Africa

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November is probably the most crowded month for Harvard kids.  We start referring to our iCals with growing frequency, trying to fit every single activity (including eating and sleeping) into a 24-hour matrix that feels far too small.  I mean, Free Time is never a readily available commodity on campus, but it goes completely out of stock in November.  The shelves of Free Time are empty, and the Free Time vendors just shrug their shoulders and say, “Come back next month, and we might have more in stock.”  So I’ve learned that sometimes, during the most crammed weeks of the semester, you’ve gotta steal your Free Time – seize any hours of freedom that you can find!

In that spirit, I rode the T into Boston on Thursday night, to see the Blue Scholars perform at the Paradise Rock Club.  The Blue Scholars are a dynamic musical duo from Seattle, makin’ smart folk hip-hop since 2002.  Sabzi is an Iranian DJ/producer, and Geologic is a Filipino rapper – and together, the dudes are pure magic.  The Blue Scholars use their music to treat relevant societal/generational issues, and I admire the intentionality manifest in their art.  Here’s one of my favorite songs by them, Cinemetropolis, the title track from their new LP:

 

I was lucky enough to attend another nourishing event this weekend (one that filled my tummy and my heart).  On Saturday, the Harvard African Students Association held its annual Fall Feast, which is always one of the best events of the semester.  Students and groups of various African affiliations lend their time and talents to recreate classic dishes from their home countries.   The array was stunning – jollof rice, stews, curries, shawarma, corn-mush, chicken, samosas, plantains – and by the time we got halfway down the line, our plates were spilling over with African delicacies.  We had to go finish our first plates before we could sample the second half of the buffet.  It was a true celebration, and everyone jokingly heralded their hometown food as “the winning dish.”  All the proceeds from the event went to buy food for Somali refugee camps, so they were selling these sweet T-shirts:

I felt kind of weird buying a shirt that said “Fight the Famine” while surrounded by such bounty.  But I think that’s the strange tension that many of us live with, especially as Americans.  We should still enjoy and appreciate things like parties and good food, knowing that they’re undeserved riches; but at the same time, we gotta stay keenly aware of the areas of great need that are sometimes starkly juxtaposed to our own comfortable situations.  It’s a complicated dynamic, and one that I haven’t totally come to terms with yet.  I could only be grateful for my blessings while I chowed down on hometown chapatis for the second time this month.  In honor of that unlikely statistic, here’s the official Chapati song by the Kenyan artist Man Ingwe:

 

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Veggie Fests and Autumn Bests

This weekend, I tagged along with my roommate to Boston’s annual Vegetarian Food Festival.  She’s a vegetarian and I am not.  But I was lured in by the promise of hundreds of free samples of exotic health-foods: granola bars cut up into little squares, crumbs of 85% dark chocolate, sprouts, quinoa, some magical ‘unsaturated’ tree oil from Venezuela, hummus samplers, and some not-potable chocolate protein shakes.  All these delicacies (and more!) were displayed upon tables in their healthy glory, curated by very healthy-looking individuals.  Among the attendees of the Veggie Fest, I encountered the usual surplus of beards, suspenders and shoes made of natural fibers, as well as a surprising hat made of tree-bark, and some buttons that said “Give Peas a Chance.”  Because I was dressed in really pedestrian attire, I bought this sweet T-shirt:

I felt okay buying this shirt, because whether I wear it ironically or in earnest, it’s sending pretty much the same message out on da streets.

At one point during the Fest, I noticed some chapatis at a faraway food stand.  Chapatis are flat, greasy discs of bread that resemble tortillas, except they come from East Africa.  I’m always craving some greasy Tanzanian carbohydrates, so I made a bee-line for the table.  As I got closer, the banner behind the stall came into view: Taste of Kilimanjaro.  I couldn’t believe it – Tanzanian cuisine for sale at a Boston veggie fair!  Any true array of Tanzanian fare would include a large component of kuku choma  (scrawny pieces of charcoal-grilled chicken, cut into vaguely identifiable pieces and dipped in thick salt).  But since it was a Veggie Festival, I loaded up on beans and chapatis, and enjoyed a true Tanzanian lunch.  I even got to chat with the chefs in Kiswahili.  Since they’d been living in Boston for fifteen years, their pure, grammatical Kiswahili was inflected with American sound and cadence.

Later that day, I Skyped with my parents, who live in Kenya.  They informed me that the city of Nairobi was hosting its annual Barbecue Fest that very same day.  Apparently, all the city’s leading meat companies and “grilling houses” were showcasing their best meats downtown, offering taste-samples for a price.  That’s the kind of irony I love — the polarized food-fairs of my two distant homes, vending totally distinct flavors (both cultural and gustatory).

On Saturday, we had a mini snowstorm, and I was worried that winter had arrived prematurely, but it looks like autumn will be here for a few more weeks.  The trees around campus are all quickly losing leaves, and I like how they revolve slowly and come to rest on the ground like a warmer and more colorful strain of snow – my kind of snow.

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