The Ruwenzori Mountains referred to as the Mountains of the Moon has a glacier that has shrunk to 40%of its size. The vast jungle and fragrant land teems with vegetation and gorillas are the site of massive rapes occurring daily. Interviewing war crimes survivors and boy soldier war criminals takes place amid the splendor of the Congo, with the best avocados I ever tasted. Their mangos rival Uganda’s.
The International Criminal Court field liaison officer boasts of his El Capitan dish. Our compound is housed next to the UN Blue Helmets and had a huge avocado tree. Daily I would ask him to pick the avocados and to take me to the local market for tomatoes and onions to make salsa. Finally, I was allowed to go to the local market with him but cautioned against taking pictures. The meager market indicated the extreme poverty and despair but still had a few goats, fish, and a handful of spices next to bananas.
I almost set fire to the large wooden table when I set up the cooking stove one evening. The field officer and I made dinner for the team and placed the table outside under the veranda. Towards the end of the evening we hear the Congolese funeral dirge of women’s orchestrated screams for mourning. I ask the group about how they felt they have lived their life. The ICC field officer said, sitting outside, all together with this food, death presents no fear to me.
On April 5th, 2011, in Kinshasa’s main airport, 32 people died in an UN aircraft. One survivor with multiple fractures lived through the ordeal. The ICC field officer Alain Lubamba Kongulo, did not survive. What I most remember about him was our cooking together, going to the local market and his look on his face when I asked for avocados from our compound or when I burned the big wooden table.
Pan fried fillets in a shallot and tomatoes sauce. In Uganda, tomatoes are known for their sweet full bodied flavors. Pineapples grown here are hauntingly sweet due to their growing conditions and are often placed next to their tomato plants. Northern Uganda, near Lira Town, in the Luwero district the area is known as the triangle for the genocidal war fare. Yet, the Ugandans are perhaps the best dancers in the world most likely due to their sweet tomatoes and pineapples.
The Lord’s Resistance Army known as LRA abound in this area- Northern Uganda. The atrocities committed resulted in another ICC mission for me and a contract to facilitate gender equality for refugees. This meant forays into the bush, where encampments of refugees were found. Trekking with back packs through the bush required the shade of the Mango trees as most precious with the inescapable heat before the monsoons arrived. The facilitators I was training would climb the mango trees filled with red biting ants to select the ripest mangos for our breakfast. I cried when I tasted my first one angry that I never did know what a real mango tastes like.
Arriving at the small encampment, a huge Mango tree was the designated town center. Older women spied me and asked if I would meet with them. I said yes and my facilitators translated for me. Almost thirty women gathered in the shade and I waited for the leader to start. After a long period of waiting, I was about to say something when hundreds of white doves flew above our heads and landed on the branches of the Mango Tree. I was in awe when the leader announced that all was here to start the meeting. The women complained of not having food and worse yet, pots and utensils. They saw my horror at their predicament and bonded with me immediately. Soon, laughter erupted while the women shared their stories of blood and horror and laments of no cooking pots. They stated that banana leaves and hollowed out stones and wood actually performed better than the thin aluminum pots they once had.
Mumbai and Kerala. Kerala in the aftermath of the 2004Tsunami shows no sign of the violence wreaked upon huge bridges or homes. Due to the work of Amma and her ashram, recovery and healing is swift and immediate in what is termed as the most beautiful corner of India. Many of the Goddess temples dot Kerala and in the city of Cochin that could easily be a port for ocean going vessels remains an artesian town with a restaurant and gallery run by Western citizens. Mumbai, the great city, floods even when there is no rain or monsoon. The thriving shops of various goods beckon to tourists across the world. The hotbed of terrorism, the example of the 2008 Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai, with at least ten coordinated shootings and bombing by Pakistan attackers killed 164 people with 308 wounded. Eight of the attacks took place at Leopold Café, ‘Cama’, women and children hospital, and the Nariman House Jewish community center, and the Metro Cinema and finally St. Xavier’s College. When I have gone to Mumbai, I stayed a boutique hotel a few doors down from the Taj Mahal, where I was the only westerner wanting a cultural experience as opposed to a Disney type enclosed situation with other westerners.
Bosnia translated means bare feet or naked feet. Pointing to early prehistoric migrations and Bronze Age migratory routes, as noted with the term of the Iron Gate in Serbia near Lepenski Vir, a 6,000 year old Moist Mother Earth Goddess archeological site, Bosnia, is lush and filled with rivers-waters, and great forests. Despite their great migrations, the entire Balkan peninsula has established a people that have chosen the land as their environment to shape them. Everything from their Mesolithic kolo, a circle and a folk round dance that is a movement memory of the circumference of the earth, and food grown from one of the most richest lands in terms of agriculture and forestry. The South Slavs have endured in the standpoint of history thousands of years of conflicts and bloodshed. Located as an intersection to Europe and Eastern Europe, their rich lands were eyed as the ultimate conquests. The term Balkan meaning blood and honey was an apt term for the rivers, waters and capacity of the land to sustain peoples but now is chillingly apt term for the genocidal and gynocidal Balkan War (1991-1994). In recent past, the South Slavs endured a century of wars, WWI, WWII, and WWII.
Cuba, a Caribbean island serving a slave trading port- genocide of Africans dating from the arrival of the Spanish in 1492. In 1942, the indigenous people of Cuba were slaughter and/or forced into the black slave trade. Still struggling with the social practice of oppression and the racial categorization, the colonization of its people has instead produced perhaps one of the world’s best jazz- music and way of life that is strong despite the isolation from America and its dictatorship. Interestingly, a gourmet chef restaurant for chefs only operate in Havana, in distinct irony to the imminent starvation of Cuban residents reeling from three hurricanes in the past ten years destroying crops and their homes. The local markets are almost bare of meats or fowl and with seasonal fruits and vegetables only. And the local market is so inexpensive that as foreigners, spending more than three dollars in Cuban money is hard to do or procure items. The native Malanga, an American yam or taro is often done as a fried croquettes but seasoned with oil and garlic. Most café-bars have live bands performing Son Salsa, as if to haunt the very air dispelling their hunger and isolation from the world.
Haiti, a part of the Greater Antillean archipelago sharing half the island with the Dominican Republic has two languages; Haitian Creole and French. The earthquake in 2010, with over 220,000 deaths to date will stand as the true identity of Haiti and Haitians drowning out the memory that the Haitians were the only Caribbean people to have freedom from slavery in 1804. Most are living in tents with an estimated population of 300,000 plus homeless if fortunate with water and food a valuable commodity. Rapes, murders and desperate acts are daily occurrences. However, nine days after the earthquake, Haitian art with abstract human shapes and with voodoo iconic representation is hung on the remaining standing walls on the streets.
a crossroad of refugees fleeing the Congo and other African conflict zones, has at least 140 different ethnic nationalities and traditional practices. The West African food crisis developed by a lethal formula of drought, resulting crop failure has not been able to have a secure food supply. Starvation is a common occurrence in Chad, made worse when humanitarian food aid is stopped due to erupting violence from Sudan. The lack of rains in 2009, has impacted an estimated two million especially in the Sahelian regions of Chad. Dried Fish Gumbo and Karkanji, a drink is made entirely from plants in Chad, has a strong heat- more than hot peppers due to the ginger root and cinnamon is made if one is sick are a few known recipes from Chad.
Once the largest country in Africa has now been split in two with the emergence of South Sudan. Until 350 A.D., the Egyptian and Nubian Kush civilization flourished with other African tribes of Dinka, Shilluk, Neur and Azande. The pull of the Arab north, black African animists and Christians in the south gave rise to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the National Islamic Front (NIF) producing human rights violations, persecution and a safe haven for terrorists. The Darfurs site of ongoing genocide, between African farmers displaced by the Arab Janjaweed has over 5,000 dying each month in a region the size of Texas. The traditional crop grown in Darfur has been beans. The women if fortunate cook on a traditional stove consisting of three stones located inside their shelter. The decimated wood- trees needed for their stoves adds to the famine.
hard hit with the 2010 Tsunami where the wild elephants and elephants went to high ground before the big wave hit the island, has been embroiled in a civil war over three decades. This produced a fugue, amnesia about how to plant rice due to the violent fighting, mines and other tortuous means to escalate violence. After three decades of sustained conflict, the Sri Lankans prefer powdered milk and other processed products from Australia while papaya drape the ground uneaten. The unmitagating bloodshed and intergenerational violence has produced many orphans where parents ingest a lethal dose, one kernel of fruit or just two leaves for a child of the yellow oleander or luck nut plant. The Yellow oleander grows as hedges and is found throughout Sri Lanka.