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Goya love: From India to Japan, a bitter gourd and taste of home | Food



By the time I was 14, my family was visiting Jorhat annually during summer breaks – taking a 33-hour train ride from Bombay to Calcutta, then an overnight stay at the Broadway Hotel on Calcutta’s Esplanade Street, followed by an Indian Airlines flight at noon to Assam’s capital, Guwahati, 20 days at my mother’s family home in Guwahati, and finally an eight-hour bus ride from Guwahati to Jorhat which included a 30-minute lunch break at the same highway restaurant in Nagaon, always.

As I look back on these trips during the early 1990s, I understand that they were to connect with my family’s roots in Assam in India’s northeast, a region so far from the country’s megapolis Bombay (now Mumbai) that there was no direct flight back then; flying westward to Dubai was cheaper and takes less time even today.

In Bombay, I was the only Assamese girl in my school until I was 15; my brother was the only Assamese boy at his school. Both of us proudly proclaimed ourselves as Assamese, and our parents took pride in teaching us the Assamese script during shorter Diwali holidays. We would write three-sentence letters to our older relatives in Assam; during summer holidays in Assam, my brother and I would try to read signage.

Priyanka’s ancestral home in the mid-1990s [Photo courtesy of Priyanka Borpujari]

A gourd with crocodile’s skin

During one of the trips to Jorhat – definitely before I turned 10, because habits needed to be instilled early – Khura presided over the dining table in an authoritative way, unlike at any other meal. Even though Khura is my father’s younger brother, he commanded authority in that massive nearly-century-old house that has been witness to several births, marriages and deaths. Over the years, he had become the gentle patriarch of the family, whose opinion was sought on all matters, even by his married older sisters and their children.

Khura was the one who took my mother to the hospital when she was in labour. Khuri, the wife of my father’s younger brother, was the first person in my family to hold me after I emerged from a liquid world into this one. So it was obvious that certain habits would be instilled in me, in my birth home in Jorhat, by Khura. His one stare was enough that particular day: somehow the fried karela finally made its way down into my intestine. I may have seen a devilish smile on my mother’s face. I think I was too scared of the consequences if I threw up.

Goya love - Priyanka Borpujari

Priyanka’s parents (left) with Khura and Khuri (right), when the latter visited their Bombay home for the first time ever, in 2000 [Photo courtesy of Priyanka Borpujari]

Karela (bitter gourd) is the nemesis of Indian children. Shaped like a long mouse, the gourd has rough ridges that resemble a crocodile’s skin (I remember this resemblance when I went to the zoo and saw that giant amphibian napping under the sun, half its body submerged in an artificial swamp). Laterally cut, if someone were to dip the karela in watercolour and then stamp it on a paper, the image would be of a flower with a large visible pistil, and small petals of different lengths and widths. But we could not use karela for art: we had to eat it, compulsorily. And kids dreaded karela.

For, karela is bitter, perhaps the most bitter taste that my child’s tongue had encountered. My parents had been trying to get me to eat it: “It’s good for your stomach since you anyway suffer from constipation.” But the fussy eater that I was, I did not budge. (My younger brother, not a fussy eater by any measure, does not eat it even today). So my mother realised that I had to undergo a rite-of-passage in Jorhat, as the daughter of the Borpujari family. And that is how, Khura, once again, went for his post-lunch siesta following the triumph of having introduced karela to yet another scared and grumpy kid.

And I am glad for that fear of retribution (no chocolates) if I did not eat my karela during the rest of that summer holiday. Because it instilled in me, eventually, an ardent love for karela.

Goya love - Priyanka Borpujari

Karela, a mouse-shaped vegetable with a ridged exterior and bitter taste [Mike Derer/AP Photo]

Comforting blanket

Sliced about a centimetre thick (and every karela yields, I guess, about 20 slices), Assamese homes throw them into a wok of hot mustard oil. Chillies are added sometimes, but turmeric and salt are added always. The lid might go on but eventually, and what comes onto the plate are deep-fried karela slices, some of them fried until almost burned and crispy.

Since Assamese households often have more than one dish to go along with the staple of rice – one bowl of lentils, and two vegetables, and fish, obviously, because of the mighty Brahmaputra river flowing through and across Assam – fried karela is the first to be eaten with the rice. The oil gives just enough viscosity for the two to be eaten together. On days when I would return from work late and soaked in Bombay’s monsoon rain, karela fry, daal (lentils) and hot rice aplenty became an unusual comforting blanket.

Goya love - Priyanka Borpujari

A photo from 1984 of Priyanka’s father’s family in Jorhat, immediately after her parents got married; today, from the photo of 25 people, only 14 are still alive [Photo courtesy of Priyanka Borpujari]

Over the years, I have travelled and lived in various countries, and have eaten various vegetables that I had never seen in India while growing up: Brussels sprouts, avocado, prunes, maple syrup and more. I was raised in an India where only domestically-grown fruits and vegetables were consumed. In fact, my platter in Bombay was very different from that in Assam during the holidays: the vast distance between the two places meant a vast difference in the flora and fauna. My Assamese cousins visiting us in Bombay could not stand the taste of sea fish; friends visiting us in Bombay could not fathom the taste of the river fish that one particular vendor at the local fish market would sell to Papa. Travelling abroad over extended months, I have missed karela fry; I have missed the atypical ways that both sea fish (mackerel) and river fish (carp) are cooked in Bombay and Assam, respectively.

Mocking meals

In recent years, Western foods have appeared in the Indian market, obviously at a high price. At the same time, supermarkets in the West have long stocked up on “Indian Curry Masala”, an idea that feels simply wrong.

Curry can be best described as sauce, and there is not one type of sauce. How could there be just one Indian curry, when India is geographically as large as Europe? Do we consider one type of pasta sauce to be the sauce eaten with every dish across Europe? When people in the West proclaim to me, “I love curry,” what I hear is, “I love food.”

As an Assamese raised in Bombay, my mother cooked several types of Assamese curries, each with a distinct texture and a name rendering that identity for it. As a resident of Bombay, I was exposed to foods of other parts of India – our neighbours and my family were almost always sharing food – and they too had different names for their curries. We would mock the twisted names of their curries; they would mock ours. Maybe we were doing to each others’ meals what the West does to “Indian curry”?

Goya love - Priyanka Borpujari

Priyanka and her brother, aged four and one, enjoying cleaning and tidying their Bombay home [Photo courtesy of Priyanka Borpujari]

In a foreign land

One evening in Tokyo in October 2019, a month after I had arrived in Japan, I found myself at Gyomu Super market. I was told that it stocked foreign foods. I reckoned a trip through a food market with ingredients I recognised would soothe the discomfort I felt as a gaijin (foreigner); an identity I was confronted with repeatedly, albeit politely, as I tried to make sense of the endless rules that seemed to govern every institution.

Walking through the vegetable section and adding ginger, potatoes, onions and tomatoes to my shopping basket, I was converting the Japanese yen to Indian rupee on a phone app. And then suddenly, I saw the vegetable that took me back to summer holidays in Jorhat with Khura glaring at me, and Bombay dinners with my family.

Goya love - Priyanka Borpujari

Priyanka within a week of arriving in Tokyo [Photo courtesy of Priyanka Borpujari]

I had travelled to more than 20 countries and never before found it, but here it was in Japan.

I looked around, then picked up the karela and sniffed it instinctively before smiling at my own stupidity: it has no strong scent.

The currency converter on my phone told me that it was too expensive. But seeing karela that day in a foreign land where I had finally set up a home after many years on the road assured me that I could recreate familiar and familial memories there.

But how could I explain my karela to Japanese ears – when they are already familiar with it? And how would I call this comforting vegetable by its new name, in a new land?


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Museveni: We Don’t Encourage Export of Labour




President Museveni has urged Ugandans to exploit the available resources to create jobs and stem labour export.

Uganda does not encourage the export of human labour resource abroad,” said Museveni on Saturday, April 10.

”Uganda is a very rich country. It is bad to be poor. What matters is to have attitude change among our people and to put the available resources into use to create jobs,” he emphasized.

 Museveni said Uganda should emulate countries like South Korea and Japan whose nationals do not seek for jobs outside their countries.

The President was meeting the Regional Director of International Organization for Migration (IOM) Mohammed Abdiker in charge of East and the Horn of Africa who was accompanied by the UN Resident Coordinator, Rosa Malango.

Uganda has one of the highest population growth rates globally with more than 78% of its population below 30 years.

This is the productive age of many people but while the labour force is increasing with each passing year, the labour market is actually shrinking rendering it incapable of accommodating the 500,000 young Ugandans that join the labour market annually.

This makes labour export the most feasible alternative way out of this unemployment conundrum.

Uganda adopted the externalization of labour in 2005 as a measure to shed off its excess and abundant labour force though this policy has culminated into an industry that is lucrative but unregulated hence the making the need for regulatory processes more needed today than ever before.

Ugandan women were recently warned against the increasing number of criminal gangs in Kampala city who allegedly recruit girls on the streets promising them ‘juicy jobs in Malaysia and other East Asian countries and instead sell them into forced prostitution.

Remittances to Uganda have increased from $ 1.6 billion (Sh4.6 trillion) in 2016, to $ 2.0bn (Sh7 trillion in 2017 and they can only go higher as the labour export industry is regulated and formalized so that the nation can gain from the labour and exploits of her citizens.

Meanwhile, Museveni and Malango discussed the current political situation in the region including Somalia, South Sudan and the DRC.

During the meeting that was held at Independence Grounds at Kololo, the President said the political solution to Somalia was to senstize the nationals about the weaknesses of fronting issues of identity including tribal and religion as opposed to people’s common interests to achieve Socia-economic transformation, prosperity and political stability.

Mr. Mohammed Abdiker thanked the President for his tremendous input on two fronts mainly; fighting for the political stability of Somalia and South Sudan and combating Covid-19 pandemic.

He thanked the President for his support to IOM programmes on disaster response and refugees.

The post Museveni: We Don’t Encourage Export of Labour first appeared on ChimpReports.

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Opposition sidelined as Benin votes in presidential election | Elections News




With most rivals in exile or sidelined, Benin’s President Patrice Talon looks set to win a second term in office.

Voters in Benin are set to cast their ballots in a presidential election on Sunday, days after deadly protests against President Patrice Talon, who is heavily favoured to win a second term.

Talon, a cotton magnate first elected in 2016, faces off against two little-known rivals, Alassane Soumanou and Corentin Kohoue.

Opponents accuse the 62-year-old Talon of undermining Benin’s vibrant multi-party democracy by sidelining most of his main opponents.

Protests in several cities last week turned violent. At least two people died in the central city of Save when troops on Thursday fired tear gas and live rounds to break up protesters who had blocked a major highway. Five others were wounded.

In the commercial capital Cotonou, several people said they feared violence on election day.

“The events of these last days scare me,” said Christophe Dossou, a student. “I prefer to remain cautious.”

Benin’s President Patrice Talon denies targeting his opponents [File: Philippe Wojazer/Reuters]

Among the protesters’ complaints are Talon’s U-turn on a pledge he made as a candidate in 2016 to serve only one term, and changes he pushed through to election laws that he said were aimed at streamlining unwieldy government institutions. In practice, those reforms resulted in total control of parliament by Talon’s supporters and the exclusion of leading opponents from the presidential race.

One opposition leader Reckya Madougou was detained last month on accusations of plotting to disrupt the election, a charge her lawyer says is fabricated.

A judge from a special economic crimes court created by Talon also fled the country last week after denouncing political pressure to make rulings against the president’s critics, including the decision to detain Madougou.

Meanwhile, businessman Sebastien Ajavon, who came third in the 2016 presidential poll, was convicted of drug trafficking in 2018 and sentenced to 20 years in prison, while another potential rival, ex-finance minister Komi Koutche, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for embezzlement. Ajavon lives in exile in France, while Koutche lives in Washington, DC.

Talon denies targeting his opponents.

He has campaigned on his economic record, which includes improvements to key infrastructure such as roads, water and energy supplies.

Soldiers stand in line to block supporters of the incumbent president during an electoral campaign rally at Abomey-Calavi, on April 9, 2021 [Pius Utomi Ekpei/ AFP]

Benin, a country of about 12 million people, became Africa’s top cotton exporter in 2018 and recorded average annual gross domestic product growth of over 5 percent before the global economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“What we did was not easy,” Talon said at one of his final campaign rallies on Friday. “We are strong and we know how to get it done.”

He said he expects a “knock-out victory” for which there would be no need for a runoff vote.

The United States, German, French and Dutch embassies as well as the European Union delegation in Benin all called on Friday for calm and for the vote to go ahead in a free and transparent manner.

“We urge all parties to express their perspectives peacefully,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters. “We urge the electoral institutions and courts overseeing these processes and verifying these results to ensure these elections are conducted freely, fairly, and transparently.”

Results are expected to be announced on Monday or Tuesday.

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Trucks Traveling to Juba Get Military Escort




Government of Southern Sudan has agreed to provide full military security and safety to all road users including Ugandan cargo truck drivers plying Juba – Nimule highway starting this week.

This was reached during a meeting between South Sudan government and Ugandan authorities on Friday at Elegu One-stop Border point in Amuru district, Northern Uganda.

High level security officials from both countries met to deliberate on the deteriorating security along major highways in South Sudan in which eight Ugandan truck drivers have been shot dead by armed men in the past weeks.

The Sudanese high-level delegation was led by the country’s Chief of Defense Forces, Gen. Johnson Juma, Inspector General of Police, Gen. Majak Akech, and Director-General of Internal Security, Gen. Akol Khor.

The Deputy Commissioner General of the National Revenue Authority, Hon. Africano Mande was also present and four East African Ambassadors.

On the other side, Uganda’s delegation was led by Police Operations Director AIGP Edward Ochom, Director Crime Intelligence Col. Damulira among others high ranking officers.

“We have successively concluded our two days meetings with Ugandan authorities including the drivers who later agreed to resume the normal operation,” said South Sudan authorities.

“And as government, we assure them of full security on the major highways in the Republic of South Sudan and removal of the illegal road blocks and check-points for easy movement of trucks to Juba and others towns within the country.”

Last week, truck drivers from across the East African region protested the increasing insecurity in South Sudan, illegal taxes and also demanded for compensation of their deceased colleagues.

They parked their trucks at Elegu border and demanded for both governments to intervene before the situation deteriorates further.

In regards to compensation, Sudanese authorities agreed to pay for the victims but said that the process will be discussed through the foreign ministries of the two countries.

Although traders had also requested Ugandan authorities and in this case the UPDF to escort their goods to South Sudan, Lt.Col Deo Akiki said that “this can’t be a decision of UPDF. South Sudan is a sovereign State, therefore anything done on its territory at the moment has to be a bilateral matter beyond the two forces. It’s a government to government affair.”

ChimpReports understands that some trucks on Saturday left Elegu border for Juba under full security escort.

The post Trucks Traveling to Juba Get Military Escort first appeared on ChimpReports.

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