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Can I Get An Encore?

6 Aug

My last two days in DC were a true testament to the wonderful relationships I built while I was there. On Thursday, at my last workshop with YWDEP, I was surprised by a lovely fruit salad :)

me, Kristen and some of the YWDEP girls

I’ve often talked with my boss about fruits and how much I love them, so she knew that this would be a much appreciated gesture. Each one of the girls brought something to add to the salad, and they even tried to add a bit of Caribbean flavour with a couple guavas in the mix! It was just an awesome workshop all around; I helped a couple of the dundun players come up with a piece of their own – it was so much fun! I was (still am) so proud :) The girls have grown so much as musicians, and it’s been great to be a part of that growth.

At my last Akoma rehearsal we did some practising and a lot of just free-styling. Practise is good of course, it firms up everything you know. But when we free-style, someone starts a beat and then we build off of one another and just let loose. It’s great! That was my last real chance to jam out on the drums…for who knows how long? I don’t want to think about it :s I exchanged gifts with my boss and her (and now my) friend.

Some of the gifts were jokes (like a box of banana bread mix) and some of them were reflective of conversations we’d had (like a journal). And they wrote me cards! I’m going to cherish them all and the good times they represent. To help me in the cherishing (haha) I also took this one sensible group shot of (most) of us.

The people in my house had a barbecue while I was packing, which wasn’t quite a going away present but served as a way to tell everyone bye. I’m going to miss them too! It sucks that just as we were starting to hang out and go places together I had to go. I have to say though that I’m not too sorry about leaving my sorry, bedbuggy apartment behind.

me and 2 of the YWDEP girls

Apparently the other night the man that lives in the apartment around the corner woke up to a bedbug crawling on his face!! EWW. If I still lived there then I prob would have gone running to spend the rest of my nights with someone else :| Un.acc.ept.a.ble. That place needs some serious treatment! Not the lil spray spray that my landlord had them doing :s Alternatively, it could just be condemned.

Anyway so I’ve been out of DC for almost a week now, and although it’s been hard, I’m making it! I went to Long Island (in The Bahamas) for a few days to hang out with a Bahamian drummer there. That was cool. Now I have only 3 more days of summer before I have to go back to school! I can’t believe it :| This summer has been my best yet – challenging, educational, hectic, intense and tons of fun! And now I’m going into my final year :| wow. Well, one thing’s for certain, after this summer it sure has a lot to live up to!

Akoma Drummers!

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Oh the Life I Lead!

30 Jul

Tomorrow is my last day in DC! I can’t believe it. The three months that I have been here have flown by. Sometimes people in similar situations feel like – I just got here! How am I leaving already? – but I don’t. Rather, I feel as though I’ve lived here forever and I’m leaving behind a second family. My boss has welcomed me not only into her work, but also into her life. I’ve had the opportunity to meet (and sometimes play with) many of her friends, people who for her are like family here. I never thought I would love my work so much, but I do!

Every week I’ve been here has been different from the last, but there is a general pattern to how my life looks. Most days I work independently, doing admin stuff for YWDEP or working on grant writing.

Kristen leading a workshop

Twice a week I go to the actual YWDEP workshops, on Thursday evenings and for most of Saturday. I’ve gotten to know the girls really well, there are about 12 of them and each one has a unique personality and skill; it’s been cool seeing them open up more to us and one another. On Thursdays we focus on drumming and on Saturdays we split our time between drumming and whoever our guest artist is for that day. We’ve had workshops on performance theatre, beatboxing, poetry writing, African and hip hop dance.

leading my first workshop

I don’t really know much about any of those fields, so I was learning right along with the girls. The drumming is of course my favourite part, and a couple times I’ve had the opportunity to actually lead those sessions! The first time I was really nervous, but everything turned out fine. My boss is really good at her job, and clearly observing her at workshops helped me learn a lot not only about drumming but also about teaching.

The first month I was here, in addition to the YWDEP sessions I accompanied my boss on several weekly drumming workshops, which was interesting because each group of people was different, from girl scouts to middle aged women. The second month was really intense, filled with rehearsals and performances.

Akoma rehearsal

I’m so grateful to have been allowed into the Akoma Drummers and the Bele Bele Rhythm Collective, the two traditional ensembles my boss leads. Along with the Akoma drummers, I’ve played everywhere, from a Farmer’s Market to a weekend event called Yoga on the Mall. Along with the Bele Bele women, I prepared for a big performance in Montgomery County (MD). We were featured as part of the concert series held by a community there. Being in Bele Bele was an incredible experience, every member is female and brings something different to our dynamic. Rehearsals were a lot of fun and the grand finale, our performance, went really well. I got to play two paint buckets! Hahaha I had a blast that day.

I’ve learned so much about drumming since I’ve been here. The kinds of drums my boss plays are not at all like the ones I learned on in Ghana (well except for one, but they play it differently). Mainly, I played the dununs, these double-headed drums that come in three sizes, small = kenkeni, medium = sangban and large = dununba, they go in stands and you hit them with sticks. I learned a bit about the djembe too, which is what most people want to learn. It’s a bright sounding drum with a goatskin head, and is the most popular West African drum. Actually probably the most popular/well known African drum. I love the way it sounds and wish I got to play it more, but my skills were needed on the dununs. Drumming is more than physical activity, it’s also an intellectual exercise; especially with traditional African ensembles, which utilise polyrhythms, making it more difficult to find the “1” and stay on the beat. I’ve enjoyed stretching my mind trying to find out where my rhythm fits in with everyone else’s, and comparing Guinean and Malinke forms of playing with the Ghanaian ones I learned in the fall. One of the Akoma drummers plays the congos, and I’m itching to start playing those. I absolutely love how they sound, if they were a food I imagine I would describe the taste as nutty, mmm, I love nuts! Hahaha. Anyways, I’m off to YWDEP! I have to hurry or I’ll be late ;)

jamming outside the Columbia Heights Metro

DAG! I’m … Dining Across the Globe :)

28 Jul

I didn’t really cook much this past week or weekend because I went out a couple times with friends. The places were completely different from one another, but the food was all delicious! First, on Wednesday, I went to a Thai restaurant for dinner.

drunken noodles

I met up with a girl I know from my first apartment. She’s been such a blessing to me here! When I first arrived, she took me on a walk around our neighbourhood. For the month that we lived together, she helped me navigate the bus system (of which she is a big fan) take care of the apartment (since we seemed to be the only ones who cared about cleanliness) and just served as general company, which was nice since I didn’t know anyone. We both moved out of that apartment and into the area we’re in now, quite a coincidence. Anyway so we went to eat at this place called Thaitanic! Lol love the name. It was actually Thaitanic II, since the original is downtown. I got drunken noodles (which I’ve never had before), and she got chicken kra pow (which I’ve had there before).

chicken kra pow

My noodles were so delicious! Wow. Spicy and sweet and an interesting texture. I wasn’t sure about what I had chosen at first because I was torn between the noodles and red curry, but mmm! I’m going to order them again at some point I’m sure.

Walking back from the restaurant, my friend and I decided to go to Eastern Market for breakfast on Saturday morning since I’d never been there and it’s on my list “Things To Do in DC”. My friend raved about this particular place that serves blueberry buckwheat pancakes and so we made a date :) We met bright and early at the metro. It took about 30 minutes to get there, and then we had to stand on line for like 25 minutes before we could order. The place, called Market Lunch, serves breakfast and lunch and is very well known; “bluebucks” are their specialty. It’s got kind of a diner feel and was really cramped because of all the people; after getting our food we sat at the one long table in front of the cashier/kitchen with everyone else who ordered their breakfast ‘to stay’. The pancakes were pretty tasty and quite filling. I didn’t order any sides and they kept me full until dinner time – despite the fact that I couldn’t even finish them! After eating we walked around a bit. Eastern Market was built in 1873 and is DC’s oldest farmer’s market. I discovered that in addition to fresh food, there are flowers, crafts, jewellery and art on sale. It’s a pretty cool place and if every you’re in DC you should try and check it out.

Later that day I met up with another friend of mine who came down from Massachusetts for the weekend. Our original intention was to get Indian food. We wandered up and down U-Street with no success, but we saw about a thousand Ethiopian restaurants! We took it as a sign and went into one of those instead. We picked the perfect one, it was incredible! To quote a review in the Washington Post:

The low-ceilinged space is unlike its competitors. Here, patrons congregate on rustic wooden stools beneath what look like umbrellas made of twigs, each cluster of seats and tables separated by a see-through shade. A small gallery’s worth of imported arts and crafts practically warrants a guide.

The food was just as impressive as the décor. I had never had Ethiopian food before, and now I’m a believer!

mmmm!

I don’t remember the name of what I ate, but if I told you it probably wouldn’t mean much anyway. It was finely minced ground beef with onions, jalapeños and some special spices. My friend ordered beef ribs that were also very tasty. And the injera, the sour bread that the food is served on and eaten with, was really good too. I can’t wait for my next Ethiopian experience!

On Sunday I went up to the group house above my apartment because I couldn’t get onto the internet. I ended up staying there all afternoon and most of the evening too. We all hung out while different people came by to check out a couple of the rooms that are opening up over the next few weeks. There were about 6 of us in the front room chatting and joking; it was really nice, I haven’t had a hang out session like that…since before finals last semester. One of the guys’ had his girlfriend and their mutual friend over, and this friend, whose father is Jamaican, made a big pot of curry the night before and we all shared it for dinner!

So I had traditional Western (anyone know where pancakes originated?) Asian, African and West Indian food all in a matter of days! And I enjoyed it along with great company to boot. Oh the life I lead ;)

A weekend with the J-Man

20 Jul

My family came up to visit a few weeks ago! I was so happy to see them. We didn’t do anything spectacular but I had a great time just hanging out with them. They stayed at the home of a family friend, and so it was nice to reconnect with her and her family as well. On Saturday we went to take one of my brothers, my sister and my cousin to a camp at UVA. This left just my mother and littlest brother to celebrate my first 4th of July in the US with me.

mid-assembly

One of my favourite parts of that day was this dessert we created from these foodstore-bought mini-cakes, strawberries and whipped cream. It wasn’t my idea, but I was in charge of assembling them. First I had to prep the strawberries, I cleaned and sliced them, then left them covered in sugar while we ate dinner.

my brother, the whipped cream monster!

Later, when were ready for something sweet, I put the strawberries in the  depression in the middle of the cakes and artfully sprayed whipped cream on top. They were so delicious! The cake was just a plain vanilla flavour but it was nice and spongy. The strawberries were really fresh and then you add the whipped cream you get an interesting mix of flavours and textures in your mouth :)

The next day I tagged along on the mothers-and-their-youngest sons trip to the national zoo. You would think that seeing as how I live within walking distance from said zoo I would have visited already, but I’m (only somewhat) ashamed to report that that wasn’t the case. It was so hot. :| oh my goodness.

so cute!

And we wandered in search of animals for 4 hours! By the end we were all beat. My brother was such a trooper though! I could tell he was tired but he didn’t let this affect his attitude.

I never asked him which, of all the animals we saw, was his favourite…but I think mine was the elephant! There was only one baby one, and we saw it on our way out of the zoo. We were all a bit disappointed because we didn’t get to see any cheetahs or pandas, nor could we find the elephants, but, how fortuitous, they had moved them (or maybe just that one) to an area we passed as we were leaving.

hahaha :)

There were a crowd of people and I went to go check out what they were watching and wow! Hahaha. I’ve never seen a live elephant before, despite the semester I spent in Ghana last year and the visit my group made to Mole National Park…whose symbol is an elephant lol. I’ve always wanted to get close to one of those huge creatures. Truthfully, I want to ride one! I think they’re fascinating, the way they are so intelligent, and have some sort of family system and an emotional connection with their loved ones. Hopefully while I’m in  India or Thailand I’ll find  a way to have my wish fulfilled. I can’t wait! And oh the food! I’m sure I’ll be rendered speechless by both experiences. Indian and Thai cuisine are among my absolute favourites :) Of course, I still have to get all the details out of the way first…pesky matters of financing, dates and purpose, but don’t worry, they’ll soon be all sorted!

Contentment from Scratch

13 Jul

Making sweet things was my first kitchen love, and I’ve tried not to neglect my relationship with sugar since I’ve been here. Apart from rice pudding, I’ve made two batches of pancakes.

The first was from the crate of produce from my landlord. We had no time to eat them because the frozen fish was on top of them and they turned immediately.The second batch was because I bought some organic bananas, and I learned that they ripen a lot faster than regular ones, I guess because they’re not pumped with chemicals. I love banana pancakes even more than regular ones, especially the way my grandmother makes them – with crispy edges and lots of sugar so you don’t need syrup (I think she started making them that way because my granddad doesn’t like syrup, but I’m not sure).  Well I found out from an aunt a while ago that you can get the crispy effect by frying the pancakes in butter rather than oil. But another characteristic of my grandmother’s pancakes is that they’re very flat.

I had no idea how they came out like that until I was looking up recipes to get the ratios right and realised that I had no kind of leavener (baking soda or powder) I was like well, I guess I’m going to have to go without!  And voila, came out just like my grandmother’s! hahaha. I don’t know if the lack of leavener was a result of her not having any / not thinking it was necessary / absentmindedness, but I really like it.  People might find it strange that I prefer my pancakes sweet, doughy and cold (!), but hey, to each his own right? Plus, can you think of a better way for a poor college student to stretch her pocket and be as satisfied with the results? These pancakes right here are a twofer,  sentimental value and singing tastebuds :)

Something I did make normally was a batch of cookies. I went to visit a friend of mine in Northern VA, and it was quite an ordeal to get there.

fun times :)

I was supposed to meet her for an early breakfast but ended up getting there at lunch time :| We had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with watermelon and raspberries at her poolside though, which was lovely. To help kill time and put me in an even better mood, I suggested we make cookies. From scratch? My friend wondered. Of course! This is me we’re talking about. We ended up creating the oatmeal, coconut and pecan cookie, which is delicious if I may say so.

Speaking of cookies, just last night my apartment-mate made a batch of her own, with a delicious secret ingredient that I won’t reveal here because I’m going to steal it! Muahahahaha! Anyways, they were chocolate chip with almonds on top.

chocolate almond cookies

She made about 4 batches (they were to take to her office) and had a little problem with some of them regarding consistency (some were a little softer than she would have liked) appearance (a couple batches spread more than she would have liked) and one batch had a taste glitch. But even though she was frustrated that they weren’t perfect little plump and round cookies, I found them quite yummy.

Baking just makes me so happy; I don’t even have to eat whatever it is I’ve made. In fact, half of the fun is in giving the results away! It doesn’t matter what mood I’m in to begin with, I cream, fold, whip and knead all my frustration away, and watch as right before my eyes powdery, fatty and liquid substances come together to make something altogether unexpected. The final product never fails to make me smile, even if it’s an epic fail, I can laugh about it. From start to finish, the exercise brings me contentment :)

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What Do You Do When You Can’t Do Anything?

12 Jul

Did you know bedbugs were real? I didn’t. Of course I knew the saying “good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite”, but I thought it was more of a joke than anything else. Well I recently discovered that there are such things as bedbugs, and in the worst way possible – I had them. My housemate and I were in denial for about a week about what these bites that kept appearing on us every day were. But eventually I got fed up and looked up bedbugs, only to be horrified that the little creatures I saw on the screen matched exactly what I had seen on my apartment-mate’s bed! After trying to get in touch with our landlord for days, we sent a strongly worded email to him and within 20 minutes he called me to discuss the issue. Long story short, he organised for this cheap, disreputable company to come and fog our bedrooms. It was such a hassle! Pray you never get bedbugs. All our clothes and linens had to be washed, everything swept and vacuumed, books shaken out and furniture turned over. Then everything (except for furniture) had to be put into plastic bags. Everything seemed to be ok, but then the apartment was overrun by flies! They were everywhere. I was hardly home that weekend but for a few hours each day and to sleep and I must have killed at least 100 of them :| It was crazy. And then, one night I was up late and this creepy bug crawled up the wall of my bedroom. I was horrified. I sat frozen staring at the wall wondering – Does this mean there are more of them? Is it dangerous? Ahhh I don’t want this to be happening!! And I don’t want to get near it! Why does this keep happening? – But I had to kill it or go to sleep with the fear that it would make its way to my bed. Imagine me throwing my sandal at the wall at 2 in the morning, leaping away and as far away as possible, then dragging the plastic bag it fell onto to the front door, all while trying to be quiet and muffle my yelps because my apartment-mate was asleep :s I haven’t seen any more of those critters, but a few days later, surprise surprise, my apartment-mate reported more bedbug bites. So the company had to come back and since I had prematurely unpacked my plastic bags I had to try and stuff some things back into protective coverings.

It’s been a week now and it seems as though we’ll be fine in the bedbug department, but I literally just found out (as I’m writing this) that my landlord has filed for bankruptcy. *sigh* Now I’m worried about getting my security deposit back because he’s incredibly hard to get a hold of and he’s not very trustworthy. As in, he knew about the bedbugs from an incident with prior tenants and didn’t say anything! And I’m supposed to be living in a furnished apartment but I sleep on a futon and had to find my own bureau :s And there are holes in 2 walls (one in my bedroom) and several on the kitchen floor that he has done nothing about. What is that saying about things going wrong? If they can, they will? Well I’m kind of fed up with this whole apartment situation now. It’s the one thing about my life here that has caused me grief. I left my last apartment because my roommate was disgustingly messy and one of the other girls (there were 4 of us) wasn’t any better, which meant either I had to live with the mess or clean up after everyone, which was not cool. Plus I was far from where I needed to be so it just seemed like a logical thing to move. It’s really frustrating because I do everything that I can to ensure that things go smoothly i.e. communicate my intentions, pay my bills, speak up when something is bothering me, but it doesn’t seem to matter! In both situations, the things that have gone wrong have been out of my control, as have their resolutions. Well, I guess it’s not possible that everything go perfectly for me this summer, and to balance out all the amazingness of drumming I have to deal with this apartment drama. A small part of me can’t to leave so that I can be done with all this negative stuff, sleep in a real bed and see the sun in the morning (there are no windows in my room), but most of me hates the thought of having to leave because I love what I’m doing so much, and there’s so much else that I want to see/learn about this city.

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The Rice Series: Fiasco #1

7 Jun

This is another one of those blog posts whose focus had to be redirected. It was originally supposed to be all about the AMAZING wedding I went to this past weekend. My boss got married in a lovely semi-traditional African ceremony to her Ghanaian fiancé. I was a part of the live ‘band’ that played different ensemble pieces for the pre-processional, the processional and then different times during the ceremony. It was outdoors, on the lawn in front of the church belonging to the officiating pastor. My boss (the bride) wore a Ghanaian outfit called a slit and kaba, and I recognised the fabric from when I was there last semester! The slit and kaba is what any Ghanaian woman can wear on a day-to-day basis, but the design accentuates the shape of the body, and this combined with the rich fabric designs make it a lot more dressed up than what any Westerner would wear on a daily basis. The bride was absolutely beautiful! I enjoyed the whole ceremony, especially their vows. They said the exact same thing as the traditional ones, but in plainer, simpler English. I found the wording beautiful and powerful; it made me believe in and hope for the couple’s future together. They didn’t write them themselves mind you, they were just from the pastor’s book, so maybe I can find them for myself! Haha. Something else I thought was really neat is that they exchanged necklaces instead of rings. This makes a lot of sense because as drummers, specifically djembe players, they can’t wear any jewellry on their wrists or fingers.

After the ceremony we all headed to the home of a musician friend of the couple’s, where a lot more people were invited to come for the reception. It was THE BEST RECEPTION I HAVE EVER BEEN TO and I think the weddings I go to after this one are going to have a hard time matching up. There were a bunch of drums and other instruments set up and for most of the time guests made up their own jams and danced to the music that was created. I played almost every instrument, all of the drums, the shakere, tambourine and bells. Oh! Plus, as little take homes, there were plastic shaker eggs with the names of the bride and groom on them, so people could just hold a couple eggs and use those to make music too. I played for hours! And I wasn’t the only one.

The food is where the title of this post comes from. The reception was potluck style. I decided that I would bring a giant pot of jollof, a popular West African rice dish, in honour of the groom. Now I’ve only just started making rice for myself, and I’ve never been 100% successful, but I thought, hey I’ll give it a go. So I bought a 5lb bag of rice and attempted to cook all of it. Everything went well until it was time for me to leave when I realised that it still wasn’t done. I was confused, it’s been cooking for an hour, how is it not done yet? Well I had to go so I just left the cover on and hoped that the steam would continue cooking it. When I got to the reception and took a look at the rice, I was dismayed. At first I thought it still wasn’t done, but I asked the host to take a look at it and after tasting that rather than being undercooked, I had overdone it! I was so sad. I worked so hard and all I had to show for my labour of love were sticky, mushy grains of rice. And I had already told the groom he should have some! He would surely expose my rice for a fraud. And everyone else at the party would wonder at who had brought such a terrible dish!

To my utter mortification and relief, people ate it :| Moreover, when a few of them found out (from the few guests who knew I had brought it) that I was the chef, they told me how much they enjoyed it! I tried to explain that it was a mistake, but they shushed me. Wow, wait until I get the rice right! Then lets hear ‘em! Haha. Anyway, I never ate more than a spoonful, and I avoided even looking at it. At the end of the night, when I went to get my pot, I saw that over half of it was gone! Wow. So when I finally got back to my apartment, I heated up a bowlful to see if it really was edible. I added ketchup just to be safe…and I took a bite. Yeck!! What is this? And how did those people eat it? I had to throw all of the rest of it away. And about half an inch of the bottom was burnt :| The pot is currently soaking, looking at me accusingly from the sink.

I’ve decided, I’m going to conquer rice making. I don’t care how much rice I have to make in the process, it’s not like it’s expensive. I’m Bahamian! And Jamaican! Rice is an important dish. Moreover, it’s not just plain white rice, it’s got all this other stuff in it. So, after I figure out how to make it without burning everything, I can work on making it my signature way! I’m excited.

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