Gluten Free Holidays

I’m not a doctor and this isn’t advice: Just what has worked for me.

Your first GF holidays can be depressing if nobody else has food issues. But don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be like that. GF staples of a wonderful Thanksgiving or Christmas meal are available so you can still enjoy the foods from your childhood.

Surviving Your First Gluten Free Holiday – It Gets Better

old fashioned print, lady says go ahead honey it is all gluten free

Turkey

Be sure that if your turkey isn’t stamped GF, it hasn’t been injected with “natural flavoring” (what is this? could be malt barley…) or any other substance containing gluten.

Ham

Watch out for smoked hams, as Smoke flavoring can contain gluten, like all dark sauces.

Stuffing

Cornbread stuffing doesn’t usually contain just corn, they seem to always add flour.

Good news–You can get bagged dried GF bread crumbs from Trader Joe’s or the Alpine Bakery, and you used to be able to get them from Glutenbusters. If you don’t think about it until too late, try the Main Street Market or Huckleberries. OR, you can buy a box of GF croutons from Rosauers. This didn’t work as well as I wanted last year but it was better than nothing. Or, if you have GF bread around, go ahead and dry it out in the oven or cupboard and use that.

Be aware that, at least in Spokane, all the stores that carry packaged bread crumbs run out about 4-5 days before the holiday, so buy yours early.

Gravy

Gravy mixes aren’t a good idea, but you can make gravy from scratch using the turkey fat just like usual. Instead of thickening with flour, you’re going to use instant potato flakes. Or corn starch.

Pies

Check out White Box Pies restaurant in Spokane to see if they have GF pies for the holidays. Or, if you bake, try crushing up some GF gingersnap cookies for the crust of a pumpkin pie.

Rolls

Frozen packages of Udis GF classic French dinner rolls may be available from Safeway, Rosauers or the Main Street Market or Huckleberrys.

Alcohol

Avoid beer, but fruit cider or wine are both nice ways to celebrate with family and friends.

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Two Old Fools on a Camel (Bahrain)

map of Bahrainby Victoria Tweed

When I (blog author) was an ex-pat English teacher in Tokyo, I noticed that my fellow gaijin teachers could be divided into some broad categories:

  1. the lecherous loser (25%)
  2. the weird loner (5%) and
  3. the men and women who were just there to make money (70%).

 

  1. The lecherous loser inevitably goes to an Asian country because:
  • his repulsive grooming habits and/or complete lack of social skills mean that girls back home “look at him like he’s all covered with ants
  • Most of Asia still has a White fetish
  • he has an Asian fetish and
  • no matter how badly he treats Japanese women, the sad truth is that he’s still better than a Japanese man. (By better I mean less chauvinistic.)

2. The weird loner isn’t fixated on sex or Japanese women, but is still a square peg in a round hole. Nice enough, just a little…off. Like the guy who is obsessed with collecting Hi-Chew candy wrappers and always wants to buttonhole you at parties and drone on about it.

3. The normal working ex-pats come from many countries. At my NOVA school they were from Britain, France, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, America and Canada.

Manama City

Manama, the city where Vicki and Joe lived.

The Ex-Pats of Bahrain

Grandparents Victoria Tweed and her husband Joe are Brits living in Spain. They decide to go to Bahrain to fatten their bank accounts before retirement. They sign on to work at the American Specialist School (ASS). Yes, this is its real name. Before long the Tweeds encounter:

1. Hali-Barry, the lecherous loser. American. So nicknamed because of his awful halitosis; he refuses to eat mints or go to the dentist. Ick. Hali-Berry pesters the women teachers, and has a hide like a rhino when it comes to getting the message that “she’s just not that into you.”

2. Brent, the weird loner, also American. He is the Adrian Monk of Bahrain: refuses to shake hands with the students, accepts their papers and homework with the bare tips of his fingers, muttering “Dirty, nasty, dirty, nasty”. But Brent’s weirdest tick is his obsession with writing down people’s names. When he first meets Joe, he asks how he spells his name! J.O.E. (hello?) And he gets in trouble at the school because he spends 40 minutes out of each class asking the students their names and how to spell them, and writing that down. Even though he has the same pupils every day.

(It was a little surprising to me that the other teachers in the book just think he’s’ weird, rather than recognizing some of the obvious flags of OCD or autism, and trying to help.)

3. The normal teachers include Hawa, from Malaysia, a soft-spoken woman who doesn’t allow herself to be bullied by parents or the administration, several Lebanese, a Canadian high school principal, lots of Americans, and a kid from Boise, Idaho who is obsessed with floating down the Boise river on inter-tubes. (Believe me, this is perfectly normal in Idaho.)

The Students

StudentsVicki is teaching 6th Grade English (as a Foreign Language). As you might expect of spoiled rich kids who arrive at school in Mercedes. Austin Martins, and Porsches, the Bahraini students are unruly. But the little wildebeasts can be endearing too. One day they make a “new student” out of extra clothes and dub him “Gorg Washingtun”. Vicki plays along with the joke. Their essays were some of my favorite parts of the book. Straight A-student Fatima (a girl whose overbearing mother makes the teachers’ lives a living hell) always has correct essays. The boys in the class, well, not so much.

  • Fatima: There were various potted plants in the room.
  • Ahmed: My computer has a various.
  • ***** (virus)
  • Fatima: The seal was wet and sleek.
  • Cheeky Mohammed: My sister like to play hide and sleek.
  • ***** (seek)
  • Fatima: The little fairy waved her magic wand.
  • Mustafa Kemal: If you want to go across the water jump on a fairy.
  • ***** (ferry)
Queen Margrethe

Queen Margrethe II of Denmark

Examples of the students’ bad behavior:

The high school students go on a field trip to a monument where a nicely-dressed older lady sees them and walks over to say a kind “Hello.” The students start mocking her rudely and the shocked and offended lady is whisked away by her people. Vicki later finds out that the lady was Queen Margrethe II of Denmark!

The kids, and even some of the school staff blatantly cheat–like the photocopy man who sells test questions–so it’s obvious that cheating in school is not frowned upon in their culture the way it is in the U.S.

And when Vicki makes her kids write to pen pals in Grade 6 in England, she herself gets a rude surprise:

“Mees,” said Mustafa Kamel. “Mees, give me another! This one says his father is a fisherman! He is poor, Mees!” 

I was shocked, but Mustafa Kamel wasn’t the only one to complain.

“Mees, this one’s father is a chef!”

“Mees! This one has no car!”

I reprimanded them severely. In fairness, it wasn’t their fault. They’d been raised to consider themselves superior to poorer people. They were also blatantly racist, and the very mention of India had them scornfully wobbling their heads and laughing.

Most Bahrainis have Indian servants. Ugh. And speaking of racism, the school tells the teachers they are not to mention Israel, ever. It has been omitted from the curriculum, and teachers must act as through it didn’t exist. In addition, the history teachers must never refer to the Holocaust, as the government does not recognize that it ever happened. One of the Lebanese teachers, Mohammed, is kicked out of the country during the Arab Spring, because he “looks like a terrorist”, although the American and British teachers are allowed to remain.

It’s too hot for kids to play outside, so they go the malls and spend money.

The Arab Spring

Demonstrators at the Pearl Roundabout before they were attacked and the monument bulldozed

Demonstrators at the Pearl Roundabout before they were attacked and the monument bulldozed

Vicki and Joe survive the bloodbath in Bahrain, which includes peaceful protesters gunned down, tear-gassed and beaten with police batons as they sleep at the Pearl Roundabout less than 2 miles from the Tweed’s home. They follow the Twitter posts claiming that the Bahraini army is targeting doctors and nurses, and preventing ambulances from reaching the Pearl Roundabout. They watch as Saudi Arabian tanks roll across the causeway (the Bahraini and Saudi royal families have intermarried). They watch as the Pearl monument is demolished and one by one, parents pull their children out of school and ex-pat teachers flee the country. Still, they stay.

Vicki and Joe learn that education for the islanders is free, as is health care, and there is no income tax. When riots erupt in Tunesia, the King hands out $2,600 to every Bahraini family out of his own coffers, hoping to stave off trouble. It doesn’t work.

Problems in Bahrain include:

  • The 70% Shia majority being ruled by the Sunni minority
  • All the good jobs being handed out by the King to his relatives and friends
  • Human rights abuses
  • Staged “we love the King” demonstrations by children at the ASS, filmed by a director and then presented on TV as “news”

Rating

This was a quick, easy and excellent read. I enjoyed it thoroughly. The only strange bit was that the author includes a lot of recipes…interesting, but they are all from a “Nadia” who is never mentioned in the book. Nadia comments on a lot of the recipes and one note says that she “won the MasterChef competition”. ???

Since this book is the 3rd Old Fools Book, I can only guess that Nadia was mentioned in the first two, which are about Spain.

Anyway, this is a book and I writer I would highly recommend. Five helpings of the eggplant dish Sheikh al-Mahshi, which “Nadia” says is known throughout the Arab World as “the King of the Stuffed Ones.”

Short Walks From Bogota (Colombia)

book cover

by Tom Feiling

Before reading this book, my knowledge of Colombia could be summed up as follows:

  • cocaine
  • extreme danger
  • Shakira (singer)
  • Sofia Vergara (actress)

This is not uncommon. As British ex-pat Tom Feiling walks around Colombia, he meets many who lament their country’s image on the world stage. Most Colombians, after all, are not narco-trafficers, wealthy landowners, members of the FARC guerilla group, or the paramilitaries or government soldiers who oppose them.

Who are the Colombians?

Ethnicity

Colombians waving flagNine out of 10 Colombians are descended from an indigenous mother and a colonialist (European) father, and 20 million Colombians live in grinding poverty. (As I heard in a TED talk once: extreme wealth creates extreme poverty. Think slavery. Think emerald mines. Think cocaine. Think U.S. and British oil interests.)

There are 104 different indigenous tribes in Colombia, 9 of which hover on the verge of extinction. Some of this historical travesty happened only recently: Between 1992 and 1996, the Nukak people, who encountered colonists as late as 1972, declined from 3,000 to half that number thanks to Western diseases.

Nukak boy with  monkey

Nukak boy. His people are one of the last remaining Amazonian Nomadic groups.

In the department of Antioquia, (Colombia’s term for state or county), many people look like Sephardic Jews. This is because many Jewish people came to this part of Colombia after their expulsion from Spain at the close of the 15th century. There are also folks of obvious Japanese descent like the emerald baron Eishi Hayata. And there are Afro-Caribbeans, brought over from Africa in the 1500s to work the gold and emerald mines in what was then called Nuevo-Granada.

Personality

Feiling describes the Colombia national personality as group-minded: lacking the solitary ambition which haunts so many Anglo-Saxons. In fact, he says, “they weren’t hampered by loneliness of any kind, which is rapidly becoming the biggest cause of physical and social ills in the West. While they prided themselves on their love of hard work, nobody was striving to improve, better or reinvent themselves. They seemed to have little interest in self-expression, self-discovery, or self-anything for that matter.”

map of colombiaUnlike the reading, gardening, and knitting that are beloved solitary passions in the West, Colombians tend to enjoy hanging out with their families even if all they are doing is watching TV, getting together in cafes to talk/socialize, and/or dancing the salsa and the samba. They seem happy, he says, and contented despite the high level of danger in their country.

And this interests me strangely, considering that my book group just read Shutting Out the Sun, a treatise on how the Japanese community-mind is destroying the lives of the next generation of young men, due to the awful pressure to conform. And the feeling that the neighbors are always watching, always judging.

Who Are the Terrorists?

FARC fightersPolitics in Colombia are anything but straightforward. There don’t seem to be any good guys. Obvious bad guys include the FARC and the narco-terrorists; and then there is the government. While the U.S. struggles with repeated demonstrations from police officers who feel they are above the law, Colombia recently weathered the Directive 29 scandal:

1) The Colombian Army promised any soldier who killed a guerilla or paramilitary fighter in combat to a 1,000 pound (about $1,550) reward.

2) Individual soldiers began befriending any young, unemployed man and enticing him back to base with the promise of work. The soldier would then kill the young man, drive him into the countryside, dress him in the uniform of a FARC guerrilla and taken him to the Army morgue, “to become another number in the Army’s body count and further proof of its successful prosecution of the ‘war on terror’.”

Colombian ArmyThe U.S. considers the Colombia government a friend in fighting Communism by the way and gives it substantial foreign aid. Wtf? This is democracy?

Genocidal democracy, more like*. President Santos promised that on his watch, trade union leaders, journalists and teachers would no longer be murdered for speaking out. Didn’t happen.

Many Colombian military officers learned tactics at the notorious U.S. led-School of the Americas in Panama. According to excerpts declassified by the Pentagon in 1996, training manuals encouraged Army officers to use “fear, payment of bounties for enemy dead, beatings, false imprisonment, executions, and use of truth serum…” when handling sources.

Proud to be an American

Cano Cristales river

The Cano Cristales river in July…plants bloom giving it this spectacular color.

(With apologies to my old friend Gabrielle from Argentina, who used to get so incensed when I would thoughtlessly refer to myself as “American.” She would puff out her cheeks and declare, “I’m American too!”)

I’ve often asked myself why we in North America seem to have a more lawful society than Zimbabwe or Iran or Colombia. Why are we so lucky? I’m proud of my country for that. And yet, if extreme wealth causes extreme poverty, does our comparatively safe society and comparative lack of political chaos cause the  horrific human rights abuses in other countries around the world?

According to Wiki, (yes yes I know, but they do cite sources)–in a 1981 study, human rights researcher Lars Schoultz concluded that US aid “has tended to flow disproportionately to Latin American governments which torture their citizens…to the hemisphere’s relatively egregious violators of fundamental human rights.” And in 1998, Latin American professor Martha Huggins stated “that the more foreign police aid given (by the United States), the more brutal and less democratic the police institutions and their governments become.”

parrotsIt is definitely incumbent upon us, you and I, to do whatever we can to minimize our government’s support for brutal Fascist regimes and to lesson its unreasonable terror of Marxism. Even if that is just to learn what they’ve been doing, and remember it. Talk about it. Post on Facebook. Seriously.

I always knew Colombia had some of the most beautiful natural scenery in the world and that I would probably never feel safe enough to travel there. Sad.

Rating

Best book I have ever read on Colombia. And the only book I have ever read on Colombia.

PS–Actress Sofia Vergara’s brother is said to have been murdered in 1998 in a botched kidnapping. She has since moved to Miami and become a U.S. citizen.

********

*Phrase “genocidal democracy” coined by Father Javier Giraldo, who founded the NGO Justica y Paz in 1988. The group maintains a comprehensive database of human rights violations in Colombia. It makes me wonder if this could be the Catholic Church organization that is fictionalized in Senselessness by the brilliant El Salvadoran writer Horacio Castellanos Moya.

 

 

 

 

 

King Solomon’s Mines (Ethiopia)

by Tahir Shah

Note: I checked this book out of the Spokane Public Library.

book coverThe traveler: The author is descended from Afghan nobility and has peculiar credentials for undertaking an H.- Rider- Haggard-like quest: his father and grandfather both went in search of the legendary King Solomon’s Mines. Now it is the author’s turn. He follows ancient clues to a land where gold is close to the surface and the illegal gold mining trade is still booming. Ethiopia. Or as Solomon would have known it: Abyssinia.

The guide: Along the way he acquires a “fixer”, Samson the taxi-driver who serves as translator and guide. Samson is a devout Christian and therefore familiar with the tantalizing Bible stories of gold coming out of “Opher”. As an Ethiopian, even though the present anti-royal regime suppresses the teaching of history, Samson knows the royal legend. How King Solomon and Queen Makeda (of Sheba) conceived a child, and how this child, Menelik 1, started the dynasty which used to rule his country.

Ethiopia's green mountainsAn Impossible Dream

The relationship between Samson and Tahir Shah is similar to that of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. There are cultural misunderstandings and religious ones (Shah is a non-practicing Muslim), that are compounded when Bahru joins the group. He is a wild and reckless driver from Somalia; often drunk, frequently superstitious. He tries to hit meandering sheep with his Jeep to relieve the monotony of the road, and when he feels that “his luck has run out”, he flat refuses to drive anymore. Samson, meanwhile, sees the Devil everywhere. Samson’s proudest moment is when he and Shah pretend to be missionaries in order to gain access to a haunted mountain range known as Sheba’s Breasts.

a dam in EthiopiaI was surprised by a number of things in this book:

  • Shah himself is surprised to find that while he thinks of Ethiopia as a vast desert populated with starving people (think Live Aid, 1985), much of the country is green and lush. Maize and teff seem to grow in abundance.
  • Ethiopia runs on the Gregorian calendar, and their year has 13 months. They are seven years behind the Julian calendar (used by the West). Unsold calendars from 2015 will be shipped to Ethiopia where it is currently 2008. The calendars will then sit in storage for seven years, until it becomes 2015 in Ethiopia and they can be sold there. Wild!
  • Many Ethiopians are as poor as we think, possessing nothing more than some old clothes, a tin shack, a pot and a bucket, yet rich seams of gold run through their country. Seams as close to the surface as one yard down.
  • Rural Ethiopians are very superstitious. In the villages they believe that if you don’t feed the wild hyenas, they will come and eat your children. There is one man in Harar whose sole job is feeding these hyenas fresh beef every night. He gets as many as 60 customers! And when Shah asks how Solomon might have transported his gold from the mines to his home country, he is frequently told “with his army of jinn (genies), of course.”

map of EthiopiaA Wild Road Trip

Shah travels all over the country, and meets all sorts of people: Gold miners, prostitutes, monks in a mountaintop monastery that don’t allow women–not even female animals. He meets the last remaining Beta Israeli (Jew) in Gondar, goes into a Muslim sanctuary normally forbidden to tourists, and chases the Devil with his faithful Christian servant Samson. He even gets a peep at the place where the Arc of the Covenant is stored. Ethiopians believe the Arc was brought to their country from Jerusalem along with large gold crosses and ancient crowns.

He learns that people of Amharic descent are thought to be kind and generous, like the jailor who launders his prisoner’s clothes and cooks them special meals. That women from Tirgray are thought exceptionally beautiful. He already knows that charity is a central pillar of Islam, as exemplified by the camel train leader who weeps at his camel’s death then gives some of the meat to beggars. Still, the Ethiopian people have something very special about them.

What Isn’t Mentioned

The book I read for this blog on Eritrea mentions the last Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selaisse, and how he was buried upside down beneath his lavatory bowl by the victorious (and vicious) dictator Mengistu. (Haile Selaisse was no saint, either.) This book doesn’t mention the sore spot of Eritrea’s defection, but does mention the difficulty Ethiopians are having in getting Haile Selaisse buried properly.

The difficulty? The Ras Tafarians have decided that the Emperor is God, and since God can’t die, they won’t contribute any money for a re-burial/funeral.

Well-written, thoughtful, and culturally-sensitive. Five stars in a desert tent at night, as part of a camel train ferrying salt blocks for sale!

PS–the movie King Solomon’s Mines was apparently filmed in Ruanda.