Kaskazi Winds

Guy on Bike

In the several attempts I’ve made to take a photo of the many tropical trees here blowing in the wind this time of year (my favorite tree is a scrawny tropical fir variety, think Charlie Brown Christmas style), I’ve failed. All my pictures that I’ve romanticized as being dramatic fronds blowing in the wind just turn out to be…well, photos of trees. Really, they’re so boring I don’t even want to post them up to see. And I’ve realized that in order to get a photo of a tree that looks like it’s blowing in the wind, the wind has got to be blowing pretty hard…like, during a hurricane, or something.

But enough of severe weather talk, I’m sure you’re all sick of that in the states. Let’s talk about subtle weather changes, shall we?

When I first arrived into town on June 1 of last year, everyone told me it was the BEST time of year to come. And I saw truth in that, for I could wear jeans and a tank top out at night and be very comfortable. “Just wait until the summer” they told me, “it gets HOT”. So like a good expat newly adjusting to a foreign lifestyle, I waited.

dar cliffs

Then in September, I discussed the then-four-month dry spell with our gardener, who was now coming every morning to water our plants as opposed to the three days we hired him. “They have to get water,” he stressed “or else they will die in this dry season. But the rainy season will come this year….maybe”. So I waited, because the maybe-rainy season was something that I was somewhat looking forward to, in solidarity with my Autumn-raving friends who were Stateside.

Then in October, we had the short rains. So short, I wrote about them once, here. They left, then came back with a vengeance in November, but then quickly left again. People told me the rains were getting shorter and shorter every year, and that the summers were long and drawn out. So I waited to see for myself.

Yacht Club sunset

Thanksgiving came and went, Christmas and New Years’ did too. And well, we’re well into January now. And while I thought that Dar was going to be painfully, excruciatingly hot by now–while I’ve been waiting for over six months for it to just get so hot my flip flops would melt as soon as I stepped outside–I’m officially declaring: it’s not that bad yet. Sure, it’s not fun to run a mile in the midday heat with the equatorial sun glaring down on your shoulders (five minutes for a light tan, I’d say), but really, it’s not bad at all.

What has really surprised me are the winds. These kaskazi winds, that no one told me about, that have so pleasantly surprised me, that are turning the start of this summer into a beautiful and bearable time of year. In fact, so far, my favorite time of year.

Every night, these winds pick up, and as I fall asleep I can hear the trees outside our house rustling, almost so it’s like we’re listening to waves crashing or rain beating against the window. I’ve never really heard a warm summer wind rustle long palm fronds, but I’ve since recognized the sound. It’s like water, almost.

Dar city center

I’ve learned that these kaskazi winds, or Northern winds, come to my window from somewhere Northeast of here, having traveled down the entire coast of East Africa. They are the infamous trade winds, the winds that carried sailors and merchants and traders from Oman and Morocco, some even further from Arabia, India, China. They brought spices, fabrics, men, religion, drugs, and dialects, and re-located them first in Zanzibar, and then in Africa. In return, they took slaves–but that’s a story about another route, for another time. The spice trade, the slave trade, the mixed heritage of the Zanzibari people; none would be possible without these kaskazi winds.

The kaskazi winds repeatedly last from December to mid-March, wherein is the start of the long rainy season.  I thought, originally, that all Dar had was hot weather all year round, but I’m wrong. I’m getting so many things wrong about Africa, but happily so. The break down of the year here in Dar es Salaam is not really from month to month, or really even from Winter to Spring to Summer, but instead from weather pattern to weather pattern. I’m waiting patiently to see what the next change in weather will be, but for now, these kaskazi winds suit me just fine.

The Makings of a Travel Writer


“To write well about travel requires an emotional attachment to the idea that life is composed of a series of shifts. Being an immigrant, or someone with roots in more than one culture, helps. But really all it takes is being an emotional immigrant. The next place you land should seem as real to you, if not more real, than the place you left behind.”

Taken from Gary Shteyngart’s piece, The Makings of a Travel Writer, in the January 2014 issue of Travel + Leisure.

(Sound advice, even if the place you left behind is home and the place you’ve landed is Dar es Salaam.)

Hummus, and other gems in second-tier cities


My favorite hummus, ever, was ordered at a Turkish restaurant called Bosphorous, located on a popular street in the mega-city (and our old home) of Guangzhou, China–population 12-15 million, depending who you ask. Quite an unexpected location for a platter of really amazing hummus, right?!

By the time I left Guangzhou, there were two branches of Bosphorous open, but the original, located near the Xiao Bei (小北 ) metro stop in a neighborhood casually known as Little Africa, was the one I preferred due to it’s…ahem, more “rustic” quality, which I personally think made the food just that much tastier. Plus the original was located next to a nightclub called 50 Cent. The club was always an option for a night out for our group of friends, since it involved going no earlier than midnight, Chinese girls dressed in turkish belly dancer outfits dancing around and on tables, and amazing people-watching. It’s also the only place I’ve seen more men on the dance floor than women, I think.

Every order of hummus eaten since 2010 has warranted comparisons to that one creamy, nutty, fluffy, olive-oily hummus, served at Bosphorous–at the long and crowded communal tables, in a smoke-filled room that was milling with so many dark-haired, olive-skinned Middle Easterners that you’d think you were in Ankara or Istanbul proper. It was a hummus that was perfectly drizzled with rich olive oil and garnished with a single olive, one olive that the Diploman and I were always wont to fight over during subsequent trips back–and there were many, many trips back during our two years there.


And such is part of the beauty of these International second-tier cities, like Guangzhou. Like Dar. For every Michelin-starred gem in Hong Kong or Cape Town, there are also equally spectacular gems to be uncovered in lesser known, smaller-named cities. Great hummus isn’t a reason to visit Guangzhou, but it’s certainly a perk of one’s time there.

Here in Dar, I’ve found excellent BBQ prawns at BBQ Village, spiced and smooth curried chickpeas at Patel Brotherhood, satisfying grilled fish on the beaches of Bongoyo Island, open-air rooftop dining scooping up Ethiopian lentils at Addis in Dar, and the richest, most luxurious seafood platter at Alexander’s Guesthouse, tucked away in the backroads near my house.

And while none of these are the sole reason that I’m here, nor are the the sole reason you should come and visit (aside from grilled fish on the beach…that’s pretty compelling, isn’t it?), they certainly make spending some time in this city all the more exciting.

Homemade Bosphorous-ian Hummus 

I’ve created what I think is a hummus, on par with the best hummus I’ve ever had from that unlikely Chinese Turkish restaurant. This is one that I proudly bring to any potluck, picnic, fundraiser, or party, anywhere I am in the world.


  • 1 15 oz. can of chickpeas, shelled (see instructions below), about 1 1/4 cups chickpeas
  • 1/3 cup tahini paste
  • Juice from 1 ripe, juicy lemon, about 4 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 2 small garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 4 Tbsp. Chickpea water (liquid reserved from draining chickpeas from the can)
  • 2 Tbsp. Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. filtered water

shelling chickpeas



  1. Shell chickpeas- meaning, remove the bean from the translucent film covering each chickpea. This step isn’t mandatory, but it will create a much smoother hummus, separating just-average hummus from truly-great hummus! It’s a slow and methodical process, but it’s not too tiresome. The best way I’ve found is to pinch a single chickpea between your thumb and pointer finger until the bean slips out, leaving its shell between your fingers.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a food processor. Blend for 30 seconds, or until super creamy. Of course everyone’s texture preferences are difference, so if you prefer even smoother add another tablespoon or two of water. Keep in mind, the hummus will firm up just a little bit after some time in the fridge.
  3. Serve drizzled with a generous pour of olive oil over the top.
And just FYI, here’s the address to Bosphorous. You’ll find 50 Cent just down the street…
Bosphorus Turkish Restaurant near XiaoBei metro stop
304 Huanshi Middle Road, Yuexiu, Guangzhou, Guangdong, China, 510350
+86 20 8356 3578


Capture the Color 2013

Last year, I caught wind of a photo contest called ‘Capture the Color’, just as it was ending. I’m just barely in under the wire this year, getting my submission in a whole DAY before the deadline. Whew. Check out my selected entries below. 

Using color as a storyteller might be more subtle than sitting your subject a foot away from the camera, but it can be just as compelling. Sometimes, the use of color is intentional, like when I captured these empty blue seats in Malaysia. Other times, the drama of color is realized far after the photograph is taken, like when I looked at this photo from Mexico City and noticed the awesome sea of green shop umbrellas.

However, we (I) can get so caught up sometimes in capturing a specific subject matter, or in technicalities like aperture and shutter speed, that the more subtle details- like color- are forgotten in the moment. I’m excited to participate in Travel Supermarket‘s Capture the Color contest, because it requires participants to post five photos, each representing one of five color categories- Red, Yellow, Green, Blue, and White.

I love this focus on color as subject, and it’s so great to take a fresh look at some old favorites. Check out my photos (and their stories) below, and please, share some of your own, and link back here.


chinese chickens

Chickens at the Fangcun market, Guangzhou, China

Vibrant colors that are often found in countries like Senegal and India come with a slightly muted, greyish hue in China. I’m not sure if it’s due to pollution or the reflection of cement buildings and narrow shadowed alleyways, but shoot, it’s GRAY. Chinese Markets are the best example of this muddled symphony, a chaotic yet stifled blend of colors. I liked photographing the drab grays and greens of Chinese markets, but sometimes, a sliver of natural light would fall in juuuust the right crevice, and something beautiful would unveil itself- like a packed cage of chickens, jolted with a burst of unexpected color.



Two men crossing in Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

I have a secret. Sometimes I’ll just leave my camera slung next to my hip, finger on the shutter release, clicking away as I tour a city. Sometimes I’ll have nothing but crooked horizon lines and off-centered subjects. And sometimes, I’ll get some amazing snapshots that represent exactly what I saw at one moment- like this one. I love the white clouds, behind the huge stately white building, with the white car parked in front, and the movement of the two men dressed in black.


IMG_0051_2_2 Late night snack: Eel Noodle Soup, Tainan, Taiwan 

This photo is exactly why I wanted to participate in the color contest. If it weren’t for this contest, I might not have thought about how GREEN this photo is. It’s always been one of my favorite images, in the way I was able to capture this little old man, who hobbled up to his counter and took a seat amongst a sea of plastic stools. The fact that he’s wearing a blu-ish purple-ish shirt, the complementary color of green is just too fortuitous. I had to include this photo in the ‘Green’ category!



Fresh Air, Pt. Reyes National Park, California

After the gray skies of China, I was welcomed home last summer to blue, blue, blue skies. It’s funny how quickly we become adapted to our immediate surroundings, right? I’ll never take blue skies for granted. Before we left California last May we took one final trip around the San Francisco Bay- a place that we both will forever call home. On that day, the sky was bluer than I had seen it in a long time, so blue, that it in fact makes the stark rocky seacliffs take on an icy blue hue of their own.



Prayer, Jama Masjid Mosque, Delhi, India

This is one of my favorite photographs from India – although, I have about ten photos from India where I find myself making that same statement. Oops. India is just a photographic city, bursting with rich reds, oranges, and turquoises on every street corner. The rippling of the red carpet, here, at Jama Masjid Mosque reminds me of the waves of an ocean, rippling towards the camera. And among this ocean of carpeting that white dot of a man, kneeling so his shape almost forms a temple in itself, is such a beautiful contrast.


The contest suggests each participant to nominate fellow bloggers to enter the contest. But since it’s nearing the deadline, I don’t want to put any pressure on any specific individuals…However, if you’re a blogger reading this, I urge you to dig up some photos to submit before tomorrow ends!

Zanzibar Day 4 >> Another Zanzibar market trip

Another trip to the Zanzibar market. This time, to practice my newly refined Kiswahili. After all, there’s no better way to practice a new language than to barter with shop keepers at a local market.

Zanzibar Market 1

Zanzibar Market / Local Oranges

Zanzibar Market / Narrow Alleys

Zanzibar Market / Butcher

Zanzibar Ladies

Zanzibar Market / Selling Fish

Zanzibar Market / A Giant Marlin

I’m the proud owner of several new kintenge (local batik-printed fabrics) and a few more spices to add to my shelves. Also, a bunch of bananas, but those were a little more short-lived.

ZANZIBAR DAY 3 >> Sugar and Spice…Everything Nice

cocoa beans

A visit to Zanzibar certainly wouldn’t be complete without a visit to a spice farm, now wouldn’t it?

On our bus ride to Abeid’s Spice Farm, I conjured up my own image of a spice farm in my head. What I saw was a Napa Valley-like setup, with trees and bushes planted in neat little rows throughout rolling hills. In my mind, this farm was perpetually fixed to one time: sundown.

bees, maybe?

Goodness knows what I was thinking. This is Africa, after all. So when we pulled up to a plot that could not have looked more uninteresting or unspectacular, and rather sparse, I was a little bit disappointed. There were trees, but they looked like….trees. There were bushes, but….they were just bushes. No neat little rows, and definitely nowhere near sundown, womp womp.

Our first stop out of the bus was to try a papaya. Great, I thought. This is going to be REAL exotic (cue eyes rolling to the back of my head).

Annatto- cluster

But from there, we moved onto a tree with odd clusters of fuzzy fruit pods. Annatto. And then I knew things were going to get better.

You see, I happen to know a bit about the annatto tree. I once worked in a cheese shop, and at this cheese shop we sold Beemster Cheese. Beemster’s XO Gouda is a typical dutch-style hard cow’s milk cheese, made by a co-op of small farmers and exported all around the world from the Beemster Polder in The Netherlands. This Beemster XO is not only made from happy and healthy cows, but it’s famously aged for 26 months. As a result, it’s deliciously firm and full of flavor, reminding me of a salty butterscotch or a good salty toffee (don’t knock it ’til you try it!)

But I digress. Annatto. The deep, saturated orange-ish color in Beemster, the one that most cheeselovers assume is due to its 2 years of aging, is actually due to a natural dye…called Annatto. Beemster orange. I’ve been enamored by annatto for quite some time, especially after learning that it’s a natural dye used in foods like cheese (one that I love so much, to boot), and a dye so vibrant that many women once used it to color their lips and cheeks.

Annatto- split and seeds

After the annatto tree, my worries of a boring afternoon were very quickly put to rest. From there, I got to taste pepper, straight from a tree- so peppery. I sucked on the bark of a cinnamon tree. Like, straight from the tree- into my mouth! I watched someone wash their hands with the berry from a tree that, like magic, lathered and cleaned like soap. I gnawed on lemongrass, sniffed fresh cloves and allspice, mashed curry leaves between my fingers, learned that each pineapple plant only produces a single pineapple fruit (and after 9 long months, geez), and unrooted bright yellow tumeric roots from the ground.


curry leaves


Though I imagine this would be an interesting trip for almost anyone, I gained particular joy from seeing where many of the spices I use so frequently in all my cooking come from. Spices that I am so familiar in their dried form, suddenly given life and a completely foreign appearance as berries, trees, bushes, plants, fruit.


In between this spicefest, we cleansed our palates by eating the papaya, gorging on jackfruit- a fruit that I swear tastes like Juicyfruit gum (and is now my new favorite treat), feasted on the fresh meat and juice from coconuts. We freshened our stinky bodies by rubbing ourselves with the ylang ylang flower. A flower that, I kid you not, smelled so similar to the beloved Chanel No. 5 scent. The farm keepers made the women bracelets and ice-cream-cone-like-baskets out of sturdy leaves and fronds (I was one lucky recipient of a pair of leaf glasses) and the men received sultan-worthy headcaps. We trampled around the farm like young girls and boys on an exploratory adventure.



It was like the Willy Wonka of farms, where everywhere you turned there was a bite to be taken or a lick to be had. I was just waiting for a river of curry to come bursting through, is all. More often than not, I would look down and find myself juggling a piece of some fruit in one hand, focusing my camera with another, being ordered to smell something that had been stuck under my nose, and trying to keep a collection of berries and leaves and seeds from being spilled. Somehow I also managed to take notes and snap iPhone pics too, and looking back I’m almost positive I won’t ever be able to multitask quite as well as I did on that day. I don’t think my senses will, either- by the end of the tour my head was dizzy from smells and tastebuds tingling from spice.