Saturday, December 31, 2011

Belgians Sit

Can't say I've seen this phenomenon anywhere else, but when the weather is nice Belgian students really seem to just enjoy sitting together on the concrete in circles before, after, and in between classes. I think it's great.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Nice People!

Time has flown! That the program is already 75% over, that classes are officially finished, that I have lived in 3 countries and studied at 3 universities over the last year and a half, and that soon I'll have a masters degree and get a job, it's all a bit amazing and exciting!  Seems like just yesterday I was heading to Scotland to start the program.

I've really enjoyed my time at each University, in each city and each country in different and distinct ways. It's been a privilege and joy to get to know and become friends with so many great people from so many different places in the program. And in each city to also meet so many other people from those places and others. My perceptions on so many small things have changed as result of the simple exchange of ideas, ways, and daily life with such a varied and genuine group of people. 

It's fairly cheesy, but I've never been with group of people that seems to care and share so much with each other. There really is very little selfishness. When people are sick, it seems there is always someone there bringing them lunch, dinner or making them a soup (like 3 weeks ago when Claudia made me potato soup!). Dinners are often cooked and shared with whatever is left in everyone's fridge, or when someone has a recipe or wants to cook something from home, they prepare it for more than people is necessary and invite whoever is around, and nobody is ever really hesitant to give up what they have for the group or to someone who needs it. Like a second family in some ways.

It is a dynamic and trait that I can't say I experienced very much in college at home or thereafter. In the fraternity in college and we helped each other out which I have plenty of good memories from, but that was in some ways a mutually exclusive endeavor and the service/volunteering was organizationally driven (like when you work for the company and they say they need to 'Give Back', you know it's just a load of self-driven marketing crap). I did a lot of volunteer work after college which was much certainly more genuine, but I still felt my stuff was my stuff most of the time and my time was my time. However, in regards to simple small things like sharing and helping amongst friends, acquaintances, and strangers, I'm not sure that was there as much. At the very least, it wasn't so evident or well expressed.

Traveling (outside of the program), in fact, for 3 months this summer and 6 last year, also helped a lot. Staying with many friends from the program and many random couchsurfers, I learned that, although a valuable use of time, you don't necessarily need to go to a homeless shelter to feel good about helping out. Instead you can learn a lot about just being a good, genuine person by experiencing others selflessly give to you their time, space, thoughts, and belongings in exchange for simple intangibles like knowledge, ideas, and friendship (as opposed to the bullet point volunteering gives you in an interview). It is the mentality that is the hardest part to acquire I believe. And that mentality translates to small things, like trying not to stare at the ground and pretend to ignore someone asking for money with your headphones in (guilty myself).... maybe even actually look at them. Or, realize it's okay to share and give up some things if it is a bit of an inconvenience. Or, being less selfish with your time and spending that extra little time helping a stranger out getting to their destination and even talking or trying to get to know them. I know first hand many many times, when a random person is unusually friendly or helpful, it can brighten your day and change your perception, and motivate you to do the same.

In the end, I am really glad I have met and became friends the last 3 semesters with such positive people who have such big hearts and have been a bit of a role model while helping me see things in new ways. And the people and hosts I have had while traveling, as I always say, give me confidence that there is still plenty of good people out there. I try to always remember this when I see people in public that get aggravated over tiny things. The world would be better if everyone was a little less cold, stressed, scared of changing, and seriously self-motivated (however idealistic that statement may be). 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Time for Sleep

Last week, while rushing to finish a group report whose due date was moved forward several weeks on us in the midst of very full exam period, in a midnight attemp to squeeze at least an hour or more of work in, I went for the English tea. Pouring some milk in, I jumped when I realized the milk was orange. Yup, I poured orange juice into my tea. Time to go to sleep...

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Hugo

Frituurs (French fry stands) in Belgium are generally filled with heart attack inducing mystery foods. The Hugo might just be the epiphany of junk food. Dennis, Netsanet, & I purchased burgers and split a Hugo between the three of us. We were easily defeated by Sir Hugo. Fries topped with mayonnaise, fried sausage chunks, cripsy fried onions, a brown sauce, and god knows what else.

The first step in eating a Hugo is to push aside all your morals, ethics, and any previous concern for the welfare of your body. Then, after tasting it, you can actually say "Wow, although it looks like crap, the taste is surprisingly decent!"  After that, you must give your arteries at least a 1 year vacation from further Hugo consumption.

Maybe The Hugo is Belgium's attempt to match Scotland for food inferiority?
The Hugo - Junk food pinnacle.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Ethiopian Food Huzzahh!!!!!

One of the things I was most looking forward to in visiting Ethiopia was the FOOD. I tried it in the US, and as a result all I knew about it was there was some spongy like bread (Injera), communal style eating, strong coffee, and maybe some raw meat involved. However it was really amazing to experience non-Americanized Ethiopian food first hand. Let me say, I successfully endured the notorious fire-like spice that is dumped on everything, called berbere, albeit with only a little burn. And all the while never had to use silverware to eat in 2 weeks, a first for me! 

In Addis Ababa I got to experience eating out at restaurants of varying quality for a week, the best being in an unfinished, uninsulated building with poker games going on in the majority of the room and with welding and steel cutting operations taking place nearly within spitting distance (luckily the sparks didn't make it into the food)...the price was accordingly dirt cheap but the taste was unexpectedly high. While in Bahir Dar and Gondar I experienced real, traditional cooking from Netsanet's wife (Sanit), and Sanit's aunt. I must admit, although amazingly delicious, it did get a bit tiring to eat injera 3 times a day for two straight weeks. Product of a melting pot society in the US with a simply amazing variety of choice. However, it does not detract from the fact that Ethiopia  definitely has food deeply rooted in it's culture. From sharing off of the same plate (I had to learn to eat fast so I kept up with everyone and wasn't left with just a few bites), to feeding each other, to preparing very particular foods which are lovingly prepared and having a coffee ceremony when guests are invited over. I also experienced a kindness not seen in so many other places, always being urged to eat more and really make sure I was full. In my opinion we don't really treat guests like that, at least to such an extent, in the US. 

And aside from the meals, they have a fairly limited but phenomenal selection of fruits. I mean, the bananas I tasted there blew any bananas out of the water that I have ever tasted by a nearly a googoleplex (an official number, by the way). The mangoes, papayas, and a maracuya like fruit were all full of flavor (probably thanks in part to the fact that what we call 'organic' fruit is miraculously actually just 'normal' food here) The only fruit they seemed to import was apples, which were priced at 5 times any other fruit (even higher than European or US prices for apples!). It is in part to tasting such great and natural fruit in Ethiopia and places like Serbia that I have started to move away from buying the bland, seemingly perfect yet chemically laden garbage that fills most supermarkets, gravitating toward a great Sunday market in Gent with a guy who grows his produce and vegetables just outside the city and tastes fabulous. Also, since many people do not have refrigeration, they use a butter that can be stored at room temps. It has a rancid smell to it but once cooked is great. Oh, and I don't know where this reputation of Ethiopians being skinnier than everyone else comes from, but I must say I didn't see anything out of the norm.

PS. Average price of meal out for 3 people: $2-4!

On to the pictures of yumminess:

Sanit cooks shiro. Bet you can't say you've ever had that setup as your main means of cooking (and cooked a bad ass meal at the same time!). Time to be slightly humbled.

I already blogged on this...but here we are with our recently purchased goat.


Sanit barraged by the goat herd being shuttled to the market
This guy is showing me Khat directly from the source. It basically has a similar effect as a jolt of coffee. Guess what, it is banned in the US, Canada, and some places in Europe. Fairly common here though
You are officially a winner if you cook a spectacular meal in this kitchen.

A market in Bahir Dar. Spice & Beans section.

Unroasted coffee beans (the only way it's sold)

injera with some fried chicken and rice. Dang, that was a good meal

A spice stall at the market.
Chuchu's mom makes injera in this every 3 or 4 days, which takes 3 days and last about the same amount of time. If you don't make it yourself, most people seem to buy it fresh every day or two.

Basket for storing injera.

Another spread of things.

Freshly made juice! Banana, Mango, and Avocado mixture.

The liquidy stuff is shiro, a staple made from ground beans.

Another good one.

Sanit buying some fruits.

Forget what this was...Looks cool though.

I think this is Bayanet - a tray with a mix of prepared foods on it served over (and with!) injera

Chicken Wat - A traditional recipe (made by Sanit's friend's family when the invited me over as as a guest). They had to buy a live chicken that day to make this, so it was a big deal. Lots of preparation goes into it. Hours of boiling. DELICIOUS.

Roasting coffee beans

First Meal in Ethiopia!

 Firfir (chopped up and cooked injera, or what I jokingly refer to as eating Injera with more Injera)

Tibs, I think?

 My first coffee! Roasting the beans, like usual. Let's just say neither instant coffee nor Starbucks exists or is sufficient here.
Brilliant Coffee. 3 cups for coffee ceremony
Netsanet debates whether to buy one of this guys chickens
Dinner is Served

 This is a very common grain/snack. The runners eat it. So do the monks.  

Monday, December 12, 2011


I picked this gem up in Belgrade. 500 billion Serbian Dinars, from 1993. The world's second highest inflation rate ever after Zimbabwe. At 3 euros, I'm sure I overpaid for it. The bill says Yugoslavia on it but this must have been printed right around or just after the breakup occurred. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Hooray for Stupidity!

Clearly, these guys are not accustomed to exercising their brain power in rationale ways, and neither are the people who are subjecting them to this. I saw them around lunch time the first time while bicycling to the city center. They were in droopy bed-sheet sized diapers and there was an ineffable stench eminating even as they were on the sidewalk and I was bicycling by in the street. Later that afternoon, I passed them again at another location in the city. This time, on the sidewalk kneeling on the ground with some bros standing in front them pondering like Pinky and the Brain what to do to them with a big grocery cart full of beer. Then, that evening, the pinnacle of stupidity:

Good to know that there are people of equal stupidity elsewhere in the world to match the morons in some fraternities and sororities in the US that do similar things. Hooray!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Belgian Cuisine

Once you get past all the french fry stands and student cafeterias, Belgian/Flemish food is pretty simple and sturdy, while still managing to be quite delicious at times. Nothing too crazy or scintillating, but definitely in my opinion a step above the comfort food capitals of Scotland and Sweden.
Mystery foods at a frituur (french fry place). It's like one big science experiment. Barf.

Gent Waffle.

Probably made by Kraft, but hey, it's a funny name for a candy bar (I don't think it would fly in the US)

Ah, a brown beer, fries with stew sauce, and a pincha (belgian code word for Jupiler).

Stewed escargot with some spices in Oostend.

Gent escargot. Defintely chewy in comparison to the French escargot.

A Oostende waffle with speculoos sauce. Yum.

En klein frite met andalus saus. The most famous thing outside the beer and waffles.

There aren't many fresh food markets, but Belgians do seem to avoid the preservative loaded sliced breads, even at the supermarket.

Gentse Stoverij. Steak stewed with brown beer and spices. Best dish in Gent.

Peter enjoys a Gent dish, Gentse waterzooi, a creamy chicken & carrot/celery soup dish

A Brugge waffle. Much softer and preferable to the Gent waffle imo.

It is now pumpkin season, time for pumpkin soup!

My favorite bakery in Gent