Making a pie in Mali for Christmas

Market, Bamako, Mali

Market, Bamako, Mali

So you’ve come to Mali to teach school. You’re thousands of miles away from home, missing family and in a couple of weeks you’ll be celebrating Christmas.

You and your roommate decide to host a dinner for your fellow volunteers, a motley group of singles and one married couple.

Chicken will substitute for the turkey. Plenty of potatoes and veggies to be found in the market. Nothing to simulate cranberry sauce, but dressing and gravy are doable. Your roommate’s copy of Fanny Farmer’s Cookbook is a godsend as good old Fanny’s recipes are basic and you can find most of the ingredients, if not all the spices.

Now for the sweets. No way to make shortbread. Cookies, sure, but are they really festive enough?

Then one day you trot off (ie walk slowly in the heat) to the market near your house to buy some veggies, and there, in a little three-walled shack made of corrugated tin, you spot a barrel of liquid, identity unknown. You speak enough Bambara to ask what it is, but you don’t understand the answer.

“Let’s buy some,” your friend says.

“What for?” you ask.

“She shrugs. Maybe we can figure out what to do with it.”

She’s the cook so you agree and head home for a jar and trudge back to the market where the vendor fills it for you. You take it home and put it in the fridge.

The next day, you see that the clear liquid has solidified to a white paste. You dip in a finger and rub a bit against your thumb.

“Texture of shortening,” your friend says, then gives it a sniff and a lick. “Let’s try making a pie.”

“A pie! What will we use for filling?”

Back to the market, the big one downtown this time and there you find a variety of tinned foods from China fortunately with pictures on the labels. You choose apples, buy a couple of tins, take them home, thicken the juice with flour, and proceed to make the crust.

Because there are no plastic bags (or containers with lids) to be had, you keep the flour in a calabash bowl covered with a cloth. You take off the cloth, tap the sides of the bowl, spin it and tap again. Tiny bugs (flour beetles? flour mites? weevils?) scurry up the sides. You tap and spin until satisfied the flour is bug free and measure out the amount needed. You refuse to worry about germs. Your rationale? The heat of baking will kill them.

And, the pie? Delicious. The pastry the flakiest you’ve ever had. Only later do you learn that the liquid you bought at the market was the very Shea butter now found in skin care products.

P.S. I’m off to Mexico for a month, where I once tried making shortbread for Christmas, but it was so hot the dough melted.


A picture paints 300 words for this prairie girl

This story was inspired by Anneli’s challenge to write 300 words about her picture above taken in Montana. I lived in Saskatchewan as a child so this scene is familiar to me.


The Farm

She pulled the wooden chair over to the wall, climbed up on it and turned on the radio. Hop-Along Cassidy, her favorite show was coming on and with her ear glued to the radio, she wouldn’t miss even one word of it.

Suddenly, her dad ran into the kitchen—without even taking his boots off—calling for her mother. She wanted to ask him to be quiet, but knew better and plastered her ear even harder against the radio speaker.

Her mother came in from the bedroom. “What’s wrong?”

“My wallet. I’ve lost my wallet.” She shivered for the voice coming out of her father’s mouth didn’t sound like him.

“Here,” her mother said, shoving the baby into her arms, and switching off the radio. And then her parents were gone. Scared to get off the chair with the baby in her arms, she stayed where she was. She tried reaching the knob to turn the radio back on, but wasn’t able to hold the baby with just one hand.

From where she stood, she could see out the small porch window. The tractor and harrow stood in the middle of the field and her parents ran around madly, with their heads down as if searching for something.

A very long time later, her mother came in and took the baby from her aching arms. She climbed down from the chair and put it back by the table. Then her father came in. He was crying. She’d never seen him cry before and the great sobs tore at something inside her.

“Forty dollars?” her mother asked.

Her father nodded.

“It was supposed to last us the winter.”

Her father nodded again and sank onto one of the kitchen chairs, staring down at the floor. The silence seemed to drag on forever. They went to bed soon after. Her mother didn’t even cook dinner that night.

The sounds that live in us


What is it about sounds that seep into our soul? And, why is it that the sounds of night lodge most deeply and forever in our psyche?

Saskatchewan: The cramping solitude and loneliness of the Canadian prairies captured in the mournful tones of the train whistle—reverberations that carry for miles across the hard packed snow, sounds that haunt me still; that cause an ache in my heart for all the things lost. An ache that brings tears to my eyes all these years later.

Alberta: The squeal of crotch rockets roaring down the boulevard near our house—I shivered then and shiver again now as I cannot shake the image of bodies sprawled on the tarmac seeping blood onto the road and bikes, marooned some yards away, reclining on their sides, wheels spinning crazily, denying any connection to their riders.

Mali: The crowing of roosters—not just at dawn. Roosters crow whenever they damn well please and they please to crow all night long. Donkeys don’t sleep at night either. Instead, they bray on the other side of the mud brick wall sending us jumping a few feet into the air each time we hear the grating and drawn out love song of their heehaws. Heartbroken and heartbreaking commentaries on life.

Mexico: More roosters—these ones crowing day and night. And which clown thought it would be funny to set my cell ringtone to “rooster?” Add the whine and squeal of a semi’s brakes as the drivers realize they really should slow down for the red lights of the town. And, from time to time, the sound of metal crunching against metal followed by the wail of sirens.

British Columbia: The mournful tones of cruise ship and ferry fog horns and we’ve come full circle. Not trains, but once again, at night we hear, those drawn out echoes rolling over the water, sounds that render us vulnerable to bouts of loneliness and even despair.

Good or bad, sleep or no, could we live without the sounds that anchor us to our environment, to life?


We watch American fall



One man whipped a populace into a frenzy and we got WWII.


One man whipped a populace into a frenzy and we’ll get _______?

I have no idea how to fill in the blank on this one. As a white Canadian, it would be easy to say, “Everything will be okay.” But, I don’t believe that for a minute.

I do know that I can’t bury my head in the sand. I have to watch the news, know what is happening, and do what I can in my corner of the world to help protect those who are at risk of being injured or killed.

Am I racist? (The reason I ask the question is Trump’s fault.)











On the surface, I don’t think so. I grew up on an isolated farm. The first time I saw a black man was the porter on the train. I remember my little sister saying, “Mom, that man forgot to wash his face.”

I didn’t see another black person until moved to the city and I met the one boy in my junior high school who was a black from the US. I wasn’t a friend of his so I don’t know what prejudice he faced, but I do know he was a member of the “in group.”

Then I went to Mali as a CUSO volunteer. We were a group of twenty Canadians in the capital, Bamako. The neighborhood children ran up to touch us and then looked at their hands to see if the white came off. We often felt the gentle touch of a hand on our hair as we worked with our high school students. We were taken to the front of the line to see the doctor, not because we were white, but because we were respected for having left the safety of our homes to come to work in Mali.

In these limited experiences, I felt no racism except perhaps a reverse one in Mali that worked in my favor.

Recently, I read two novels with an African American female as the protagonist. As I read, I was jolted each time something in the story reminded me of her color. Obviously, I was subconsciously seeing her in mind as white like me.


  1. Because, as a reader we all tend to identify with the hero or heroine and automatically see them as we see ourselves?
  2. Because, color isn’t an issue for me and I wasn’t consciously thinking of that as I read?
  3. Because I am racist and I couldn’t possibly see the heroine as a woman of color?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that a year or two ago these questions likely wouldn’t have entered my head. I’d have read the story, pondered what I liked about it, what I’d learned from it, likely recommended the book to friends, and then picked up the next on my “to read” list.

What changed?

Trump came on the scene and the media coverage that allowed him to build and grow his attacks on decency obviously impacted my mindset. Even though I’m not American and can’t vote in the election, I’m seeing much too much of him in the media here in Canada and on Facebook. His statements are abhorrent. I feel sick watching him, yet I’m obsessed and can’t turn the computer off.

I cringe when I see the picture of black manikins hanging in trees as Halloween “decorations.” I cry when I see African Americans attacked at his rallies. I fume when I see him stalk Hillary at the debates. And, I am enraged when I learn of his sexual attacks on so many women. His abuses of his position and his power are staggering—almost beyond belief.

The more I watch and read, the more afraid I am of his virulent actions and the actions of some of his followers. How far will this go? I pray he loses the election, but even then, I expect we’ll see an ugly, violent backlash.

Does any of this answer my original question? Am I racist? I don’t think so. What I do know is that somewhere in all of this mess, we all need to find ways to move to genuine goodwill in our treatment of others.


Off to the pumpkin patch we go

Victoria has it all. Flowers, boats, owls (see below) … and a pumpkin patch. Of course we have to take the munchkin so she can pick her own pumpkin.





My last post was a picture of an owl in downtown Victoria. There are many myths about owls. Here’s what my friend in Nigeria had to say.

Well, some people — my dad’s mother included — believe that the sudden appearance of an owl anywhere near a person’s home is a sign of bad luck or impending doom. Not everyone gets to see the sign. As for my grandma, she believed occultists/those who practiced juju used these birds as a travel medium to see their enemies or hunt their victims.

And, after tomorrow, we turn our attention to Christmas.

What’s a typhoon doing in Victoria?


What’s a typhoon doing up here in Canada, you ask? Well, Typhoon Songda, born 5,000 miles away in the Marshall Islands, has decided to pay us a visit. A visit we could well do without.

Most typhoons either hit land and exhaust themselves or simply peter out as they track across the Pacific. But Songda, after hitching a ride on a jet stream, is revving up again and has now become what’s called a mid-latitude cyclone, which can be larger than tropical storms., have much farther-reaching effects.

At 2:30 this afternoon we went out to Clover Point to have a look. The wind whipped the car doors out of our hands and our normally calm waters were acting up.


Now, at 5 pm the Gorge waters in front of our home are “blowin’ in the wind.” Predictions are for winds up to 90k or more later tonight.

So, we batten the hatches and wait.


Enjoying Victoria, BC

Coming from the prairies, one of our most pleasurable experiences here in Victoria, is enjoying the water–from riding the water taxi to get downtown, to visiting Fisherman’s wharf where we admire the lush vegetation, the house boats, the boat boats and feed the seals.





Castles in Canada – Victoria, BC

With the visit of Prince William and Kate this week, this post seems appropriate.

Victoria’s very own – Craigdarroch Castle.




Craigdarroch Castle is a definitively Victorian experience. It is a shining example of a “bonanza castle” — massive houses built for entrepreneurs who became wealthy during the industrial age. In this case, the industrialist was Robert Dunsmuir, a Scottish immigrant who made his fortune from Vancouver Island coal.

This legendary Victorian mansion, built between 1887 and 1890 on a hill overlooking the City of Victoria, announced to the world that Robert Dunsmuir was the richest and most important man in Western Canada.

He died in 1889, leaving his entire estate to his wife Joan, who lived in the Castle until her death in 1908.

The immense fortune of the Dunsmuir family is reflected in the four floors of exquisite stained glass windows, intricate woodwork and fabulous Victorian-era furnishings.

Learn more: