I already did a whole month on Israel (it actually was the second country I covered), but this month has been a part 2, as I had the great opportunity to travel to Israel for the first time this month. It’s also the first time I’ve been out of the country since the pandemic started – last time was Sep 2019 to Mexico City.
I covered a lot of turf in the three weeks I was in Israel: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, the Golan Heights, Haifa, Nazareth, the Dead Sea, plus trips into the Palestinian Territories and Jordan. There was just so much to take in – the historical sites, the religious sites, the food, the conflicts, the politics, the diversity, and the stuff I had no idea about before I even went.
There’s no way I can capture my whole experience, but I hope I’ve been able to share a bit of what hit me most. One of the things that hit me, especially as we stood on a lookout with some UN officers into what had been a Syrian warzone only a few years ago, was just how small and packed-together everything is. There’s little room to maneuver for anyone.
Likewise, getting to see the most contested and controversial piece of real estate in the world, the Temple Mount, is something that I’ll remember my whole life. Touching the Western Wall, working my way up to the Dome of the Rock, and seeing these historic and modern flashpoints in person will definitely change how I see the next time that conflict breaks out.
And speaking of conflict, getting to experience a “weekend war” of rockets from Gaza? As an Israeli friend put it, I definitely got the real Israel experience. Israelis really do treat attacks the way we Canadians take bad winter weather – be careful on the roads, but not a reason to panic.
That’s not the only conflict I got to witness. I’m still so pleased that, among all the contested and historic religious sites, I got to see the most important one of all: the immovable ladder.
I also got to see some of realities that Israelis deal with every day, including a trip to the Knesset in the middle of the fifth election in three years. I was also hit hard by the fast-moving environmental disaster of the Dead Sea, likely to be gone in my lifetime. It enjoyed floating in it while I could.
But Israel isn’t all conflict and tension, there were so many beautiful, fun, or even mundane things that I loved. The Haifa Carmelit. Good dark comedy. Cats everywhere. The Tel Aviv beaches. The markets. The fast train between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
The moment Avi, one of the best tour guides I’ve ever met, read out in his New York accent the last stand of the Jews from Josephus, as we stood on the spot on Masada itself.
I can also now say on good authority that 36C and 80% humidity is much worse than 44C and desert-dry. I’m already a winter person, but my god, if I ever complain about the snow in Ottawa, I’m going to remember just how sweaty Tel Aviv was.
Best of all on this trip was the food. So much amazing food and drink, and fresher than anything you’d get in Canada – I don’t think I can have hummus or falafel here anymore, there’s no competition.
And just to cap it off, this shirt is definitely on my “most hilariously out-of-pocket souvenir” list.
Pysanky are pretty big in the part of Canada I grew up in (we even have a giant pysanky to go with the giant pierogi), and skilled pysanky are absolute stunning pieces of art. Pysanky (singular pysanka) are highly-decorated Ukrainian Easter eggs, made the same way batik is – using wax to cover layers of dye to make designs. There’s a lot of tradition in Ukraine over giving pysanky during the Easter season and a lot of meaning carried by the designs, and the art has been carried through the Ukrainian diaspora. They’re more than just decorative like the dip-dyed Easter eggs you make as a kid.
I’m going to try making pysanky for the first time! I’m a total novice, so I ordered a pysanky kit from This Folk Life – dyes, beeswax, candle, and a kistka (the stylus to draw wax with). All I needed was a few eggs, and egg piercer (the one from my egg steamer) and some boiling water and vinegar. It really helps to put newspaper down as well – I was also glad I have a black kitchen table.
It helps to sketch patterns on the eggshell with a pencil. I found some really helpful step-by-step beginner patterns at LearnPysanky.com and a general tutorial from the Capital Ukrainian Festival here in Ottawa. You work from lightest to darkest colours, using the candle to melt the beeswax into the kitska.
Once the dyeing is done, if you want to keep the egg, you’ll need to empty it. It’s a delicate process but between a needle to poke holes and a bobby pin / paperclip to break up the yolk, you can blow the insides out without breaking the shell.
If you want to keep your egg, you have to empty it before getting to the really fun part, melting the wax (or else you’ll have some hardboiled egg inside). You use the side of the flame and wipe gently with a paper towel, and it’s really fun to see your design emerge.
It’s very rudimentary, but I’m really proud of my very first pysanky!
I had a couple more eggs, so I played around with patterns and different colours. It takes some practice to not “sketch” the lines in wax and just commit to one line, and filling in larger sections with wax so there’s no gaps is tricky. I got creative with an impressionist (that’s what I’m calling it) Ukrainian sunflower.
This was super messy, super fun, and I think I’m hooked. The dye will keep, so I may go get some more eggs and see practice some more!
It’s been a particularly cold January here in Ottawa, with the last two weeks at -20C, so my skin needs some TLC right now. I picked up a couple a New Zealand-made face creams to give myself a little spa day. Both Lancocrème and By Nature are owned by the same company, and use some very New Zealand export products in their cosmetics – lanolin and manuka honey.
There’s been a lot of advertising spin about manuka honey as a panacea and a cure-all, but really, it’s just honey where bees have been collecting pollen from manuka plants, which gives it an unique taste. It’s not the only honey that’s flavoured by plants’ pollen, and some can be very tasty (I particularly like buckwheat honey), but it’s all just honey in the end. That being said, honey itself is a pretty good moisturizer for skin.
By Nature Mask Duo – A wash-off mask with hyaluronic acid and a texture almost like jello, it had a nice mild floral scent. It was pretty fun but a bit messy. The manuka honey sleep mask didn’t smell of honey, but went on thick and did a really amazing job moisturizing my skin overnight. I was feeling my face all through the day and it was noticeably smoother.
Lanocrème Face Creams – These are all lanolin-based face creams – lanolin being a moisturizing byproduct of wool. These three creams each use an added ingredient – vitamin E, collagen, and more manuka honey. They’re all very thick creams, though I think the honey one is thickest, and they all have mild, floral scents. They do a great job on my winter-dry skin, but they would be too heavy and oily for me in hot weather. I’m going to try taking a pot with me to apply right before going skating on the canal, I’m hoping it’ll form a frostbite barrier!
My first year of Locally Foreign is coming to a close – I’m including the first month I did in December 2020 as part of it. It’s been incredibly fun to start this project – I’ve had friends and family join in (especially to play 20 Questions to guess next month’s country) and this has turned into such an enjoyable hobby. I’ve read a lot of good books, tried new food, listened to new music, and learned so much about different parts of the world.
This year (and a month) I covered 13 countries. My random selection pulled a good variety of countries: 2 Latin American, 1 Caribbean, 3 European, 2 Mid-East/North Africa, 2 Sub-Saharan African, 2 Asian, and 1 Pacific – though I do “re-roll” if I get a country too close to a recent one. For 2020/2021, I covered:
My goal each month is to learn new things about the given country – sometimes I’m starting with almost no knowledge (like Mozambique), and sometimes it’s a place I’m already familiar with (like Finland). A familiar country can pose it’s own challenges; and it can be an embarrassment of riches with countries that have a big online presence in English or French. I haven’t yet run into what I’m calling the “mega-countries” – places like the UK, US, India, or China – those may be genuinely overwhelming when I do come to them.
However, that’s the fun of it – I’m not trying to become a scholar and expert on each country I cover. I just want to get a glimpse and come away knowing a little bit more than I did before, and have a bit more richness of experience in my daily life.
Here are some of my favourite things from this last year:
While I’m not a cooking blog, food definitely makes up a big part of my posts. I tend to split food posts up into recipes I cooked myself, restaurants I’ve gone to, and snacks imported from that country. Here are some of my favs:
Each month had more than just recipes and books – even at the superficial one-month level, I was able to learn so much about each country’s history and culture, and examine my own biases and blank spots. At the end of each month, I summed up what I learned. For countries I knew little about going in, like San Marino, Mozambique, Togo, Albania, and Uzbekistan, I got great introductions to their history, arts, geopolitics, cuisine, philosophy, conflicts, and more. For more familiar countries, like Finland, Chile, Thailand, and Trinidad and Tobago, I was lucky to get a richer and more complex understanding and engage more with content created by people from those countries, instead of about them. Israel was a look into the internal complexities, conflicts, and culture outside of the Israel-Palestinian conflict that dominates most of our headspace. I had only heard of El Salvador in the context of gang violence, and that month helped bust a lot of stereotypes I held. Algeria made me think critically about settler colonialism – what, if anything, is the difference morally between French Algeria and Canada, and what narratives do we construct to justify our history?
Nauru was probably the most genuinely impactful month in my own life. The story of this tiny country, which had the sudden rise and dramatic fall of a lottery winner, is deeply interesting on its own. I also had the good fortune to get to know Nauruan writer and teacher Elmina Quadina, who shared her own experiences (and a great recipe). But the biggest impact was reading The Undesirables by Mark Isaacs – an exposé into Australia’s refugee detention camps on Nauru and Manus. This is a live issue, with people still being held in contravention of international law. After reading that book and talking further with Isaacs, I got involved with #OperationNotForgotten, run by MOSAIC and Ads Up Canada. This program is hoping to resettle the remaining refugees through Canada’s private refugee sponsorship program. I’m now on a settlement team here in Ottawa, and we’re working with with someone currently on Nauru that we are hoping to help get to Canada, and once here, help them settle in. The first few people have already arrived in Canada, and we’re hoping to welcome the rest as soon as possible!
Now, with Locally Foreign, there’s always stuff I wish I could have done better or stuff I missed out on. I had a few things that I ordered come too late to include in that month, most notably the excellent novella Neighbours: The Story of a Murder by Mozambican author Lília Momplé. I was also hoping to get an chekich bread stamp for my Uzbek non, but it got hung up in customs.
Looking back, there’s a few subjects I could have done better on. I absolutely dropped the ball on Israeli food – there’s so many good recipes like shakshuka or the immense variety of Jewish cuisine from the Diaspora that has returned to Israel, and I really did not do justice to that cuisine!
I also debated on how much I wanted to focus on conflicts, poverty, or oppression – I certainly don’t shy away from posting about real issues in countries, but I feel that’s also the only things we read about some countries in the media. Looking back, I also noticed I only really post about LGBTQ matters in countries where the situation is either positive or improving – I guess it’s because I’m well aware already that homophobia runs deep in many parts of the world.
All in all, it’s been a great first year, and I’m really excited for what I’m going to learn next year! For everyone that’s followed along, commented, or contributed – thank you!