Thursday, 30 July 2015

Whispers and rumours

Weird rumour going round: apparently, USD $ 1.8 million was spent on Independence Day celebrations which were hosted in Sinoe County.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

My 26 July is on you

Liberians often joke that their holiday or weekend is on you. And, people often start to say it closer towards major holidays, like 26 July, which is Liberia's Independence Day. It is a very important day in the year and, it feels as important as Christmas. 

This year, we had a 3-day weekend because 26 July was on a Sunday and the government gave everyone Monday off. 

We had initially planned a 2-day holiday at the Kendeja with two other couples but in the end we didn't go to stay but the other 2 couples went to stay. It was kind of ironic because we convinced them to go in the first place.

Haresh, Kavita and myself went to join our friends on 26 July itself and spent the whole day there. It was really good fun. It seemed as if half of the polite society of Monrovia had turned up. 

We enjoyed seeing a cultural troupe performance around lunch time. Afterwards we lazed on the beach, followed by champagne in our friends' suites and talked until very late about life and relationships and the world. In the evening we had a late dinner at the pool only to found out that more than half of the dishes were not available. This is Kendeja!

We struck up a very interesting conversation with a scientist who had come into to have a preliminary discussion with a research institute in Liberia. We had to go but I was really enjoying asking him questions about viruses. 

Friday, 24 July 2015

Cakes galore

I've really started to enjoy baking and am trying out a new cake recipe almost every night! I tried this recipe recently and was really pleased with the results. 

In fact, I had guests for dinner that evening and, they loved the cake so much they made a selfie and sent it to me on Whatsapp. 

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Pickled eggs and sausages

I spotted these ghastly jars of pickled eggs and sausages at Harbel Supermarket. Don't they look awful? Doesn't it remind you of your high school science lab?

God's Debris

Remnants of a great dinner party, the mark of a good one being that by dessert, you start to solve the world's problems.

If you're wondering about the title, it comes from a novel. One of our guests mentioned the book God's Debris: A Thought Experiment

From Wikipedia: 

God's Debris espouses a philosophy based on the idea that the simplest explanation tends to be the best (a corruption of Occam's Razor). It surmises that an omnipotent God annihilated himself in the Big Bang, because an omniscient God would already know everything possible except his own lack of existence, and exists now as the smallest units of matter and the law of probability, or "God's debris", hence the title.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Smell, no taste

Our office is adjacent to Monroe Chicken and all day long, tantalising smells of fried chicken would waft in to our nostrils. Now, Monroe Chicken has also started doing pizza and, guess what we can also smell all day long?

Shopping for vegetables and fruit on Benson Street

Saturday, 18 July 2015


So, I decided to take my first-try chocolate cake to the office next day and, share it with my staff. And, I took some photos to prove it really was a 'seriously rich chocolate cake.' 

I mean, why not blog about this, too? There are blogs with mason jars.

Until I find my writing mojo, I might as well blog about cake. 

Round Up of the Greek Crisis

The Facebook feed is streaming updates on the Greek debt crisis from mainstream news sites, opinion pieces and, also alternative analysis.

We apologise to Marxists worldwide for Greece refusing to commit ritual suicide to further the cause. You have suffered from your sofas.It is revealing of the political landscape in Europe - indeed, the world - that everyone's dreams of socialism seemed to rest on the shoulders of the young Prime Minister of a small country. There seemed to be a fervent, irrational, almost evangelical belief that a tiny country, drowning in debt, gasping for liquidity, would somehow (and that somehow is never specified) defeat global capitalism, armed only with sticks and rocks.In the last few hours I have been told that Greece "should just ‪#‎Grexit‬NOW"; that we have "a wonderful climate and could easily be self-sufficient"; that we "should adopt bitcoin and crowdfunding to circumvent monetarism"; that "the US would send us medicine". None of these people are suggesting that this should happen in their own country, you understand. Just Greece, so they can see what happens. Most of them live in states with centrist governments, which espouse austerity, but guarantee a steady supply of the latest iPad to the shops. All of them, without exception, could have negotiated a much better deal with a knife to their throat; could have been braver.
See Angela Merkel must act now for Greece, Germany and the world:
We urge Chancellor Merkel and the troika to consider a course correction to avoid further disaster and enable Greece to remain in the eurozone. The Greek government is being asked to put a gun to its head and pull the trigger. Sadly, the bullet will not only kill off Greece’s future in Europe. The collateral damage will kill the eurozone as a beacon of hope, democracy and prosperity, and could lead to far-reaching economic consequences across the world.
See the news as it broke when Varoufakis resigned -  Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis resigns despite referendum no vote. The words we remembered from this headline are 'And I shall wear the creditors' loathing with pride.' 

Announcing his resignation in a blog post entitled “Minister No More!” on Monday, he wrote: “Soon after the announcement of the referendum results, I was made aware of a certain preference by some Eurogroup participants [eurozone finance ministers], and assorted ‘partners’, for my … ‘absence’ from its meetings; an idea that the prime minister judged to be potentially helpful to him in reaching an agreement. For this reason I am leaving the Ministry of Finance today.
“I consider it my duty to help Alexis Tsipras exploit, as he sees fit, the capital that the Greek people granted us through yesterday’s referendum. 
“And I shall wear the creditors’ loathing with pride.”
Read Zoe Williams' piece The moral crusade against Greece must be opposed. It is a compelling opinion piece and asks why is it so important to paint Greeks as irresponsible, tax-evading, free loaders who deserve austerity:
In 2012 the head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, said in an interview with this newspaper, “Do you know what? As far as Athens is concerned, I also think about all those people who are trying to escape tax all the time. All these people in Greece who are trying to escape tax. And I think they should also help themselves collectively.” How? “By all paying their tax.” At the time, it sounded strange: how, in a country of cripplingly high unemployment, with whole families living off the depleted income of one pensioner, was the answer going to come from tax?
She was offering not a solution but a narrative: the Greeks were in this situation because they were bad people. They wanted a beneficent state, but they didn’t want to pool their resources to create one. The IMF was merely the instrument of a discipline they dearly needed. This line has broadly held – the debtors are presented as morally weaker than the creditors. To give them any concessions would be to reward their laziness and selfishness. The fact that debt is a two-way street – that the returns on debt exist because of the risk that the money might be lost, and creditors have their own moral duty to accept losses when they arise – is erased by this telling of the events.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Angela Merkel

It really isn't Angela Merkel's best time: she is seen as a loan shark belittling Greece in the name of the Euro, she is awkwardly comforting a Palestinian refugee who will soon get deported and, then she has apparently made a politically incorrect statement about marriage. Is it her or is it media showing female politicians in a certain way?

Cake and a pink umbrella

Last night I decided to give baking a try. I don't think I've ever baked cakes or cupcakes before  so it was quite exciting. I knew I wanted to make a chocolate cake so I googled some recipes and decided to go for seriously rich chocolate cake on BBC Good Food. 

After work I went to Stop and Shop, a hop and skip from our apartment, to look for the ingredients. I didn't find 70% chocolate nor did I find caster or  Muscovado sugar (is it made from an avocado with a mustache?). I found regular dark chocolate and brown sugar. I had some 70% cocoa chocolate at home which I had bought in Asheville which I was going to use together with the one from Stop and Shop. 

And, on the way back, I met a girl whom I met through Wesley years ago who keeps coming to me to say hello. She was selling umbrellas and, gifted a little pink umbrella to Kavita. Kavita was overjoyed. 

I first prepared all the ingredients and, followed the receipt step by step. I must say I really enjoyed the process. It's fascinating that eggs, flour, sugar and chocolate can work magic. And, there are infinite possibilities and variations on this combination of eggs, flour and sugar. Whoever stumbled on this? 

I think it also helped that after watching so many cooking programmes, I kind of had a sense what the various steps were going to feel like. I have seen so many fluffy egg whites folded into chocolate by TV maestros that I felt confident. 

The most difficult part was scaling those stiff peaks! My right arm was exhausted whipping those egg whites into stiff peaks. You know every industry has its own technical jargon and cooking is also fraught with its own language: sauté, al dente, fry until medium brown, pre heat, poach, blanche, and so on. Stiff peaks is a bit like a metaphor because you are trying to transform a bubbly, airy liquid like egg white into a thick substance, which would have ridges like stiff peaks. Quite clever and imaginative. 

Are animals also right and left handed or equally dexterous with their limbs? 

As I whipped up the double cream or 'creme fraiche' into a light froth, I realised my blender is as old as my life in Liberia. It has served me well but it's started to get cracks and often sprays liquid all over the kitchen counter top. I need to retire it. 

I should get a food processor too. 

The house smelled so good and I am glad to report the cake turned out well. While it baked, I made some murghi for dinner. 

Haresh went to the German Embassy movie night, representing NATC. I knew it was not feasible to take Kavita along so I settled in for a night of baking, cooking and playing with Kavita. I must say it is nice to spend the whole day with Kavita. She had her fill of Max and Ruby, Dora, Ben and Holly's Kingdom, Bubble Guppies and Mister Maker while I was in the kitchen. We enjoyed our dinner and soon Haresh came home. We read some books and after haresh fell asleep we watched half of "Zathura" on TV. I've seen it a few times but it was fascinating to see Kavita's expressions! 

Excuse my photography skills but I couldn't get a great photo of the cake when it was done. I wanted one of those food close ups but alas! This last photo will have to do. 

As I said I went for the seriously rich chocolate cake recipe. And, it was. Always go for recipes that start with seriously. I mean, if you are not going to be serious about it, why bother?

Sunday, 12 July 2015

An ordinary Saturday

My first weekend off the job at  Mercy Corps, I decided to have a very fun and packed couple of days. We were hosting a movie night in the evening. 

I decided to first go for an afternoon walk with Kavita to get some exercise. I was initially going to do the full route from Randall Street to UN Drive and onwards to the Masonic Temple but when I saw some children in a 'yard' on UN drive, very close to the second house I lived in in Liberia, I thought about getting some new friends for Kavita.

Kavita, green apple and a green mossy wall
The 'yard' was actually below street level so, we climbed down the stairs to get to the children. I had to kind lug down the stroller, step by step, bump bump. Luckily, we always have a ball in the basket under the stroller and in no time, we had some friends. I asked them to show Kavita how to play foot ball. 

At first Kavita was quite shy but soon got jealous when her precious red ball was being expertly maneuvered by the boys. 

After the game, I went back to the apartment on Randall Street so I could prepare for the movie night. 

Before heading for the kitchen, I checked out my gardener's latest work on my roof top garden. He's not only kept my garden in tip top shape but also used all the empty yoghurt boxes to plant flowers and plants. 

Having finally conquered the oven, I wanted to make something that needed to be popped into the contraption. Since we had done so well with the lasagna, we decided to give it another go and also added eggplant parmesan to the menu (we used this recipe Aubergine, tomato & Parmesan bake (Melanzane alla Parmigiana)). 

The eggplants Bendu bought from Benson Street were ginormous (would you believe that I spelled this and didn't have it underlined in red i.e. it is an actual word). 

For dessert we had mangoes with mint and a Cointreau. We found this wonderful and simple recipe here: Marvellous mangoes

As you can imagine, we were quite proud of ourselves for the dinner we prepared. 

The cherry on the top was of course the film itself. I had watched Ship of Theseus the night before. I guess I was in a rather pensive mood, the last day of my work at Mercy Corps and was a little blue. What is it about good byes one might ask? The film had really rocked me, inspired me. 

It was on the list of films that I sent around to our group of friends to peruse through. The idea was to select a film that night. 

(By the way, this is the list of films: 

i) To Sir With Love (1967, Sidney Poitier)
ii) The Darjeeling Limited (2007, Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman)
iii) Get Hard (Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart,  2015)
iv) No Country For Old Men (Tommy Lee Jones Javier Bardem Josh Brolin Woody Harrelson, 2007) 
v) Birdman (Michael Keaton Zach Galifianakis Edward Norton Andrea Riseborough Amy Ryan Emma Stone Naomi Watts, 2014) 
vi) Bored to Death (TV Series, a couple of episodes)
vii) Ship of Theseus (2013, Aida El-Kashef, Neeraj Kabi and Sohum Shah)
viii) Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011, Hrithik Roshan,  Abhay Deol, and Farhan Akhtar) 
ix) Purple Rose of Cairo (Mia Farrow Jeff Daniels, 1985)  
x) All About Eve (Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm, 1950))

As the group looked through the movies, I casually recommended Ship of Theseus and said it was a life changing movie. The group was close to choosing No Country for Old Men or Darjeeling Limited but quickly took my advice! 

I loved the film so much I was happy to see it a second time and, relished it even more. I feel like describing the experience of watching it and, am searching for metaphors. It felt I was watching stories of rebirth, characters grappling with and finding meaning of their lives. 

Movie buffs like me watch so many commercial films that forget to know how to watch art films which have such a different, measured pace than mainstream movies. 

The experience of watching Ship of Theseus was seeing time slow down and seeing moments depicted in vivid reality. One could almost feel one was there. One of my favourite scenes, in terms of appreciating the director's and cameraman's technique and artistry, was the one where the blind girl, after her sight-restoring surgery, becomes overwhelmed with the noise, traffic and commotion while trying to take photographs. Originally, she used to follow sounds to take photographs but ironically now the darting objects would not allow her to focus. Her sight did not serve her at all where once she enjoyed following sound to take photographs. Her sense of helplessness was conveyed in that scene where she stood on a busy intersection. 

Another favourite but haunting scene is where the monk's disease ravaged body is shown closely at night as he gets up to clean himself after having accidentally wet his bed. 
I'm really glad that we watched an art film as a group rather than opting for something which would have been easier to see and comprehend. 

Meaning, the fundamental raison d'être of all our journeys, discoveries, and angst, is still so elusive and subjective as the film showed. Is meaning the human condition itself or our reality in relation to the human condition?

Isn't it also interesting to think that a philosophical conundrum was explored using the film medium?

Friday, 10 July 2015

Writing versus blogging

I spent quite a bit of time recently looking for blogs to add to the reading list on my blog. It seems the blogosphere is full of whimsical, superfluous space. Bloggers are filling it up with clever one-liners and the most stylised photographs. 

My potato greens seems so dull, drab in comparison. There are not enough pictures of mason jars in it. 

Still, I was drawn enough to these virtual, made up drawing rooms to stare at pretty nothing space. Should I make my blog also pretty and whimsical?

For the longest time I've been obsessed - in fact, am still determined - about becoming a writer. I've been collecting anecdotes, narratives, stories and observations in my head for some, hoping to unleash my work of genius sometime soon. 

Until then, I need to figure out how to incorporate more mason jars in my blog. 

In other news, one of my Greek QMW mates decided to drop me an e-mail to lecture me about not being so sympathetic either towards the Leftist Greek government nor the average irresponsible Greek. I do not want to get into the details of her politics but it did amuse me that she only writes once in a blue moon - usually it is a fantastically long update about her life, full of witty long rants, much like herself - and only decided to write because she'd randomly logged into Facebook to see my status about haughty EU leaders. 

After a disturbingly horrible dining experience at our favourite Mamba Point Hotel last Friday, we have decided to never step into a restaurant again. So, we decided to google some desi recipes a few nights ago and went off to Exclusive Supermarket on Center Street to buy ingredients. We found everything including Dawat Basmati rice. It had Amitabh Bachan's photograph on it. 

While shopping, I saw an Ahamdi family also browsing the aisles. The father had the typical topi on his head and the mother was wearing a burqa. The children were a cranky boy who clung to his father and a chubby girl dressed in a kappa print shalwar kameez who kept staring at me. Somehow, they seemed so out of place here, far removed from Pakistan. I kind of admired them for coming so far from home to be part of the Ahamdi mission here but given how poorly average Ahamdis are faring in Pakistan, they might as well be in Liberia. They also reminded me of American missionary families we knew of while studying at the American Baptist school in Dakar. 

Start drinking wine while you cook. It gets you in the mood for….

Haresh made delicious saibhaji (The receipe he used is here), which I've had at my sister in law's in Dubai, and I made karela keema (The recipe I used is here). We followed the recipes to the letter and were extremely impressed at how well the dishes turned out. 

I was fascinated with the karela. I have never made it and, was recently inspired to try to make it after eating a delicious karela at a Pakistani couple's house who live on Bushrod Island a few months ago. 

It is really an ugly vegetable with the strangest skin and texture. I imagine NASA had the same feeling discovering Mars with all its crooks and crannies. And, it's really bitter. But it's worth cooking and enjoying. 

On a roll, tonight we decided to finally use the oven and made ourselves the perfect lasagna. We found the recipe here. We were giggling at how well it turned out and enjoyed plate after plate with red wine.

What a way to end the week!

A friend comes to town

A friend of ours who used to work in Liberia as the head of an NGO engaged in various studies and now working at the World Bank was back in town recently to follow up on one of the studies she had initiated a few years ago. 

She came over to our apartment for dinner and it was needless to say nice to host her. As I grow older, I realise the value of friendships. Friends come in all sizes, shapes and shades. Whenever you do manage to share a moment with a friend, you feel all the more richer for it. 

It is nice to have your friendships bear fruit. 

One study she is overseeing is studying sex amongst young girls: when does a young girl start having sex and why, are they supported by their parents, who pays their school fees and so on. 

The other study also looks at household expenditure and attitudes to sending their kids to school. 

I am mixing up the focus of the studies most likely and how many there are but roughly from what I remember from our chat, this is what I remember. She explained that one of the reasons such a study is being conducted is to challenge typical perceptions of folks in poor countries. 

So, people think that young girls are having random sex all the time. And, parents are not interested in sending their kids to school. 

Our friend explained that so far the study challenges all these perceptions. 

I wonder if this is the reason the main work of the entire do gooder industry - the one made up of the UN and NGOs - is either holding workshops or putting up giant advertisements telling folks what to do. 


The domain name of my blog is potato greens, a Liberian dish, and the name of the blog is We travel not for trafficking alone.  One of these days, I'm going to share a recipe for my take on potato greens but meanwhile would like to share the poem from which the name of the blog is derived:


We who with songs beguile your pilgrimage
And swear that Beauty lives though lilies die,
We Poets of the proud old lineage
Who sing to find your hearts, we know not why, -
What shall we tell you? Tales, marvellous tales
Of ships and stars and isles where good men rest,
Where nevermore the rose of sunset pales,
And winds and shadows fall towards the West:
And there the world's first huge white-bearded kings
In dim glades sleeping, murmur in their sleep,
And closer round their breasts the ivy clings,
Cutting its pathway slow and red and deep. 


At the Gate of the Sun, Bagdad, in olden time
Away, for we are ready to a man!
Our camels sniff the evening and are glad.
Lead on, O Master of the Caravan:
Lead on the Merchant-Princes of Bagdad. 
Have we not Indian carpets dark as wine,
Turbans and sashes, gowns and bows and veils,
And broideries of intricate design,
And printed hangings in enormous bales? 
We have rose-candy, we have spikenard,
Mastic and terebinth and oil and spice,
And such sweet jams meticulously jarred
As God's own Prophet eats in Paradise. 
And we have manuscripts in peacock styles
By Ali of Damascus; we have swords
Engraved with storks and apes and crocodiles,
And heavy beaten necklaces, for Lords.
THE MASTER OF THE CARAVAN : But you are nothing but a lot of Jews. 
Sir, even dogs have daylight, and we pay. 
But who are ye in rags and rotten shoes,
You dirty-bearded, blocking up the way?
We are the Pilgrims, master; we shall go
Always a little further: it may be
Beyond the last blue mountain barred with snow,
Across that angry or that glimmering sea,
White on a throne or guarded in a cave
There lives a prophet who can understand
Why men were born: but surely we are brave,
Who make the Golden Journey to Samarkand.
We gnaw the nail of hurry. Master, away! 
O turn your eyes to where your children stand.
Is not Bagdad the beautiful? O stay! 
THE MERCHANTS in chorus :
We take the Golden Road to Samarkand. 
Have you not girls and garlands in your homes,
Eunuchs and Syrian boys at your command?
Seek not excess: God hateth him who roams! 
We make the Golden Journey to Samarkand.
Sweet to ride forth at evening from the wells
When shadows pass gigantic on the sand,
And softly through the silence beat the bells
Along the Golden Road to Samarkand.
We travel not for trafficking alone:
By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned:
For lust of knowing what should not be known
We make the Golden Journey to Samarkand. 
Open the gate, O watchman of the night! 
Ho, travellers, I open. For what land
Leave you the dim-moon city of delight?
THE MERCHANTS with a shout
We make the Golden Journey to Samarkand.
The Caravan passes through the gate 
THE WATCHMAN consoling the women
What would ye, ladies? It was ever thus.
Men are unwise and curiously planned. 
They have their dreams, and do not think of us. 
VOICES OF THE CARAVAN : in the distance, singing
We make the Golden Journey to Samarkand.

I first came to learn this poem in my days at UNJLC, Islamabad in 2002.

My supervisor, a wonderful Keith Chapman, shared it with me. It was part of a colleague's e-mail signature and I was struck by the beautiful imagery.  Keith and I had a wonderful relationship. He was a good mentor! He loved Ella Fitzgerald and I would stream London's Jazz FM and we would enjoy the music in our room.

Once, another UNJLC colleague came in barging and told us to keep it down and Keith was infuriated with this colleague's brusque manner. In fact, it was strange to see this outburst because the music was not that loud.  In fact, Keith asked me to turn it up.

My favourite stanza from this poem is:

We travel not for trafficking alone;
By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned:
For lust of knowing what should not be known
We take the Golden Road to Samarkand.

I think this stanza captures the mystery of life and desire, the journey to explore the world and ourselves, the restlessness that we feel but also the sense of nostalgia we have for time passed and all we left behind.