Monday in a Picture – Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture

One of the hottest tickets in town is to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. It’s the newest of the institution’s museums, having opened its doors in 2016. While I heavily anticipated the opening, I started for service a few months before the grand opening. The internet and friends shared some of the hype and hoopla with the museum first opening. The long lines. The massive visitation numbers. The quality of the museum itself. The forethought put into its curation. I knew that I had to go. I thought that I’d just be able to walk up and get in. Passes are still needed to get in, as the museum is still drawing very high numbers of visitors.

One of the ways to get tickets is from the daily release of same day, timed passes (which are released around 0630 EST). The passes are free, and they are usually claimed within ten to fifteen minutes of release. I woke up early and tried to get passes for several days, but the internet decided it wasn’t my time. One day last week, I woke up a bit later and decided to check the website for passes. Lo and behold, there were some available. I successfully claimed a pass, got dressed, and had breakfast before excitedly biking down to the museum.

It was suggested that I start on the lowest level and work my way up. This allows for following the journey chronologically. The exhibit begins with history of African kingdoms and royalty, and includes snippets of everyday life for many West Africans whose descendants would be enslaved. Along the walls and in the background of the exhibit were the details of several slave ships that crossed the Atlantic. The museum does an amazing job of telling the story of the African journey to America including a highlight of a vessel carrying captured people that shipwrecked off the coast of South Africa. Walking through the levels allows one to walk through history with several artifacts on display. As I approached the end of the chronological history, I shed a few tears. There was something special about seeing parts of my life and childhood highlighted in a museum. Something special about hearing Tupac as the musical backdrop to the 1990s display.

For lunch, there is the Sweet Home Cafe. It’s a bit pricey, but it’s very tasty. I had the shrimp and grits, and it was delicious. Going up to the second floor, there was an exhibit on hip hop culture and an interactive experience with call and response stepping. I spent most of the day (> 5 hours) at the museum and didn’t get to see it all. I definitely plan to return once I get more passes. The above photos were taken during my day at the museum.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

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Monday in a Picture – Pasar Malam

Some weeks ago, I started looking for my next destination. After lots of internal dialogue and price checking, I settled on Cambodia. Phnom Penh, to be exact. One of the things that I’ve grown fond of is extended layovers. Especially in places where visas are free. On the way to Cambodia, I was so fortunate.

Flying from Chennai, I had to connect in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). When I booked the flight, I started looking for things to do in the city to take advantage of my fifteen hour layover. I found that Malaysia was known for having really good food. I also learned that Kuala Lumpur has a plethora of pasar malams, or night markets, filled with the aforementioned really good food. I had to go.

This blog post helped me figure things out. After landing, I went to the city centre to check out the Petronas Twin Towers and walk around. By early evening, I was ready to let my tastebuds explore. I made my way over to the Taman Connaught night market. It’s massive. Like seriously massive. Like “go with friends and pace yourself with a bite of this and a taste of that because you’ll be overwhelmed with deliciousness” massive. There was a lot of pork, with a smattering of poultry. There were all different kinds of fruit (available whole, in pieces, juiced, and sometimes smoothied). With some dishes, noodles or rice played a prominent role. In many dishes, eggs featured generously. While most stalls had menu boards or signs in English, some did not. It’s an excellent opportunity to see if your eyes can figure out what your tastebuds desire. There were also stalls selling clothing, cell phone accessories, and other things.

After two hours of walking through the stalls, I decided to call it quits. I had been gluttonous enough. I had eaten to my heart’s content. I was ready for a corner and a nap. If you ever have the opportunity to visit (and eat) at any of the night markets in Kuala Lumpur, do it! But pace yourself. For the market is mighty, and the stomach is small. The picture above is of one of the stalls serving salted egg things.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

P.S. – here’s a picture of me about to dig into something called salted egg chicken. It was pretty delicious.

Monday in a Picture – Dosa

Recently, I’ve been checking out the south Indian state of Karnataka. Originally, I was planning to go directly from Goa to Hampi (in Karnataka). A lack of planning and information on my part led to that not happening. Commence an overnight bus to Bangalore, a day train to Mysore, and an overnight train to Hampi. Of course, I took time to explore each place. When talking to various folks, everyone kept saying that I must try a dosa.

I had no idea what a dosa was. Some explained it as being like a crepe. Others didn’t explain it, and just described it as delicious. I have found both of these things to be true. Dosas are usually eaten as breakfast, or as a late afternoon/evening snack. There are different types of dosas. There’s the plain dosa, which is served without any filling or special seasoning. Then, there’s the masala dosa which is filled with some potato or veggie mixture. It also usually has some kind of seasoning mixture sprinkled on it. There’s also an onion dosa, which has chopped onion added during cooking before the batter has become bread. The onion dosa doesn’t have a filling. In addition to these, I’ve also had a something called a special masala dosa, which had a potato filling with extra seasoning. It was also nicely folded into a triangle. All dosas are served with some kind of saucy puree. I’m sure that there are other types of dosa as well, but I haven’t tried those (yet).

While I’ve had my share of dosas over the past week, I have to say that my favorite was a masala dosa that I had in Mysore at Hotel Mylari. It was fluffy, like a pancake, and they didn’t skimp on the butter. It was simply delicious. I ordered two, one after the other, and was contemplating a third when I realized that I was being gluttonous. The picture above is of a masala dosa I had on V.V. Puram food street in Bangalore.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Some Advice for Finding Delicious Food

I’m always looking for food recommendations when visiting new places. After the recent meditation course, I was speaking with a local woman. Naturally, I started asking her about any good food spots. She gave me a few options. Then, she proceeded to give me some of the best advice I’ve heard in a while. She suggested that if I was ever looking for delicious cuisine in any city, find out where the taxi drivers eat lunch.

I’d never thought about this before. But it makes sense. Taxi drivers crisscross their cities. That’s not only true in terms of geography, but includes culture and socio-economic status. While the lunch spot probably isn’t going to be the fanciest, it typically will be tasty and affordable. That’s pretty much all I need. Usually, I’ve followed the advice to eat wherever I see large crowds of locals. I’ll still do that. I’d just never thought about taxi drivers as resources outside of a city’s geographical stuff.

Special thanks to Shweta for the advice and sharing your Goa.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – Vindaloo

Language. Food. Culture. The first two usually have huge influence on the third. While I haven’t learned Konkani (the language of the state), I have taken the opportunity to experience the cuisine. One of the traditional Goan dishes is vindaloo. It’s a red curry sauce with meat. Historically, that meat has been pork, but vindaloo can be ordered with mutton or chicken as well. Everything that I had read made a point of noting how spicy vindaloo is. People warned me in various conversations. I always responded the same. I appreciate and welcome spice. The picture above is of some mutton vindaloo that I had for lunch one day in Panaji. The dish was extremely tasty and flavorful. It was also extremely hot. The following is my stream of consciousness while I ate the mutton vindaloo:

I like spice. I like spicy. This is another level. There are probably fires that don’t burn this hot. My mouth is still cooling down. This spice was intense as fuck. Why am I sweating so much? Like my eyes are watering and my internal body temperature is probably a few degrees higher now. Why does my stomach feel warm? This is not going to good to the toilet gods.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – Mumbai Street Food

I love food. Especially good food. It’s one of my main reasons for traveling to new places. Street food is an exceptional favorite. Walking around to take in the sights and sounds gets enhanced by the smells. Since I arrived in India, I have learned that most of what the western world eats as Indian food comes from northern India. As a very large country with different cultures, languages, and people, Indian cuisine is more than curries, biryani, and naan. Each of the states have their own culinary traditions.

Since arriving in India a little more than a week ago, I have kept my eyes and nostrils open for potential street food adventures. The collage above features some of the street food I ate during my first week in Mumbai. While roaming the city, I try to notice street food places where many people are congregating. Though not always true, popular can insinuate good taste.

In the top left is a dish that I can’t remember the name of, but it is traditional served as breakfast in Mumbai and surrounding regions. The sauce is soupy and spicy, but the spice is a slowly building, subtle spice. Moving clockwise, this snack is known as vada pav. A roll is spilt to allow a spicy chutney and a dab of other chillies to put on the bread. The roll is then filled with fresh, hot fried potatoes that have been coated in a light batter. This roll was exceptionally delicious. Continuing clockwise, this is a dessert/snack and I’m not sure of its name. It’s some kind of fried dough and it’s extremely sweet. Like biting into concentrated sugar. It reminded me of the South African dessert, koeksister. Lastly, there’s the amul dabeli. It’s a small sandwich that starts with some spicy chutney spread on the bun. There’s a mixture of stuff that goes into the sandwich filling including a spicy potato mixture, pomegranates, and cilantro. It’s a decadent mix of spicy and sweet without being too much of either. So far, this might be my favorite of the street foods that I have experienced.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – Groceries

When it comes to grocery stores, there are a few options around eSwatini. In the southwest town of Mankayane, there are a few grocery stores. These are smaller, independent grocery stores. Around eSwatini, there are four large chain grocery stores including Shoprite, Pick n Pay, Spar, and Boxer. There’s a smaller version of Shoprite in some places called U-Save. Some cities have a Super Spar. All four large chain grocery stores will typically have a bakery, a butcher, and a hot food bar.

I tend to do most of my shopping at Shoprite for a couple of reasons. First, they have many locations, especially in the places I frequent in eSwatini. Second, it’s cheaper than some of the other grocery options, for the things I buy. Third, there are some products I love that are only available at Shoprite including the store brand oats and Frimax’s Sweet Chili potato chips. I think Pick n Pay has the best hot food bar with Spar running a close second. Spar’s bakery features fresh made doughnuts, which are absolutely delicious. If the store sells alcohol, it’s typically done in a separate, lockable, section of the grocery store or it’s a separate store all together. The above picture was taken outside of the Shoprite entrance in Ezulwini.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – Cape Town

One of the greatest things about eSwatini is its prime location. Depending on where you are in the country, Maputo in Mozambique is a couple of hours away as is Durban in South Africa. The metropolis of Johannesburg is about four hours away, as is its massive airport known as OR Tambo. OR Tambo is one of the few airports in the world that has non-stop flights to every continent (excluding Antarctica). This connectivity is awesome for those wishing to explore the region. It’s also awesome because there are frequent flights to one of my favorite cities: Cape Town.

My host make (pronounced mah-gay), or mother, thinks I might have a wife and family in Cape Town because of my affinity for the city. Spoiler alert: I don’t. It just offers many things that I enjoy: beaches, outdoor activities (like hiking and biking), and food. I’ve enjoyed delicious ceviche and tacos. I’ve delighted over succulent Thai curries and sushi. I’ve participated in the city’s version of the World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) and hiked Table Mountain. I’m currently in Cape Town decompressing post-AfrikaBurn. Although this post is being written well in advance of you reading it, it’s safe to assume that I’m relaxing somewhere in the city with good food and good vibes. The above picture was taken from a rooftop deck on Long Street in Cape Town.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – Black Girls Global Exchange

Last week, the dreams and desires of a fellow PCV were actualized. In Swazi Spring 2017 (August-September), Dawnita saw a documentary about a girls step team from Baltimore, Maryland. She was moved by documentary, and shared that she wanted to do a documentary screening for the girls in her community.

She had conversations with folks from Baltimore, her hometown. They assembled a team and began working on bringing an idea to fruition. What if Black girls from this step team in Baltimore could connect with Black girls from South Africa and Swaziland? What if the image of their international contemporaries was formed by more than the media? Black Girls Global Exchange (BGGE) was born. More than fifteen high school girls and chaperones from Baltimore journeyed to South Africa and met up with high school girls from Manzini (Swaziland) and Soweto (South Africa). Together, they explored Soweto (and shared dance moves). The girls enjoyed a week of intercultural exchange as they tried new cuisine, shared stories, and completed service projects side by side. I was fortunate to be one of many photographers capturing the events.

On Thursday, girls from all over Swaziland joined the BGGE participants in central Swaziland for a screening of the documentary and a symposium. It was beautiful and emotional. It was surreal at times watching the girls truly and fully embrace the sentiment that we are much more alike than we are different. As the BGGE participants marched into the conference room for symposium, they were indistinguishable. Girls from Manzini and Baltimore wore matching outfits as they led chants of “B-G-G-E”. The energy was electrifying.

During the symposium, a light lunch was served. Two BGGE mentors from Baltimore, who are professional chefs, joined Swazi chefs in the kitchen to prepare a delightful experience highlighting American and Swazi foods. Shrimp and grits (an American favorite) was served alongside chicken feet, pap, and Swazi cornbread (all Swazi favorites).

While the symposium featured many powerful moments, I’d like to highlight two. During the panel discussion (pictured above), BGGE participants from Baltimore and Manzini discussed what they had learned from nearly a week of intentional cultural exchange. The girls shared how they connected on the challenges they face in their respective homes. Gender based violence and inequality is problem in Swaziland and America. HIV plagues both nations with so many infected and affected. At another point in the symposium, the participants from Manzini closed a presentation with a beautiful song. The lyrics hit me as tears fell. “Shine your light–Be the light–We, Black girls; we gotta stick together”. As the lyrics repeated, the stage began to fill with the BGGE participants from Baltimore and other girls. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen during my time in Swaziland. The Black Girls Global Exchange is the epitome of Black girl magic.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

P.S. – Below are more pictures highlighting the Black Girls Global Exchange.

Correction (8 April 2018): There were 4 middle school girls from Baltimore, Maryland, in addition to the high school participants.

The lyrics from the moving song (during the symposium) were: “Show the light…give them life…we black girls…let’s work together.” It was written and arranged by BGGE Swazi Ambassador Nosfiso Magagula, 17 years old.

Monday in a Picture – Chicken Dust

One of the greatest ways to experience a place is through its food. Swaziland’s street food culture features a few staples. One of the meals that can be found all around Swaziland is chicken dust.

Chicken dust is a grilled chicken quarter typically served with a maize porridge known as lipaleshi (pronounced lee-pah-lee-she), or pap, and salad. Some chicken dust stands give the option of fries or rice. You may be wondering why it’s called chicken dust. The short answer is: I don’t know. I suppose that it may be because of the placement of chicken dust stands on the side of the road where dust can be kicked up by passing cars. But again, I don’t know. Chicken dust is a good, quick lunch or dinner that will cost 20-25 emalangeni.

While I haven’t experience all chicken dust places in Swaziland, I’m confident that the best chicken dust can be found in Mankayane across from the bus rank. They give the option of pap or rice to accompany their flavorful, juicy chicken. Be sure to treat yourself to this Swazi delicacy if you’re ever in the neighborhood. The above picture features the delicious chicken dust from Mankayane.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.