Tag Archives: Africa

Superstitions Around the World

At Halloween, it’s fun to explore the things we don’t understand and examine the steps we take to control the things that just can’t be controlled. For example:

When you spill salt, do you throw a pinch over your left shoulder for good luck?

Do you believe black cats are unlucky?

Do you think that if you break a mirror, you’ll have bad luck for seven years?

Do you avoid the number 13?

These are all superstitions with which most Americans are familiar.

Even if we don’t believe in them, we pass this information on to our children because it’s part of our collective cultural heritage. We feel they should be aware of these beliefs.

But what other superstitions do people believe around the world? How are they different? Here’s a brief look at superstitions around the world to help you understand other cultures.

The Spooky Numbers 4 and 17

In Japan, it’s the number 4, not 13, that makes hearts race. In Italy, it’s the number 17. In these cultures, many hotels and hospitals avoid using these numbers to prevent their guests and patients from unnecessary pessimism. Of course, these buildings still have fourth and seventeenth floors, they just aren’t listed as such.

The Broken Dish

In the Netherlands, a broken dish is believed to bring bad luck in much the same way a broken mirror does.

More About Cats

In the Netherlands, private matters should not be discussed when a cat is in the room. People believe that cats are untrustworthy and spread gossip.


Tuesdays hold a special place in superstition. Tuesday the 13th is considered a particularly bad-luck day in many cultures in much the same way that Friday the 13th is bad luck to many Americans. In India, you cannot get a hair cut on Tuesdays because it’s believed to bring bad luck.

Bad Dreams

In Romania, if you dream about dark water or that you are carrying a newborn baby in your arms, you can expect bad luck. In China, dreaming about teeth or snow means that your parents have died.

More About Mirrors

If you thought breaking a mirror was bad, then you definitely do not want to place a mirror anywhere near the foot of your bed. If you do, Italians believe it permits the devil to watch you sleep. And if you wake up in the night and catch a glimpse of your reflection in that mirror, it means that evil owns you.

Watch Out For the Evil Eye

Many cultures believe in the evil eye which brings big-time bad luck. In Guatemala, parents can protect their children from the evil eye by dressing the kids in red; even a red bracelet will help.

Don’t Get Swept Away

In Venezuela, some people believe that if someone pushes a broom over your feet while they are sweeping, they also sweep away your chances of ever getting married. In many parts of Africa, you are never supposed to sweep your house at night. It is believed that you will sweep your good luck away.

Respect the Moon

In China, if you point to the moon with your finger the tips of your ears will fall off.

Whether or not you’re superstitious, it’s good to be aware – and respectful – of other people’s beliefs. When you visit people in their homes or travel to different countries, you need to respect these beliefs in order to be a considerate guest.


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Filed under Africa, Asia, Europe, Faith, Holiday, Latin America, Learn

Thank you, Wangari Maathai

On Sunday, September 25, we lost a hero when Kenyan Wangari Maathai passed away from cancer in Nairobi.

In 2004, Maathai earned worldwide attention when she was named the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for her work linking environmentalism with democracy and human rights.

Maathai decided that planting trees with women’s groups would improve the quality of their lives while helping the environment. She founded the Green Belt Movement which has planted more than 20 million trees on farms, schools, and church compounds. The movement has spread to other countries in Africa.

Maathai was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree. She studied at several universities in the United State and Europe before returning to Kenya to improve the lives of her fellow citizens.

In 2002, Maathai was elected to the Kenyan Parliament and was later appointed to be Assistant Minister of Environment, Natural Resources and Wildlife.

Maathai was a great leader. Despite the challenges she faced as a woman and an African, she changed the world by teaching women to value themselves, to take control over their lives, and to connect human rights with environmentalism. We owe her a great deal, but the best way to honor her work is to continue it.

For more information about Maathai, read her biography on the Nobel Prize page. Learn more about the Green Belt Movement here.

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Filed under Africa

What Kids Should Know About Libya

Libya has been in the news recently as the United States and other nations enforce a “no fly zone” to help protect Libyan citizens who do not agree with their current government.

Without going too deeply into the situation in Libya, which may be overwhelming for children, it is an opportunity to teach kids about Libya and its place in the world.

Libya – whose official name is Libyan Arab Jamahiriya – is located in North Africa. It is the fourth-largest country in Africa and the 17th largest in the world.

The country is mostly covered by the Libyan Desert, which is one of the driest, hottest places on earth.

Some parts of the desert have not had rain for more than 13 years. The highest temerpature that has been recorded in the desert is 136 degrees Fahrenheit!

The majority of people live in cities and are primarily concentrated close to the coastline with the Mediterranean Sea.

Islam is the major religion in Libya. While most people practice Sunni Islam, there are also Coptic Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics.

Arabic is the primary language spoken in Libya but there are many people from other countries living in Libya, including people from Bangladesh, China, the Philippines, Egypt, and Italy. Italian and English is sometimes spoken in the larger cities.

Libya is a very young country – half of the people there are 15 years old or younger.

Fortunately, every child in Libya has access to a free education through secondary (high) school.

In fact, Libya has the highest literacy rate in Africa. More than 82 percent of the people can read and write.

Family is very important to Libyans and they are accustomed to living close to each other. There are more than 140 tribes or clans and people strongly associate with their tribe.

Libyan food is very similar to the rest of North Africa. Staples of a Libyan diet include: couscous, olives, soups, dates, grains, and milk. Following the meal, most people consume several glasses of black tea.

Libya is a beautiful, historic country facing many challenges but hopefully the Libyan people will soon be living in peace.

Libyan Desert

Photo courtesy Wikipedia


Filed under Learn

Hear the World

kids listening to musicLike most people, I love listening to lots of different kinds of music.

From Edith Piaf to Bob Marley to Loretta Lynn to Ali Farka Toure, I’m interested in many different voices.

I’ve succeeded in getting my son hooked (a little). He enjoys French children’s music; in fact, it’s his favorite CD to listen to in the car.

And we both enjoy a CD of African lullabies that I bought him when he was a baby. 

I’m always looking for new ways to broaden our collection and a relative recently gave us Putumayo’s  Picnic Playground with fun children’s songs from around the world.

The Putumayo World Music company and their Putumayo Kids collection is a great resource for CD’s from different countries and regions of the world. According to their website, their goal is to “introduce children to other cultures through fun, upbeat world music.” As a result, they’ve been acknowledged by the Parents’ Choice Awards and the National Parenting Publications Association. 

But you don’t have to buy a CD in order to get your child to listen to different music from around the world. YouTube has many songs from other cultures that are fun for kids. As always with YouTube, you have to monitor it carefully to ensure your child doesn’t accidentally see something inappropriate.


Filed under Listen

Burkina Feast: Salade Concombre

Eleven years ago, I finished my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso. There are a lot of things I miss about living there: the friends I made, the little red brick house in the middle of a cornfield that was my home for two years, the music, language, and culture. But one of the things I miss the most is the food.

The food in Burkina Faso is pretty similar to other countries throughout West Africa. Hot peppers (habaneros), rice, tomatoes, onions, green peppers, fish, beef, goat, chicken – these are just some of the ingredients they use to make some amazing dishes.

Since I miss those foods so much, I thought it would be fun to prepare and share some of the foods I miss so much. I thought I’d start with salade concombre – cucumber salad. My friend Salimata made this for me not long after I moved to Bagassi, our village in Burkina Faso. She was a super cook and she introduced me to many of the dishes I later came to love. Here’s my take on salade concombre.

Salade Concombre

1 medium-sized cucumber, thinly sliced

1/2 medium onion, diced

1 tomato, thinly sliced

1/4 tsp. salt

2 Tbsp. white vinegar

1 Tbsp. canola/vegetable oil

Mix together in one bowl. Serve immediately.

Sali also liked to serve salade concombre in a baguette, or loaf of French bread. Slice the baguette in half longways and fill with salade concombre. It’s like eating a salad sandwich!

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September is National Papaya Month

papayaIf you thought September was just back-to-school, the beginning of the end of summer, and the start of a new fiscal year, think again. It turns out September is also National Papaya Month, which answers the question that tormented us back in June (during National Mango Month): “When will papayas get their turn?”.

Papayas are another fruit I discovered while living in Burkina Faso, West Africa. My friend, Salimata, introduced them to me. Her method is still my favorite way of eating papayas. She took a sharp knife and split the papaya in half, long-ways.  She scooped out the black seeds inside with a spoon. Incidentally, she disposed of the seeds outside her house and about a year later we had a little papaya tree growing! Finally, Sali cut a lime in half and squeezed the juice onto the papaya’s flesh and then we dug in.  It’s the perfect combination of sweet and tart.

There are plenty of other ways to eat papayas: in smoothies, frozen like gelato,  or cubed in a fruit salad. But don’t just take my word – or ideas – for it! Check out what some other mom-chefs are doing to get their families to eat papaya.

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Filed under Africa, Caribbean, Eat

Traditional Dancing in Zimbabwe

I have never been to Zimbabwe and it looks the current political, economic, and social crises there will prevent me from doing so for a long time, but I have seen traditional Zimbabwe dancing in the comfort of my own home (or wherever I take my computer).  Thanks to YouTube, I have access to 65,000 “African dance” videos.  So far, this one is my favorite.

I think this video gives the feeling that you’re actually there.  The traditional buildings in the background reinforce that impression.  Also, the focus is less on strenuous acrobatics and more on the chanting and group movements.  Check out the videos and see which one you like best.

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Filed under Africa, Learn

Let Us Now Praise (Semi-) Famous Mangoes

MangoesThe first time I tasted a mango, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso, West Africa.  The mangoes were so prevalent, I could have picked them off my neighbor’s tree (but that would have been bad manners).  Instead, I bought mangoes on market day, from children selling them on the side of the road, from my perch in a bashe [bash-ay], or mini-bus.  In short, I went mango-crazy.  I ate them so often I got sick of them.  Then I got over it and went back for more.  

I’ve never found a mango sold in a grocery store in the U.S. that matches up to my precious Burkina mangoes, but that doesn’t stop me from trying.  I like slightly unripe mangoes – they’re easier to cut and are a little tart.  If you’ve never tried a mango, you don’t have to go it alone.  Believe it or not, there is a National Mango Board and June is National Mango Month (I wonder when National Papaya Month is?).  On their website, you can get recipes to cook with mangoes (even though they are perfect just the way they are) and even watch a video on how to cut a mango, which I have helpfully linked to here:

The National Mango Board also has interactive games and information for kids on their website, but it’s focus is solely on South America, which leaves out my Burkina mangoes.  I should probably write them a letter of protest!

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Filed under Africa, Eat

Sowing a Global Garden

Growing up in New Jersey, the “Garden State,” my family always had a garden.  We grew the staples:  green peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, corn, lettuce, and sometimes pumpkins or watermelons.  The foods we prepared from these fresh fruits and vegetables was always pretty standard.

As a mom, I’ve tried to keep up the family tradition of growing a vegetable garden, but I’m also interested in using familiar ingredients in new ways.  For instance, reading The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith about a lady detective in Botswana has piqued my interest in preparing pumpkin soup – Mma Ramotswe’s favorite dish. I can’t get her recipe, so I’m thinking of trying this one.  

Atarodo_Hot_Peppers_SeedsLiving in West Africa (and coming from a hot pepper-eating family), I knew I had to plant habanero peppers, thought by many to be one of the hottest peppers on the planet.  We usually add one pepper to spice up stews.  Seed the pepper first to prevent a habanero overdose.  If you’re daring enough to try what is thought to be the HOTTEST hot pepper on the planet, buy some seeds here.

Finally, I’ve been experimenting with growing kitchen herbs like thyme, rosemary, basil, and dill.  But my new favorite flavoring has got to be cilantro. In the mood for a tangy recipe for rice, guacamole, or salsa?  Learn how to grow cilantro here.

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Filed under Africa, Eat, Learn, Read

Tripping on Travel Envy

So here’s the downside to social networking sites like Facebook:  I have come to the unpleasant realization that many of my friends are living more interesting, adventurous lives than I am. 

images-2Take the friend who updates regularly from Dakar, Senegal.  She and her husband both served as Peace Corps Volunteers with me in Burkina Faso in the late 1990s.  Today, he’s working for the Foreign Service and she is raising their two young children in a bourgainvillea-covered home.  

Then there’s my  college roommate who is leaving in a month for a job in Bogota, Columbia.

Another Peace Corps friend now works for the World Health Organization and is frequently updating her profile to announce her latest trips to Mali and Switzerland.

There’s even an old boyfriend announcing his plans to move to China for a year.

I’m Shrek-green with envy.  

Even though my job and my family keep me pretty firmly tethered to exotic New Jersey, a girl can still dream.  I’m already plotting trips to Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, and China.  After all, I may not be able to live overseas for the time being, but a girl can still dream – and research – for the future.

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Filed under Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America