The door of no return in West Africa

The Toronto Star | Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

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GORÉE ISLAND, SENEGAL—There is a door on the shores of this island that looks out to the Atlantic. There isn’t much to see from it, just blue waters glittering in the hot West African sun, the pleasant lapping of waves upon rock, a naked horizon that, for a dreamer, would inspire a sense of possibility. Yet for thousands of captive slaves that passed through this “Door of No Return,” the view meant being ripped from their homeland, a horrifying voyage across an ocean, and a cruel fate.

Gorée Island (Île de Gorée) is 3 km from mainland Dakar, Senegal’s capital city. Today, the inhabited island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a respite from Dakar’s urban hustle and on-your-toes intensity. As I arrive by ferry I see lofty palms and fuchsia bougainvilleas clinging to brightly-painted colonial buildings adorned with old world shutters and terracotta roofs. Children splash around at the beach. For centuries, Gorée served as a trading post and small port to ship goods—including human cargo—on the Atlantic trade route. Read on…

Laos spices things up with unique cuisine

The Toronto Star | Thursday, February 17th, 2011

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LUANG PRABANG, LAOS—The irony of Joy’s name doesn’t escape me as he sighs and trudges over to my cooking station to show me, once again, how to stuff the ground chicken mixture into the cut stalk of lemongrass. In all fairness, Joy is a Lao chef and cooking instructor, not a saint.

Moments earlier I had been happily exuding the confidence of a domestic goddess in pulverizing the meat with herbs via mortar and pestle, discovering my knack for culinary skills that require only brute force. Anything that requires dexterity, delicacy, finesse, coordination or patience however. . . Read on…

Venerable Vietnam

The Toronto Star | Saturday, October 9th, 2010

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HA GIANG, VIETNAM—The internal struggle is visible in the old man’s eyes. He can’t hold back any longer.

Curiosity wins over propriety. Grabbing Chris’ arm hair, he gives it a firm tug. Giggles and excited chatter erupt from the crowd.

For the people of remote Ha Giang, this isn’t a typical day at the market.

The province of Ha Giang is 300 kilometres from the capital of Hanoi in Vietnam’s mountainous north, bordering China. It is home to a multitude of hill tribes, dubbed “montagnards” by the French. Heading to this region is something I’ve wanted to do since seeing a photo of a Black Hmong girl, face beaming and dressed in an exuberantly colourful tribal outfit. The photo was a revelation about Vietnam’s astounding diversity, a window into a country with a total of 54 recognized ethnic groups. Read on…