nice to have a few days of not having to talk to anyone.

Plus, I’ve managed to get some stuff done and get my to do list blitzed and tidied up. So I’m feeling productive as well as everything else.

And I’ve done some dance practice (the floor in the hotel room is tiled and really quite clean and just big enough to get some decent practice done).

So the guys in the German Bakery are likely to start charging me rent quite soon. Or to start dusting me assuming that I’m one of the fixtures. But I’m back home to Poonthura tonight to stay again with Johnson and Lisba. Both of whom I love dearly and have missed.

I’m very lucky to have people I can share my life with as well as the luxury of being able to spend some time on my own.


Monday, July 14th, 2014

Food is an interesting thing. It is interesting in every culture and every country. Here are some of the components of food (as a broad cultural phenomenon) with specific Indian examples.

For a start there are the raw ingredients (breadfruit, jackfruit, drumsticks (it’s a vegetable), tapioca, chilli, curry, mustard seeds, pepper, chick peas, lentils, millet, coconut, rice flour, etc.). Then there are the ways they are combined (curry, pickle, various bready type things, etc.). Then there are the times of days that things are eaten (curry for three meals, rice flour dumplings in a very sweet coconut sauce for breakfast, etc.). Then there are the customs associated with food (eating with your right hand, finishing everything on your plate, not licking your fingers, etc.). Then there are the cultural habits and implications (the host serving the guest, eating more food makes the host happy, overfeeding, guests eat first, self-deprecation on behalf of hosts (my food is not tasty), etc.).

I am struggling with food here.

I am a vegetarian and I am living in fishing communities who eat fish curry two or three times a day. Fish curries rarely have any vegetables in them. Maybe a little bit of tomato. Or perhaps a lot of onion. They do of course contain chilli (which in my mind is a poison rather than a vegetable – food just shouldn’t be painful! 🙂 ). There are a couple of vegetable curries that might be eaten a couple of times a week.

I’m staying with a new host family. At time of writing this, I had been there for a week. Every day the host father had the following conversation with me:

  • “We were expecting a non-veg, but you are veg.”
  • “Yes.”
  • “I had planned a menu for non-veg, but you are veg.”
  • “Oh, sorry.”
  • “If you were non-veg we could give you good food. But you are veg.”
  • “Veg food here is fine. There are a lot of tasty vegetables. It’s no problem.”

I understand that he is worried. He wants to be a good host. And being a good host in India means feeding people well, and by his standards he can’t feed me well since I only eat vegetarian food. I don’t think it has occurred to him (nor will it ever occur to him) that I think vegetarian food is good food for me.

The other issue I have is that the host mother (who is the same age as me) serves my food for me; she won’t let me serve it. So I get an enormous pile of rice and then very big spoons of curry. And she makes me feel guilty if I don’t eat it all.

I am interrogated every evening about where I was for lunch and what I had. I am not telling her that I am skipping lunch every day because breakfast and dinner is far too much food for me. Especially since she thinks that I’m not eating enough at breakfast and dinner. And not eating enough is a major sin in India.

Another problem is that I don’t like curry or chilli. Now, I don’t really hate curry. I can eat it. It’s just if I never eat curry again for as long as I live I’ll be very happy. The masala spice mix they use here is very much not to my taste. And food with too much chilli just hurts and I find it difficult to eat. Almost everything here is curried or has chilli (or both).

What I really want is boiled, or lightly fried vegetables with rice and maybe some soy sauce. But there isn’t an Indian family alive that would allow a guest to be fed boiled vegetables. The laws of hospitality don’t allow giving such bland, tasteless food to guests (even if that is what the guest wants). I dare not ask for it at my new host family. They would have kittens. They are already majorly stressed about the fact that I don’t eat meat/fish and that I don’t eat enough.

Every time I eat something, they ask me if it’s good. And I say it is. The food is good. Some of it is not to my taste (I don’t tell them this), but that is quite clearly my problem not theirs. I’ll eat it. And it is good food. But I can tell them till I’m blue in the face that the food is good and they refuse to believe me. So every meal involves them asking if it is good and me saying it is and them shaking their heads sadly and saying no it isn’t, and me saying yes it is and them then telling me that they feel bad because they can’t look after me properly.

And it’s difficult, because the bigger the issue they make of food, the harder it is for me to eat it and smile. I will eat rice and curry and be very grateful for it (even though I’d prefer something else). But the hassle and the guilt trip and having to emotionally buoy up the husband and the wife at every meal is getting a little wearisome.

I think I may need to figure out some foods that I like (or at least that I dislike least) and specifically request them. I hope that’ll make the next five weeks a little easier.

Note: after writing this I’ve had some successes. I leave the food I don’t want to eat so that my host mother learns that I just won’t eat it). I still lie every day about lunch. I tell my host family that I had salad for lunch and they ask if that was with rice or chappathi, etc. I say no, just salad. I tell her it was very, very good and what I want. She laughs and says I will give you salad for dinner then. I smile broadly and say yes please! She thinks I’m joking and so I get dhosa (rice flour pancakes) and omelette (with onion and chilli) instead.

Further note: My host family actually made me salad one night and seemed utterly astonished that I ate it and liked it! I’m hoping this means that it might happen again. Also, my host mother has now found out that I’ve been lying about lunch, she went to visit the volunteer living with Johnson and while she was there she interrogated Lisba’s mother about what I have for lunch, she said I don’t. So my host mother then asked me again and offered to give me a lunch packet the next day.

Additional comment: I can understand that she wants to know if I’d like a lunch packet for the next day. And that is lovely. So I understand that she would ask me. I smile nicely and say no thank you. What I don’t understand is why she asks me the same question another 5 times in the next ten minutes. Perhaps she is trying to wear me down to the point that the 5th time she asks I’ll say yes just to make her stop asking. It is tempting, but sends the wrong message, so I’m holding strong and continuing to say no.


Thursday, January 31st, 2013

I spent Christmas in India with Johnson and Lisba and both of their families.

Christmas Eve was spent at Lisba’s family’s home. We had a big meal together. We exchanged gifts. We went for a walk to the beach after dinner.

The gift exchange was great. There were 13 of us in total. So 13 gifts had been bought. Johny, Johnson and I spent some time wrapping the gifts (in newspaper – why buy wrapping paper when there is perfectly serviceable newspaper around? 🙂 ). This was cool. When I was a kid we used to go to church at 7:30 on Christmas Eve. We’d then come back and watch Carols by Candlelight (broadcast live from the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne) on TV and wrap all the presents we had for the aunts, uncles, cousins and friends we’d be seeing during the Christmas period.

So spending time with two of my favourite boys wrapping presents and singing carols (badly) and chatting was a fantastic mix of old tradition and new experience. I think this was my favourite part of Christmas.

After the gifts had been wrapped we all sat round in a circle. Each person was given a piece of paper with someone else’s name on it. We checked that we didn’t get our name (I required a little help with this since I can’t read Malayalam). We then took it in turns to go round the circle and hand our gift to our Christmas Friend and wish them a Happy Christmas, they opened their gift and then gave their gift to their Christmas friend. The gifts were practical and not expensive (I got a water bottle! Bounce!). A great way to ensure the spirit of giving that is part of Christmas without letting ridiculous commercialism or consumerism get in the way.

Christmas Day was again good food, good company, good conversation and a walk along the beach. Some people went swimming. I didn’t. Mainly because I’m not a particularly strong swimmer and I’ve never been very comfortable swimming in the ocean. Another reason is that I’m not entirely convinced of the water quality (I shan’t tell you of the things on the beach that I had to be careful not to stand in/on). So I sat and watched the people in the water and I called my Dad and my sister. It was really nice to speak to them both.

I did manage to get a little bit sunburnt. Which was my own fault. I’d left my suncream and my hat at Johnson’s house. The day was quite overcast and I was covered from wrists to ankles but my forehead and nose did get a little pink. Well, it’s Christmas, getting slightly sunburnt on Christmas Day is another tradition from my childhood. And a passing resemblance to Rudolf is arguably appropriate.

Back to the house for lunch – another great meal and then a nap.

We went back to Johnson’s house in the evening and I got in contact with some of my UK friends. I’m very happy to be here with the wonderful friends I have around me. But that doesn’t stop me missing the family and friends that aren’t here. 🙂

Good people, good food, good conversation. Just what Christmas is all about.

Being Offended

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

I spend a lot of my time when I’m away trying not to offend people. I’ve landed in the middle of their country and their culture. They’ve welcomed me in to their homes, their schools, their workplaces, their lives. I genuinely don’t want to offend them. Sometimes it’s hard trying to work out exactly what I should and shouldn’t say and what I should and shouldn’t do in any given circumstance. But I try.

Sometimes I wonder why I bother.

I was talking to one of the English teachers in on of the schools I was working in. She asked if I was married. I said no. She asked if I had a boyfriend. I said no. She said: “Yes, I could tell you want to be alone because you have cut your hair.” Hmmm.

Emily and Lauren’s host family asked them to make them pizza for dinner one night. Note: the family requested it. They asked that Lora and I be invited over. Ah, good. Cultural exchange. So we went shopping and did our best to buy flour and cheese and yeast and tomato paste (with no chili) and appropriate pizza toppings. We found a pizza dough recipe.

We invaded the kitchen and started cooking. The oven was brought out from under the bed of a nearby bedroom and dusted off. A baking dish was found that would act as enough of a baking tray. Scales were dug out. The mother watched as we cooked. Two of the daughters kept us company while we were working.

The aunt was at the other end of the kitchen making noodles and curry for dinner.

Yes. They had invited us round and asked us to cook dinner and they made their own food while we were cooking. To their credit, everyone tried one bite of pizza. But they did complain that it wasn’t tasty because there was no chili on it. Fair enough. More pizza for us.

I did decide at one point to make a point. So I put on my best “don’t worry I’m only joking” smiley face and pointed to the mother and said “Kande! Kande! Kande!” which means “Eat! Eat! Eat!” and is one of the first bits of Sinhala that volunteers learn. She just laughed and refused. Wish it was that easy for us.

Then, when the noodles and curry were ready, they seemed very upset that we didn’t want to eat any. Despite the fact that we’d just been eating the pizza that we made because they asked us to make it.

Emily asked me if we should be offended by the whole thing. And to be honest, I wasn’t sure.

Sri Lankan Coffee Shops

Monday, July 25th, 2011

Yes, you did read the title of this post correctly. It does say Sri Lankan Coffee Shops. There are some. Not many. But some.

I spent a few days in Dehiwala which is a suburb of Colombo.

It’s 10 rupees (about 7 pence) on the bus from Dehiwala to Majestic City.

Majestic City is a shopping centre. It has shops, a food court, a KFC, ATMs, everything you’d expect from a shopping centre. Across the road from Majestic City is a Pizza Hut. Next to the Pizza Hut is a Barista coffee shop.

Mmmmmm. Coffee shop.

The sort of place that has clean tables and chairs. It has power sockets on the wall so I can plug in my laptop. They serve coffee and tea and iced coffee and mango smoothies and other variants. They serve some snacks. There’s a toilet upstairs (through the Pizza Hut) that is clean and functional.

The place isn’t really that busy so I don’t feel too bad about sitting there for several hours. And I do make multiple orders to justify hanging around.

It’s expensive by Sri Lankan standards 180 (1.03 GBP) for a pot (2 cups) of tea. I could get two cups of standard Sri Lankan milk tea for about 60 if I went somewhere cheap and nasty. The iced mocha is 350 (2.00 GBP) or 450 (2.57 GBP) if you want extra cream.

So when I’m hanging around in Colombo I tend to spend quite a bit of time in Barista. I can plug my laptop in. I can surf the net. I can get work done. I can drink tea with separate milk and no sugar. I can just hang around in a coffee shop.

A very nice western oasis in an otherwise very nice eastern country.