Tag Archives: Burkina Faso

Countdown to the British Royal Wedding

Prince William Kate MiddletonLike a lot of people, I think the upcoming British royal wedding is exciting. There’s something escapist and fairy-tale-come-to-life about all weddings but when you add in a few princes, a queen, a beautiful bride and all the pomp and circumstance the British can muster, well then you’ve got yourself an event!

But did you know that 22 percent of the world’s countries have some form of a monarchy? More than 40 countries have either a constitutional or active monarch. Six have an absolute monarchy.

The global number of royal families increases dramatically when you take into account tribal monarchies that exist in many parts of Africa, including the country in which I served in the Peace Corps, Burkina Faso.

Burkina Faso had many royal families. Some reigned over no more than a small village. Others were part of a powerful dynasty that continued to exert political, moral, religious, and social influence.

Perhaps that is the great allure of royalty today. Even without power, the idea of a monarchy still has the ability to influence us and to connect us.

Hopefully, this influence is wielded in a positive way such as when the late Princess Diana shook hands with HIV/AIDS victims, dispelling the myth that the disease could be transmitted through casual contact.

Princess DianaShe also called for an international landmine ban to help countries such as Angola whose people, especially women and children, have suffered so much from the use of landmines.

Her sons continue to do a lot of good by drawing attention to health, economic, and education issues in Africa.

So while we revel in the idea of designer wedding gowns, exotic honeymoons, glass carriages, and parties at the palace, it’s also good to remember the good that can – and should – be done when people choose to use their influence to make the world a better place.

And it’s also important to remember that each of us has that influence within our own social sphere.

Children, in particular, understand this. The argument that they might be a “good example” for someone else, especially a younger sibling or other relative or friend, is a powerful idea and one that parents should feel free to employ.

It’s also important to talk about who is a good role model for them and why. As parents, we need to explain that wealth and power are not in themselves good enough reasons to admire someone. But it’s what each of us does with the resources and the influence that we have that really determines whether or not we are admirable.

And we have the same obligation to use our resources and influence as appropriately as the Queen of England.

Maybe even more so.

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Happy 100th International Women’s Day

International Women's Day 2011Today is the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, a day set aside by the United Nations to recognize the contributions of women to societies around the world and the important work we have still to do to ensure equal access to health care, educational opportunities, and employment.

I first celebrated International Women’s Day as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso, West Africa. I worked with women in my village to coordinate a soccer match between two teams of women and a soccer match between two teams of my female students. We held a ceremony with lots of fantastic speeches (my French still wasn’t so great so I can only imagine the full impact of the oratory), and finally a dance in the evening. It was one of the most successful events of which I’ve ever been a part.

Equal rightsAlthough there have been many improvements made in women’s lives since 1911, many of the same issues persist – in the United States and around the world. In most of the world, women are still likely to make less money than their male counterparts. Women continue to struggle for equal access to – and authority over – their health care. Education is still a major issue for women.

So while women have won many of the same rights as men, the struggle for equality continues.

women in Tahrir Square, Egypt



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No Soup Today

Instead of a soup recipe today (don’t worry; we’ll be back tomorrow with more!), I’d like to say thank you to Sargent Shriver, husband of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, and the first head of the Peace Corps.

As you can tell from my biography, I was proud to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer from 1997 to 1999 in Burkina Faso, West Africa.

That experience changed my life and it brought two of the most wonderful people I will ever know into my life for good.

In this blog we talk about understanding, appreciating, and respecting other cultures. I would probably have never written a word about these things if I hadn’t served in the Peace Corps. It was my first real opportunity to put service into action – and I hope I never stop.

As parents, we want to provide our children with the tools they’ll need to navigate the world. That’s a big part of why I write about other cultures: to help children understand the people and cultures with whom they will one day undoubtedly interact.

The Peace Corps gave me the ability to do that: to understand and appreciate people who – on the surface – may seem different from me and my family.

But another tool that parents need to provide their children is the value of service. The Peace Corps gave me that, too.

When we talk about service, it usually sounds so wishy-washy and goodie-goodie. But anyone who has ever served in the Peace Corps knows that you have to be a real fighter in order to serve.

  • You can’t let one bad day (or monsoon season) drive you away; you have to stay and fulfill your assignment.
  • You can’t let one mishap or negative social interaction define an entire people for you. Think about how Americans would fare if others did that to us!
  • You can’t let food poisoning or naughty students or an inability to speak the language or a total lack of knowledge of the country’s postal/banking/medical/telephone system derail you. You keep putting one foot in front of the other.

The Peace Corps taught me resilience; the capacity to fight for what I believe over and over; how to say bad words in Dioula and Bwamou; and how to say thank you in multiple languages.

So now I can say thank you (merci, aneechay, etc.) to you, Sargent Shriver, for your service as head of the Peace Corps. Aside from motherhood, it truly is the toughest job I’ll ever love.

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Burkina Feast 3: Riz Gras

Riz gras was one of the first meals I learned to cook in Burkina. The principle is simple: it’s a one-pot dish that starts with a little oil and vegetables. You can add meat but I made a vegetarian version for my son to try. Once the vegetables cook down a bit, add water and bring it to a boil. Then add rice, lower it to a simmer, and allow the rice to absorb the water. It’s healthy and delicious.

Riz Gras (vegetarian)

1 medium onion, diced

1 green pepper, diced

2 tomatoes, diced

2 medium carrots, sliced thinly

1 1/2 c. rice

1/4 tsp. salt

3 cloves garlic

2 Tbsp. canola or vegetable oil

Heat oil in a medium-sized pot. Add garlic, onion, and green peppers. Saute 5 minutes. Add carrots and tomatoes. Saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add salt. Add 3 cups water and rice. Cover. Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer. Heat for 20 minutes. Water should be absorbed.

* If you like spicy food, add one habanero pepper when you add the carrots and tomato. But be careful – it can be VERY spicy!

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Burkina Feast 2: Pommes de Terre avec Sauce Tomate

Yum! On market days, I used to love getting pommes de terre avec sauce tomate (potatoes with tomato sauce). Try it and see if you like it as much as I do!

Pommes de Terre avec Sauce Tomate

3 medium white potatoes, cut horizontally

2 tomatoes, diced

1 white onion, diced

1 green pepper, diced

3 cloves garlic, diced

1/4 tsp. salt

2 tsp. canola oil

Fill a medium saucepan with water. Over high heat bring water to a boil. Add potatoes and boil until potatoes are softened.

In a small saucepan, add canola oil and heat until crackling. Add garlic, onion, green pepper, and tomatoes. Saute until the tomatoes break down and make a sauce. Add salt and serve over the drained potatoes.

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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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So Tell Me About Peaches

Last night in the grocery store I was half-listening to the TV they had set up at the checkout. I was rushing to arrange everything on the belt just the way my mother had taught me (cold stuff together, heavy stuff together, chemicals for cleaning together, etc.) when I heard the fascinating fact that peaches originated in China.

As a devotee of New Jersey’s peach crop (it was the only food I can recall missing when I lived in Burkina Faso for two years), this was news to me. But it’s true (I¬†confirmed it on Wikipedia).

The peach fact reminded me of a new show I caught on the Cooking Channel called Food(ography) hosted by Mo Rocca. I will say it here and now: I love Mo Rocca. And I love him even more after watching this show in which he talks about food in the context of culture.

The episode I caught was called “Noodlerama” and it talked about pasta and how different cultures have adapted it. The show airs Sundays at 9 p.m. and the only criticism I have of it – and this is minor and probably part of the charm of the show – is that I have a hard time believing Mo Rocca. Something in his sardonic delivery just makes me wonder if he’s making the whole thing up.

But if you – like me – enjoy getting a history lesson along with a tour of food and culture delivered in a way that will make you laugh out loud, then this might be the show for you.

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Thank a Teacher!

From Albania to Vietnam, most countries set aside a special day to thank teachers for all they do. Today, May 4th, is National Teacher Day in the United States.

As a student, I had so many wonderful teachers, from kindergarten through high school. They gave me everything I needed to go to college, study abroad, and even teach for a few years in Burkina Faso.

But now – as a parent – I’m enjoying getting to know my son’s teachers and seeing a side of the profession that I could not see when I was sitting in a little desk about 30 years ago.

In pre-K, kindergarten, and first grade, my son has had very different teachers with incredibly different approaches to education. Each has been a wonderful partner for me in making the most of my son’s education. From each, I have gotten the encouragement, advice, and support I’ve needed to keep my son on a solid path to learning at home while his teachers pursue it at school.

Some of his teachers have been educators longer than I’ve been alive. Some are only in their second or third year. But each of them has been unfailingly committed to helping me and my son.

And for that, I have no words other than THANK YOU!

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Do You – Or Do You Not – Love Donuts?

Donuts – Doughnuts, potato – potAHto – I love them no matter how you spell them.

It’s been my good fortune to travel to a lot of countries that have a strong donut culture. Among the strongest is my native state of New Jersey where you can get a pretty good donut at Wawa, a family bakery, Dunkin Donuts, or the grocery store.

Living in West Africa, I was delighted to discover that donut culture is global. In Burkina, we ate donuts make from ground bean, wheat, and corn. And I loved them all (well, maybe not the bean donuts so much).

Chinese donuts – the kind you find at the restaurants that offer buffet dining – are very similar to those flour-based donuts I sampled in Burkina. They’re also easy to make at home.

Chinese/Burkinabe Donuts

Buy a cylinder of butter-flavored biscuits (store-brand is fine).

Heat up enough oil to fry the donuts (I never fry so this was a difficult step – and it hurt my budget-conscious soul to use that much canola oil on one recipe, but I did it).

Open the biscuits and either cut each round in half or quarters, depending on the size of the donut you like.

Roll the biscuit halves or quarters into balls.

Test the oil by gently placing one donut in the hot oil. See how quickly it turns brown.

You need to be able to cook the donut through in the center before it becomes too brown on the outside.

If your “test” donut succeeds, add a couple more balls of dough. If not, adjust the heat accordingly and then add more dough.

Halfway through the 3-4 minute cooking time (depending on the heat of your oil), flip the donut to evenly brown all sides.

After another minute or so, use a tongs or slotted spoon to remove the donuts.

Allow them to drain on paper towels.

When they have drained, pop them into a bowl with white sugar and coat evenly.

Then taste – and enjoy!

If my directions were too maddening (I really do cook this way) check out this site for more explicit information but skip to the shortcut version of the recipe!

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Grow a Global Garden

Growing up in the Garden State, I was always around family gardens. My paternal grandparents usually had a large plot cultivated and I most distinctly remember the corn they would harvest.

My maternal grandmother gardened on a smaller scale and chose more delicate vegetables, such as asparagus.

My father has been an avid gardener for as long as I can remember and I am envious of his ability to grow green peppers, a skill I sorely lack.

My own garden – like my cooking – is a bit more eclectic. I’ll try to grow anything.

In previous years, I have grown eggplant, eager to replicate the clear Sauce Aubergine my friends prepared when I lived in Burkina Faso.

I also have tried to grow habanero peppers, or piment, a staple in our West African diet.

I looked eagerly at the peanut plants in the Burpee and other seed catalogs, hopeful that I could grow a crop of fresh peanuts and once again enjoy one of the staples of my diet in the Peace Corps: boiled peanuts, nice and salty.

I have even toyed with the prospect of growing the West African eggplant, a vegetable I really didn’t enjoy when I first moved to my village but grew to love.

But thanks to the climate, I had to abandon a few of my more ambitious ideas.

Instead, I’m focusing on herbs, such as lemongrass, which is found in a lot of Asian cuisine, and finding new ways to cook with familiar vegetables, like pumpkins.

Pumpkins are a common food in southern African foods. If you have read The Number One Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith, you have no doubt come across a description of pumpkin stew that made your mouth water.

So far, pumpkin appears to be my most promising crop. Look at these gorgeous plants!

But as a Jersey gardener, I know better than to anticipate a glut of any other vegetable except zucchini. Even if you don’t plant zucchini, your neighbors will throw their unwanted extra crop over your garden fence (that you built to keep out zucchini, not rabbits or deer).

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