Sunday, January 11, 2015

A tasty end to a wonderful class

The last session of our Introduction to the Francophone world class was tasty as usual.

The class was on French food and cuisine, and my assignment (yes, even the teacher had assignments) was to cook the French classic dish Beef bourgignon. Normally, the week before the cook "in," we'd discuss as a class the menu on whatsapp. In our discussion, I noted that there was no starch dish on the menu, and so I decided to add a potato dish. I'd have loved to cook Potato gratin but since I had no oven, I decided to make aligot.

Beef bourgignon, originally from Bourgogne (Burgundy), is a dish of beef that, after frying it and adding the necessary flavors, it is braised in red wine  for a couple of hours. The dish ended up being tasty and sweet.

This was how our final table looked.
Aligot, on the other hand, is a puree dish from South Central France, which is made up of mashed potatoes and cheese and looks like a gooey, sticky dish. According to wikipedia, the dish was originally made with bread and cheese by monks. Unfortunately, I couldn't get a good cheese at a fair price, and I didn't have an electronic whisk to make the dish as gooey as it appears online.

As usual, this class made me think about how much I need to boost my kitchen.

We also knew how pastries are a big part of French cuisine, but none of us had the guts to prepare any. So I decided to get Alexandre (at Yaya) to come to our rescue, where I bought madelaines (the tea cakes made famous by Marcel Proust) and fruit tarts. They were quite colorful.

On the day itself, we found we had more food than we could finish, so we found three students seated at the entrance of the building and asked them to join us. They gracefully obliged.

It was a great end to a wonderful class. We were almost emotional coming to terms with the fact that the class was over. It was so hard to say goodbye, that we agreed to meet a few days later for one last time to take a photograph.

But the pleasant surprises were not over. When we finally met, I was given this card signed by Maya, Nina and Bonaventure. I was truly moved.

My greatest lesson that I wish the students will have taken from this class is that culture is deliberately advanced and so, as Maya often said, we need to experiment with our creativity. We shouldn't just be cooking or wearing what our forefathers did, we should be adding to that legacy.

I also wish that the students will have a wider perception of the world, and especially of the African heritage globally. Today, knowing Kenya alone is not enough to make one relevant, even within Kenya's borders. I hope that having guests like Nathalie Etoke of Cameroon (via skype), Pat Lulu Mbela of Kenya as speakers, and visitors who are not students, like Ndanu Mbunga, Chris Lyimo, Sheila Obilo and Muthoni Njogu share their culinary skills, essays, poems and experiences opened their minds to the world.

I look forward to the next Francophone world class next week. I'm hoping that students and their sponsors ignore the lie that market is everything and take this class for themselves.

PS.  We have also nominated this blog for the 2015 BAKE (Bloggers Association of Kenya Awards) in the Best Education Blog category. We hope to make the nomination list.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

A Lifetime Experience!

When I first saw the FRE 124 poster put up around the campus, I immediately knew I wanted to take the class. The idea of learning something new especially involving culture, has always appealed to me and so I instantly registered for the class.

Storming the Bastille & Toussaint Louverture

In the first few classes we covered French history and these classes really opened my eyes to a new way of learning. Unlike in high school where history involved memorizing years, having perfect chronological knowledge of events and studying because "it's expected", FRE 124 was all about enjoying learning and not dreading it. The French history classes were a good base for understanding French culture for future classes. I enjoyed learning and singing 'La Marseillaise", France's national anthem. The Haitian revolution was one of the most interesting classes as it made me aware of the successful struggle of the Haitian people who are of African descent. It felt closer to home as it reminded me of Kenya's struggle for independence.

French citizenship & French Fashion

One of the greatest moments in class was when we got a chance to have guest teachers and hear their stories or learn from their respective fields. The first guest we got was Mitchell, a Daystar student from Burundi. He talked in detail about Rwanda's and Burundi's history with focus on major events like the Genocide of 1994. We (my classmates and I) were able to get first hand knowledge about these countries which we would not have known about elsewhere. Nathalie Ethoke's class was amazing! She is an accomplished writer and professor based in the United States and we were privileged to have her share with us her experiences living in France via a live Skype chat. I would not have known about her without being part of the class. She sparked in me thoughts of Pan-Africanism and the importance of black pride. Pat Lulu Mbela, a talented Kenyan fashion designer was our final teaching guest during a class where we were discussing the fashion industry. I love fashion and so I was really excited to have this opportunity to ask questions and learn from an established designer.

From left: Mayi Moulen (Haiti), Tigadeguena (Mali) & Ratatouille (France)

Food, food and more food!!! FRE 124 proved to be a culinary adventure as we explored different cuisines from the Francophone world. My cooking skills were really put to the test this semester and I am amazed at how much I have learnt in the kitchen. Cooking for the class was such a wonderful thing and I loved the surprised looks I would get from other students when I would carry up steaming hot dishes and cutlery to DAC 104 and I would tell them I am going for a class. This made the class feel special to me. The cooking also brought us together with  guests whom we invited to share the class experience with us and they also contributed to the blog whether it was making an unfamiliar dessert, writing a captivating poem or acquainting oneself with a salad recipe we were glad to interact with our guests.

From left: A griot, the Dogon mask dance & Tinariwen's Tassili album cover

Another fantastic thing about the FRE 124 class experience was getting exposed to the African culture. A number of African countries are Francophone and thus we also learnt about their history and culture as part of the curriculum. We covered West African countries like Senegal, Cameroon and Mali. Nothing captures my attention more than learning about African food, fashion, music and ancient traditions. I think it would be right to declare myself an amateur Africanist!
I ended up learning more about African culture and hence myself, in this class than I ever had in my four years of history class in high school.

Eiffel tower & Notre Dame de Paris

The City of Lights has definitely landed on my "Places to visit" list. The city is filled with ancient medieval style buildings, lively cafes on the streets and a burgeoning art culture that inspires artists and art lovers alike globally. Paris is important to European and world history and it's almost impossible to exhaust it's rich culture. The class on Paris was exciting and I saw the beauty of France in this famous city.

I now feel ready to take on the world with all the information that I absorbed as a result of being in FRE 124. Dr. Wandia instilled practicality in the learning process and this forever changed my experience as a student and a person. The laughter during class, discovery of new information and sampling of different cuisines will forever be etched in my memory. As the class title goes, 'Introduction to the Francophone World', this class opened the door to a whole new world and it is just the beginning of discovering what the Francophone culture has to offer.

Friday, January 2, 2015

France History

My first two weeks of class enlightened me a lot. The French royals that existed in the old order before the revolution which resulted in democracy had a strong rapport with the catholic church which was then a very strong institution in France; one of the largest owners of land and were exempted from paying money to the government.
Above is a photo of the Cambrai cathedral in the 11th century. The church was recognized and the government were recognized as one, during the revolution one of the acts that stood out was the protestant movement. You know the way paying tithes to the church is voluntary though a good christian would regularly do so? The church got tithes regularly even from the peasants who were starving at the time and it was clear that it wasn't a the voluntary form of paying tithes but oppression.

Till to date as I have come to learn the French are completely religion no pun intended. They are a proud secular country. Below is a  picture of  what was happening during the revolution.

Another interesting bit is that the revolution included the french national anthem Le Marseillaise. The anthem came about as the angry citizens of France who had had enough of the aristocrats, matched from Marseilles to Paris which is quite a distance chanting the song which ends on the note that the impure bloods ( the royals) should end up flowing through the trenches.

On reaching the city they attacked the palace and proceeded to capture the royals who had not managed to escape yet and prepared to hang them oh I forgot to mention one of the rebel leaders had come up with the idea of hanging the royals in a guillotine. Maria Antoinette the one famously rumored to have been obsessed with cake, was hanged by the guillotine.

Southern France Dish

One thing that stood out to me about the French is their love for Pastries. For the last class of french 124, the topic being France we were to prepare a dish as has been the tradition. I have never baked before and was ridiculously nervous for I was not sure I would find a dish that did not require the use of the oven. That is how I came across the Piperade. Popular in the southern region of France neighbouring Spain. Traditionally made at the end of the summer when the tomatoes and peppers specifically green were abundant. The word Piperade dates back to the 19th century from the Latin word; piper meaning ground pepper. 

I have to say I was a bit skeptical when I read the ingredients and instructions as the dish mainly consists of green and red pepper, tomatoes and at the end one is supposed to add eggs and mix. I had to confirm that maybe they site I was using did not confuse the directions believing the eggs are to be maybe fried and then served with the vegetables. The recipe,
I later came to learn that the egg is indeed supposed to be added. It tasted really good and all were shocked to find out that I had indeed not one but four eggs into the vegetables.:)

"Let them eat cake"

I found the events of the French Revolution the most interesting when learning about the history of France in class. The revolution is an important part of French history and it would be impossible to understand current political, social and economic structures in France without it.

Feudal Oppression

This was one of the greatest triggers of the French revolution. Feudalism involved a relationship between a lord (nobleman) and a vassal (common citizen). The lord who owns the land, would allow the vassal to use the land to live on along with protection and in return the vassal would offer a service to the lord. Feudalism fueled oppression of common citizens by lords as the vassals were under the lord's orders.

A vassal bows to his lord

Unfair Taxation

The French social structure was divided into three Estates: the first being the nobles, the second the clergy and the third the commoners. During the reign of King Louis the sixteenth, commoners were levied heavy taxes so as to cater for the needs of the nobility and clergy. The nobles lived lavish lives and it was these taxes that sustained their lifestyle. The Roman catholic church that formed the clergy owned vast amounts of land and did not pay any taxes. This situation angered the poor commoner who was struggling to ensure that the royals' courts were well maintained yet they could barely afford food. King Louis the sixteenth realized this taxation problem and appointed a new finance minister, Charles Alexandre de Calonne who convened an assembly of high-ranking nobles and suggested that the nobles and clergymen should be taxed. This law was not approved by the nobility and clergy.

Lavish life of the French Monarch

The Estates-General

A convention of all the Estates in 1789 took place. It was called upon by King Louis the sixteenth so as to come up with a tax solution. The third estate suggested double representation in the convention so as to balance out with the clergy and nobles. This suggestion was not approved and this led to the breaking away of the Third estate from the Estate-General. This led to the proclaiming of a National assembly by the Third estate and the binding of these revolutionaries through the Tennis Court Oath.

The Tennis Court Oath

Storming of the Bastille and the Great Fear

The National Assembly greatly influenced the common citizens and instilled a revolutionary spirit in them. On 14th July 1789, citizens of Paris stormed into the Bastille prison in pursuit of weapons and ammunition and killed the governor and his guards. Today 14th July is celebrated in France as Bastille Day to commemorate the beginning of the French revolution.

Storming of the Bastille

The Great Fear occurred as a result of the beginning of the revolution. It was a period of general unrest whereby rural farmers attacked nobles due to rumors of starving the peasant population in the regions. This led to the abolition of feudalism as the nobles feared the peasant revolution.

Peasants attacking noble manors

Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789)

In French, D├ęclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen, was a document that stated that the rights of man are universal and are valid at all times in every place. This was established to bring an end to years of class-based oppression and to introduce the idea of all people being equal before the law.

Declaration of the Rights of Man

Capture of the Royal family

The Women's March on Versailles, is a significant historical moment in France. Peasant women marched to the royal palace in Versailles with weapons angered at the high prices and scarcity of bread. The royal family was captured and forced to move to the Tuileries palace in Paris. This signified the end of the King's independence and marked the shift of power from the monarch to the people.

Women's march on Versailles


Rifts in the National Assembly and Execution of the Royal family

There grew a division between the radical and moderate members of the National Assembly. The moderate members (Girondins) were in favor of retaining the monarchy while the radical members (Jacobins) wanted France to be rid of the royal family. The trial of King Louis the sixteenth and the September massacares greatly increased the rift between the two parties.

Girondins and Jacobins

 Neighouring European governments were against the overthrowing of the monarch as they feared the revolutionary spirit would spread to their countries. These government threatened to go to war with France and several battles were fought to trump the revolution. King Louis the sixteenth was suspected to be an ally of these invasions and thus he was charged with treason and guillotined in 1793. His spouse, Queen Marie Antoinette, who is attributed to the phrase "Let them eat cake" when she was told that peasants had no bread, was also guillotined the same year.

Execution of King Louis the sixteenth

 The Reign of Terror

 This is a period that lasted approximately 12 months and it was marked by thousands of executions of counter-revolutionaries. This period began when Maximilien Robespierre, a Jacobian, took control of the National Assembly after citizens overthrew the Girondins due to unsuccessful battles with neighbouring European countries. Robespierre was paranoid about counterrevolutionary influences and took extreme measures by killing those he suspected were against the revolution. The Thermidorian reaction led to the arrest and execution of Robespierre bringing an end to the radical phase of the French revolution.

Guillotine execution


The Directory

After the ousting of Robespierre, a period of governmental restructuring took place and this led to the formation of the French constitution of 1795 which created the Directory and France's first bicameral legislature. The Directory was formed to control executive responsibilities and appointments. The Directory habitually disregarded the terms of the constitution and in 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte,      an army general  led a coup to overthrow the Directory and install the Consulate instead.

Napoleonic era

Napoleon Bonaparte was a popular army general who led French armies successfully to wars with invaders. After abolishing the Directory, he took the helm in 1804 as Emperor of France thus
bringing an end to the revolution.

Coronation of Emperor Napoleon the first

 The French revolution has greatly impacted the world as it has been an inspiration for other global struggles to fight against oppression and the establishment of a government for the people by the people.

Haitian Politics

In the 18th century, Haiti was controlled by the French and Spain with the latter having a larger share. They specialised in agriculture with the African slaves providing labor. The society was in a rigid hierarchical structure based on skin color, class and wealth.  In ascending order, African born plantation salves, creole slaves( the ones born in the new world), mixed race; the mullato slaves and finally the whites. Later in the eighteenth century changes begun with the slaves abandoning their plantations and Mullato's seeking full citizenship.

In 1971, Tousssaint Louverture emerged as a commander within the rebel army of the black slaves. His top commanders were Jean-jacque Dessalines and Henry Christophe. A struggle which included switching of allies between France and Spain. Dessalines, Christophe and the Mullato general joined forces in order to expel the French in 1802.

( There is a movie that shows his story directed by Philippe Niang  released in 2012. Jimmy- Jean Louis a Haitian actor plays Toussaint's character.) A cover of the movie to the far right.)
In 1803, Haiti was declared an independent republic as France withdrew to the war in Europe. As much as the french refused to acknowledge that fact. 
Dessalines became the first president in 1804 and declared himself emperor Jacquel. He was assassinated and Boyer then took over  and negotiated payment to the french to recognise Haiti's independence and reunite  trade relations with the country.
(A statue of Dessalines in Port-au-Prince in Haiti. )
Then came Francois Duvalier a dictator popularly referred to as 'Papa Doc'. The name was because of his paternalistic concern for poor and sick nations. Francois was succeeded by his son  Sean Claude who went by the nickname ' Baby Doc'. 

Jean Bertrand Astride known to be the first democratically elected president, an outspoken anti -Duvalier at the time won the presidency with a landslide victory vote of sixty seven percent. He pledged to rid Haiti of its ethnic, racial, and economic hierarchy that defined the country. Aristide was ousted by a military coup in September 29 1991. The military government engaged in oppression of Dissidents and Aristide supporters. There were numerous extrajudicial killings. On September 9, 1994; the US led military restored Aristide to office who then abolished the Haitian army and replaced it with the united states trained Haitian National police. 

 An interesting fact about Haiti is its witchcraft history to be specific Voodoo. Here is a link that explains more on it. I found more sites that could help explain what occurs during the voodoo ceremonies. On Voodoo drumming. One can watch one of the ceremonies

Haitian women join in a vodoo bathing ritual. 

Music -Paris,France

I  believe it is the food for our souls. the only thing that makes sense to me anymore is good music. I mean everything will change in some way,but music will always be music.This therefore brings me down to Paris where Any kind of music can be heard.

There are concert halls, an opera house, classical music festivals, rock festivals, jazz festivals, street music, all sorts.
Funk - Soul - Jazz - Hip-Hop - Reggae - Blues - Rock -Pop- Techno - Traditional Folk Music  - Classical - Choral

                        Classical music


 Jazz music


History of France In a 14 days class.

Louvre Pyramid - Paris - France
Notre Dame Cathedral Paris 2013My anxiety was fully satisfied when i got into the lecture room D104 Daystar University. It is french lectures. The first two weeks were captivating.Every discussion equally interesting. Above all was the architectural  talk, what Paris in France used to be-old and what it is at the moment-modern Paris. In brief, I  would glorify this city of light and love. The renowned french capital of architecture and paintings.Many interesting buildings such as; Tour d'eiffel,  the Louvre pyramid, cathedrals such as Notre-Dame and trocadero . All this accomplished by the famous celebrated architects.

La Tour d’Eiffel 5

Paris!!! Paris!!!

Paris has everything: it has existed for so long that it has fantastic history and monuments that go way back in history, beautiful architecture, hundreds of museums and art galleries where the most famous artifacts in the world are displayed. It has palaces, cathedrals, churches, catacombs and amazing cemeteries. You can find every aspect of culture there and there is something to suit every taste: opera, ballet, concerts, jazz, pop concerts, sports arenas, high fashion and couture, parks and gardens, stunning statues and handsome squares, a lovely river along which you can cruise with an interesting assortment of bridges . It has amazing shops that offer everything you could think of.
Paris, as you probably realise, is the capital of France and is on the river Seine. It is in a northerly direction from the geographical centre of France.The most interesting part is obviously the centre with Notre-Dame Cathedral on an island mid- river. There also is the famous Louvre there which used to be the residence of the royal family and is now one of the world's largest and most impressive art museums on the opposite bank. In the suburb of Versailles there is the most beautiful palace in the world that stands in stunning gardens with fountains and hundreds of statues.
It would take months to write about it all in detail. Paris, Paris, Paris captures me wholly