UKRAINE: Coffee, tea, and herbal teas

Ukraine is mainly a tea country, with the strong traditional black tea culture, but coffee and other tea drinks are popular too. Taya Ukraine has a bit of an explanation of contemporary caffeine culture in Ukraine from Jan 2020 (the before times!). Those seasonal winter coffee and mulled wine stalls look really lovely.

There’s also a lot of herbal teas drunk in Ukraine, including made from local ingredients. I picked up a few from imports from Lakomka Deli – really just picking ones at random from Ukraine that look interested. Let’s see what I got!

Chicory with rosehip – Roasted chicory root has been used as a coffee substitute for centuries – the taste is similar, though there’s no caffeine. I’ve had it blended with coffee before (makes a nuttier coffee) but this is straight chicory, with some rosehip in it. I’m having it black – it tastes like a lighter coffee, with a bit of a citrusy tang from the rosehip. It’s quite pleasant, and nice for coffee flavour in the evenings.

Naturalis Uro-Natur – Meant to be good for your urinary system, this herbal tea is a mix of birch and bearberry leaves, knotweed, nettle, yarrow, and a bit of green tea in for good measure. Birch grows all over the northern hemisphere, and can be tapped like maple trees. I’ve had birch syrup and birch water, but I’ve never tried the leaves for tea. Very mild tasting tea, slightly bitter and herbal, but doesn’t taste like much. Birch leaves do have a long history as part of traditional medicine, as it can be a diuretic (hence the brand) and contains a mild amount of salicylates, which are a precursor to painkillers like aspirin.

Naturalis Seagull – Why seagull? No idea, it’s not a translation error, there’s one also on the box. It’s a herbal tea violet, licorice, and marshmallow root, plus some eucalyptus and chamomile, with another dusting of green tea. It’s very nice, the licorice and eucalyptus gives it a stronger, slightly medicinal taste but in a good way. Some brief googling shows that sometimes violet roots are edible and sometimes …poisonous? These ones are fine, though!

Liktravy Pine Buds – A lot of people aren’t aware that conifers are edible – and tasty! You can make tea year-round from the needles of almost all species of pine, spruce, and fir (not yew or hemlock, though, so make sure to ID correctly) and even eat the needle shoots raw in the early spring. This tea made from the buds of a Scotch Pine, which grows in Eurasia and is invasive in Canada. The buds take a while to steep, but they release this wonderful strong pine resin flavour. I absolutely love this, it’s like a walk in the woods in a cup. I think once I’m done this box, I’ll do my civic duty to stop invasive species by pilfering more buds from the woods.

UKRAINE: Stand-up comedy in a bomb shelter

Felix Redka in Sumy, March 21, 2022 – Source

The war in Ukraine has had some very incongruous moments, scenes that could be from WWII but with modern technology. One of these is stand-up comedy in bomb shelters, professionally edited and uploaded online, despite the bombardment outside. There’s several videos out there with subtitles, more without, but I really recommend this set by comedian Felix Redka in a bomb shelter in Sumy – he’s quite funny, with dark wartime gallows humour, and the English subtitles are excellent.

ECUADOR: By drone

Join me on a neat little trip by drone, starting in Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador and a major trading port.

Then the beautiful rugged Andes in the middle of the country, and Quito, located high up in them:

Then down past the volcanoes into the Ecuadorian Amazon forest of the interior:

And to come back as far as you can go in the other direction, and watch the sea turtles from above in the Galapagos:

GABON: Streetviews

I’ve been having fun poking through the streetviews of Gabon on Google – there’s hasn’t been comprehensive street-by-street coverage yet, so it’s just what individuals have uploaded themselves. There’s a total mix – some beautiful and scenic views and some very prosaic or random ones. One of the prettiest is this sunrise drone shot of Libreville.

Also on a quiet early morning in front of a fancy hotel in Libreville. It makes me feel like that first jetlagged morning on vacation when you wake up at an unholy hour and go out for a walk just as the day wakes. There’s also an nicely decorated mosque next door and flags of neighbouring countries in front.

A nice shot of the beach in Loango National Park, a large park with rare protected ecosystems and wildlife, including the famed “surfing hippos“.

A view from the top of the Kongou falls, way in the interior.

I like this one, because it not only gives you a sense of the thick forests around the country, but this one guy seamlessly getting three times in the shot.

There are lots of really random streetviews of offices, stores, and other buildings. I like this upstairs of a homegoods store mainly because I really want that multi-coloured square rug.

This one I like for no other reason that this random office in Gabon has the exact same colour combination as my own living room.

We’re two of a kind.

GABON: Boxing Libreville (2018)

Boxing Libreville is a 2018 documentary film by Gabonese director Amédée Pacôme Nkoulou, following a boxer, Christ, as he trains for a match during the contested 2016 Gabonese election. Christ works as a bouncer at clubs to make ends meet, as well as security at Ali Bongo‘s political rallies. His girlfriend (who quietly supports Jean Ping, Bongo’s opponent) leaves at the same time to work at a hair salon in France, with both of them uncertain how their relationship will work long distance. The film is both a powerful slice of life of normal people during a politically charged time, and a quiet metaphor about political change (or lack thereof) in Gabon. Boxing Libreville is available free online, with subtitles, at ARTE.

GABON: J-Rio – ALOUK / Traditional weddings

Not just a heartwarming and upbeat jam by singer J-Rio, but also a cool intro to wedding traditions from Gabon. There’s a few different styles of weddings in Gabon, some people have a “civil” wedding, which is similar to Western weddings – bride wearing white, the couple exchanging vows, usually officiated by a judge or Christian priest.

The other main style of wedding is “traditional” or “customary” (like in the above music video) – blue is a much more common wedding colour, but there are lots of beautiful colour combinations and patterns, usually coordinated for the whole family. There’s a great rundown on traditional Gabonese wedding outfits at D&D Clothing.

For a traditional wedding, the ceremony involves the groom and his family gathering up symbolic items for a dowry from a list provided by the bride’s family. The bride will then take a “ticket” of the dowry, place it at her father’s feet and ask for his blessing. Once the ticket is accepted and the blessing is given, the bride is seated on her mother-in-law’s knee and the marriage is official.

The bride usually carries a basket for the ticket, traditional fans to obscure her face, and other wedding symbols (especially in Fang traditional weddings, who are about a quarter of Gabon’s population). There’s also fun traditions like setting up “tolls” between the two families, where members of the other family must throw money to pass. Gabonese blogger Chérine has some beautiful pics from her own wedding at her site Chey Libreville, with an article (in French) about cross-cultural weddings and how to blend different traditions.

NEW ZEALAND: Chatham Islands and Moriori

The Chatham Islands – Source

When we think about New Zealand, we mainly just think about the North and South Islands, but there are others, including inhabited ones. Here’s a long-form slice of life documentary about life on the Chatham Islands – a series of small, extremely remote islands. They’re so remote that, while they are an integral part of Aotearoa, residents refer to the main islands as “New Zealand”. The way they build community and live with the isolation really reminds me of Newfoundland outports or the Arctic, though comparatively more temperate in weather!

(If you like this format and want another slice of life documentary from the opposite side of the world, I recommend Shqipëria – Notes from Albania.)

What really caught my eye was the statue of Tame Horomona Rehe (Tommy Solomon), believed to be the last Moriori person of unmixed ancestry. The Moriori are the indigenous people of the Chatham Islands, who diverged from the Maori on the main islands around 1500. After initial inter-tribal wars, the Moriori came to a commitment to pacifism under Nunuku’s Law. Unfortunately, this peace and relative isolation was shattered in the 1800s, when Maori began arriving following the Musket Wars – brutal inter-iwi wars fuelled by English weapons. The Maori seized much of the Moriori land and the combination of massacres and enslavement is known as the Moriori genocide – only about 100 Moriori survived. Most Maori later returned to New Zealand, and were replaced by white settlers.

Moriori culture has undergone a revival, especially in asserting culture, connections to the land, and debunking the very myth that they had been fully wiped out, which was taught for decades in New Zealand schools. Trips are organized to bring those with Moriori ancestry together to build on their cultural practices and knowledge, as well as protecting the traditionally carved living trees on the island:

While the Moriori language no longer has native speakers, there are efforts to revive and use the language – including this beautiful lullaby, E PōPō Tchimiriki (lyrics and translation in the vid’s description).

In 2020 a treaty settlement was signed between the Moriori and the New Zealand government, which both aimed to redress historical wrongs caused by both Pakeha and Maori, and give formal recognition to the Moriori. Here’s an interesting news clip from New Zealand’s Maori-language public broadcaster (with English subtitles) – it’s notable what is not mentioned: