The key to a great noodle soup is in the noodles!

70207822-C17A-4369-9E0B-788555D9FA2ALanzhou (Lan-Jo) is a city in Gansu province, China, home of a significant population of Hui Muslims, whose rich history influence the array of food specialties in the region. But if you are short on money or time to travel to Lanzhou, don’t fret, you can experience Lanzhou’s famous hand-pulled noodles in Cairo.

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On a quiet, shady street in Daher district, sit outside at the Chinese Muslim Restaurant and enjoy Beef Noodle Soup, Lanzhou-style. Hand pulled, springy lamian noodles is dough that is roped through the fingers over and over,then slapped against the table to create hundreds of tender noodles. Each noodle dish is prepared by hand-pulling dough into noodles of various sizes…right in front of you!

 

F56288EF-9AC9-4864-815E-532CAF42D4FEMosques in China

The Great Mosque of Xi’an was built in 742AD under the reign of Emporer Zuanzong Li Longi in Tang Dynasty in Chinese architectural style. It has survived centuries till today, being renovated in the Song, Yuan, Ming, Qing Dynasties. 5AB06A36-A77E-46E1-B6AF-B1E0E7E661A5

Xuahue Mosque named He Don (Qingshuihedong meaning East River Mosque) built in 1485. Qingshuihedong Mosque in Salar Autonomous – Xunhua For history of the mosque and area read: Xiahe to Xining 57863828-AC45-4BF7-9E6F-30ABC1FD2A8EABB81139-6234-428F-9BA8-D7775152E7C2C1C05D1F-5698-4E6E-BBEE-D00E0D8DE952Chinese architecture modern minarets in Xunhua

Dongguan Mosque in Xining

4F14293D-993C-4133-93A8-8629CD108229Emin Minaret and mosque -Turpan, Xinjiang Province. The Emin Minaret was named after a local Turpan general, Emin Khoja. During the Qing Empire, the general sided with the Qing Empire against the Dzungar Mongols and defeated them. The minaret was completed in 1778 during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1735–1796). For more information read: Foiled at the Finish

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Urumchi, China Xinjiang Province
Hezhou Mosque: (I think because it was not clear the exact name of the mosque; the dome minaret below is behind this mosque.
Located on the east side in the middle of Jianzhong Road, Hezhou Mosque was first built in the late 19th century and rebuilt in 1988

B26A815C-CD0B-4DCB-9C1F-44D5C6AD8149B0789EA8-A988-4DA8-AC3A-8BA8431CF065All rights reserved, copyright 2018 .To copy or re-produce writings, written permission from Lesley Lababidi is required.

Obelisque 2018

A2Obelisque Magazine, published annually, is now available.

The following articles are my contributions to the 2018 edition*.

Kyrgyzstan – Art of Felt

(read article here)Felt final 02-001


The Ikats of Uzbekistan

(read article here)

Ikat Final 02 -001


Street Art – The Gallant 

To view Mustafa el-Razzaz bas-relief art on Dokki Bridge go HereStreet Art 01 -2-001


Review:

A Field Guide to the Street Names of Central CairoBook review final 02-001


* Lesley Lababidi, copyright 2018. All rights reserved under international copyright laws. To copy or re-produce photography and/or writings, written permission from Lesley Lababidi is required.

 

Olatoun Williams: Reviewer of African Literature and Founder of Borders Literature for All Nations

“Initiative needs well-being.” -Olatoun Williams

Olatoun, a real Yoruba woman off to a wedding (1)

I met Olatoun Williams at Felabration, an annual festival of music and arts commemorating Nigeria’s musical icon, Fela Anikulakpo Kuti.  We were there to attend the “The Fela Debates”: Movement of the People, The Fela & Bob Marley Perspectives (2013). Like most lectures, one remembers little but what is clearly vivid in my memory is Ms. Williams astute questions for the panel. She was the only person who delved into the subject of the debate with a balanced and studied comment as one would expect from a seasoned reviewer.

Ms. Williams is comfortable in the arena of debate as well as a literary reviewer. She promotes reading of African books on television, radio and on-line platforms. Her broadcasts span: Channels TV “Sunrise” and NTA 2 Channel 5, “AM Express”, “Close Flow”, “City Lace” and Smooth Radio’s “Smooth Review”. She was TV host at the 1st Nigerian Cultural Trade show held October 2nd 2014 and organised by the Nigerian German Business Association, AHK (Delegation of German Industry & Commerce in Nigeria), Goëthe Institute (German Cultural Centre) and the Consulate of Germany in Lagos.

From a young age, Ms. Williams loved reading; she loved books and let’s face it, one must read lots of books to be a reviewer of books. Although born in Lagos to a well-known Lagosian family, Oshikanlu-Williams, from the tender age of ten, she attended boarding school at Northwood College and then to Bristol University in Britain.

After her schooling and university in Britain, she returned to Nigeria where she struggled to find her place in the Lagosian society. She was a child of a teacher of history who rose up the ladder to have a distinguished career in Nigeria’s Federal Government, Dr. Abisola Oshikanlu-Williams, and father, Dr. Gabisiu Ayodele Williams, a physician and public health pioneer. Her ancestors were prominent textile merchants; and her well-known grandmother, Al Haja Dosunmu—Mama Gabi, who married three times, educated all her children and sent them abroad for higher education. It took Ms. Williams a while to find a sense of belonging but it came in 2003 when she became a mother at 35 and then, at age 38,  opened a foundation for children: Sponsor A Child Nigeria.

Olatoun's parents - Dr. (Mrs). Abisola Williams and Dr. Gabi Williams

Olatoun’s parents – Dr. (Mrs). Abisola Williams and Dr. Gabi Williams

(L) Dr. Gabi Williams, Federal Director, International Health and Disease Control (R) Late Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, Federal Minister of Health at a conference of the World Health

(L) Dr. Gabi Williams, Federal Director, International Health and Disease Control (R) Late Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, Federal Minister of Health at a conference of the World Health Organisation.

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Olatoun’s mother was variously Director -General at the Federal Ministries of Finance (Exchange Control), Police Affairs and Transport, Aviation & Communication. In this photo, she is presenting a paper to Nigeria’s President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (1985 – 1993)

My grandmother, generous, sociable and kind, Mama Gabi

Olatoun’s grandmother: generous, sociable and kind, Mama Gabi.

 

 

“I wanted to do something good with my life, I wanted to be useful. I felt I was just existed. It coincided with me becoming a Christian. (Of course, you don’t have to be a Christian to want to help others).  I joined a society in the church, Christian Circle, and we went to visit an orphanage, and I knew that this was where I wanted to give my focus. I went back the next week, got to know the staff and the children. I saw the kids had no focus and staff said they could not get sponsors to put kids in school so that is when it started, within 10 days I got sponsors for two children.

People are ready to overlook the fact that you don’t sound like them because I was giving back, I was giving value. Anything to do with advocacy, on television and media, helped me feel a sense of belonging that I never felt before. Life got better and better, my self-esteem increased, getting around Nigeria because of charity work. Getting out of myself. Initiative needs well-being. “

From the work that she did in educating children with Sponsor A Child Nigeria, she began to see a gap between literature and readership in Nigeria. As many publishers and book sellers know, what is lacking in African literature are readers. To bridge the gap between a plethora of literature and the reader, Ms. Williams took on the challenge “to promote the reading culture in Nigeria and promote the reading of African books worldwide.” To accomplish this goal, Ms. Williams founded Border Literature for All Nations. http://www.bordersliteratureonline.net

I asked Ms. Williams how she became interested in writing reviews as a profession.

“In university, I saw that my professors enjoyed listening to my reviews. I noticed they would put down their pen from marking and listen. I didn’t know at the time that a literary reviewer was what I was being called to do.”

The description of her instructors as intent listeners rings true when reading a book reviewed by Ms. Williams; prose flow and her passion is evident.  Her well-researched study explores the themes of a book, balanced and entertaining, as if she is discussing the book with her closest friend.

“No matter what the book is about, when I approach it, I look at principles, things I can take away from the themes that I want my readers to imbibe because it makes the world the kind of place I want to live in, which is the world dedicated to God’s principles: equity, justice, all those things, sharing, loving, inspiring, encouraging. When I am reviewing a book, I take from it those messages that I want to convey in my review: to have a greater understanding of one another, to have a far more generous perspective. I believe in a world that wants to understand, to have tolerance, and diversity. I would not bother to review a book that I could not share those values with people.”

Recently, Ms. Williams has been involved in yet another foundation: The Gabi Williams Alzheimer’s Foundation, the first foundation in West Africa to address Alzheimer’s disease. With the support of long-time friends such as, Buki Akintola and Fola Adeola, the Williams’s family celebrated the 80th birthday of Dr. Gabi Williams who had, in 2007, started to exhibit symptoms of memory loss. Now in the late stages of the Alzheimer’s disease, the family decided to launch a foundation in honour of Dr. Gabi Williams on his birthday, September 11, 2017. Read about their mission at: http://gabiwilliamsalzheimersfoundation.org and at https://guardian.ng/features/gabi-williams-set-to-launch-alzheimers-foundation/

The last time Ms. Williams and I got together in Lagos, we spoke about identity and belonging. She pulled from her handbag a favourite poem and read it to me:

Love after Love
by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome, and say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

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  • Photographs are the property of Ms. Olatoun Williams, who kindly allowed me to use the photographs for this article. Do not reproduce or copy without permission from Ms. Williams. All rights reserved, copyright 2018 .To copy or re-produce  writings, written permission from Lesley Lababidi is required.

Cairo Sounds on Thursday night

IMG_5446Thursday nights in Cairo are filled with parties, dinners, weddings but if you have a couple of hours and an adventurous music lover, check out a variety of folk music brought to the el-Dammah Theatre by Zakaria Ibrahim, researcher and founder of El Mastaba Center. c2228c89-922e-4bbd-b9d5-4869d1c4e8c1

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Zar and Sufi music and singing presented by the exceptional Abul Gheit Darawish (dervishes) band, provide an unusual evening – a spiritual experience, and with Tanura dance (Egyptian version of the whirling dervishes).

The Abul Gheit Darawish band which is led by Ahmed El Shankhawy, joined El Mastaba Center in 2011, and presents a mixture of Sufi and Zār music with unique rhythms. The name, Abul Gheit, refers to Sheikh Hassan Al Gheitani, whose tomb is located in a small island in El Qaliyubia Governorate. Sheikh Hassan attracted many devoted dervishes and followers in the early part of the 19th century.   IMG_5447

The repertoire of the Abul Gheit dervishes is comprised of Sufi songs, many of which praise the qualities of their holy Sheikh. Over time, their songs fused with the Egyptian and Sudanese Zār music which was practiced in the Arab El Mohamady area. Darawish Abul Gheit are still known for their Zikr nights (Zikr being the Sufi devotional practice, including songs and movements).

Admirers and followers who attend the Zikr nights believe in the ability of this music to inspire spiritual awakening and effect healing.DSC_0065

Al Kaff Al Aswani Band

The band joined El Mastaba center’ bands to revive an ancient Egyptian art: upper Egyptian palm clapping. Which goes back to the time of the pharaohs, and the engravings manifesting this art can be found in many temples and tombs. For instance, it can be seen in al Assasia tombs in the west bank of Luxor city.
As for the roots of the art explained by the head of the band Mahmoud Eledfawi, who started to perform since he was a little child and developed his skills along the way, he says: “this kind of art is not an walk in the park, as it depends on improvisation and creativity at the same time through a group of youth reciting a couplet to the lead singer (which is called a Column: a part of a quartet) and then the lead singer picks up from there, and commits himself to the same subject and assonance accompanied by the rhythm of the palms, sitting on one or more sofa and after a while they stand up facing the singer(s)”.
And the singer begins with a Sufi enchanting for the prophet’ sake, followed by a ballad describing his environment and the state of the lovers, and the palm clapping youth recite a couplet, and the tempo is decided by the speed of the clapping, and then they start to sway in a synchronized way led by the line alpha dancer.
The art of “Kaff” includes all of the social affairs.
The artist: Mahmoud Eledfawi descending form Aswani roots started to perform from Idfo district in Aswan and is on a journey to spread this kind of art to the world.

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Mahmoud Eledfawi

El Dammah Theatre, managed by El Mastaba Center for Folk Music and located at El Balakesa Street, Abdeen.  Ticket: 30 EGP Winters: Thursday at 8pm

For more information please visit our website : www.el-mastaba.org

 

 

 

Osogbo Revisited

Screen Shot 2017-12-09 at 3.35.04 PMIn a fortunate stroke of serendipity, Robin and Hugh Campbell, caretakers of the Osun Osogbo Sacred Groves and board member of The Susanne Wenger Adunni Orishia Trust, sent me a message inquiring if I was in Lagos. “Yes,” I answered and soon another message arrived asking if I would like to join them on a two-day trip to Osogbo (Osun State, south west Nigeria but north of Lagos). The drive was my first thought…the Lagos-Ibadan expressway is notorious for excruciating delays. After talking with a friend who drives the road frequently, I was assured that most of the road, indeed, lived up to the name: “expressway,” and baring any accidents, the traffic flows fairly smoothly. My friend believed the drive from Lagos to Osogbo would be within a normal 4 to 5-hour range. So with that assurance, I accepted their kind invitation.

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After a few days with an early start, we headed for Osogbo. This would be my third visit to the area. The first was in 1977. Then, I met Susanne Wenger. In Lagos, there had been word of a white woman making sculptures that represented Yoruba traditional religion in an “enchanted” garden. A friend, Pam Fields, and I decided to make explore these claims. In those days, driving to Osogbo was by way of a two-lane road. Armed robbery was non-existent. The worse fear was to have a problem with the car and no way to communicate with Lagos except from a hotel phone. Then, the trip could not be completed in one day. Our trip would take us through Abeokuta to stop at the indigo dye pits and juju market, spend the night Ibadan and attend the theatre at University of Ibadan (at the time, well-known for its drama department). Then to Osogbo, Ile-Efe and spend another night in Ibadan. Needless to say, in those days, there was much advanced preparation for a Nigerian road-trip.

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Once Pam and I found the Groves in Osogbo, we were pointed in a particular direction toward the forest where we came across Susanne Wenger. We chatted for a short while and she directed us to the Osun River to follow a path that included several of her sculptures. Making our way back to the road, we did not meet Wenger again. I remember that we were unimpressed and disappointed but thirty-seven years later on my next trip to Osogbo, that was not the case.

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In 2014, I set out following the Campbell’s car; we had mobile phones, bottled water, air-conditioned 4-wheel drive vehicles and a paved four-lane road with a possibility to arrive in Osogbo within four hours! I fully documented that trip on February 2014 See: Òşun Sacred Grove and Forest, February 2014 and  Osun Osogbo Grove , Obelisque Magazine, January, 2015.

So it was on an impulse that I commenced on the third visit to Osogbo, forty years after my first visit:

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mosque on way to Osogbo

Nike’s Guesthouse is a hub for visitors to Osogbo:

Asking for blessings….shrines of Osogbo

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Olukun at Kasali, work-carver’s compound

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Ogun Shrine, God of Iron

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shrine for wood-carvers and blacksmiths

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Susanne Wenger mentorship in the 1960’s encouraged local artist such as Rabiu Abesu and Kasali Akangbe-Ogun.

Wood carvings, art from ancestors, the prolific wood-carver Rabiu Abesu (b. 1940) expresses vividness of beauty and power through inner revelations that finds it way from thought to reality on wood.

 

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Mask and sculpture above by Rabiu. Kiki in silhouette

Kasali Akangbe-Ogun (b. 1945) comes from a line of professional wood-carver. Internationally known,  his  sculptures reflect the intrinsic culture and emphasize symbols and figures of Yoruba gods. Akangbe Ogun’s  uses omo wood (similar to mahogany). The wood is cured for seven years.Deborah Bell explains in Mask Makers and Their Crafts that Akangbe Ogun, “cuts the trunk vertically in half. He began his carving by paying homage to his ancestors and other divinities. The completed carving would eventually take an oil polish that darkens the color and makes it termite-proof.”

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some wood carvings at Kasali’s workshop

 

Kasali Akangbe-Ogun’s workshop:

 

Fields of art – the Groves. Susanne Wenger’s work survives due to a host of hands that over sixty years have committed one thing or another to protect and promote sculpture in honor of Yoruba traditional religion. Robin and Hugh Campbell have been warriors in keeping this UNESCO Heritage site viable. They do the heavy lifting of promotion, protection, rehabilitation, organization, and fundraising. See their recent fundraiser, Save Our Art, November 2016.

 

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Toyin and I at entrance of the Groves

See Nigeria Magazine article by Susanne Wenger and meaning of her sculpture:

Susanne Wenger at 100  (1915-2009) Nigeria Magazine ,Gods and Myths in Susanne Wenger’s Art: The Example of Batik Cloth by Stanley P. Bohrer and Susanne Wenger Alarape Nigeria Magazine, 1976, Issue 120

(all rights reserved, copyright 2017 .To copy or re-produce photography and/or writings, written permission from Lesley Lababidi is required)

 

Roman Glass in Britain (and Bida)

Bangels poster v2Tatiana Ivleva (see Global Glass website)contacted me out of the blue! She came across my journey in Bida, Nigeria. I had traveled to Bida in 2015 specifically to see the glass and brass handmade crafts and techniques, read about:  Bida: Bangles and Beads. Somehow Tatiana came across my post and contacted me through my website, nomad4now.com. Tatiana explained that her research involved the ancient craft of glass bangles particularly seamless Romano-British bangles.  She was most interested in Nigeria’s glass making tradition as it was similar to the Roman techniques. Titiana inquired if she might use a part of my video in her research and in this exhibition. The following video was released for the exhibition: Fashion Frontiers Glass Bangles of Roman North. Tatiana explains the process:

To see the entire process of the ancient and traditional craft of bead and bangle production in Bida view the next video, parts of which have been included in the exhibition video:

Glass making can be traced to the Ancient Egyptians about 3,500 years ago. In the last century BC, glass blowing (see Egyptian glass makers here) was invented in Syria, which gave rise to a variety of glass objects during Roman times. The technique spread throughout the centuries to modern time. The Bida glass makers say their ancestors came from Egypt via Chad, the Bornu Empire and migrating from Kano to finally settle with the Nupe.

Camel caravans from Kano and Timbuktu carried goods —indigo, salt, ivory, gold to name a few—for thousands of years that interconnected the world by the great trade routes. These historic caravans, particularly in the Sahara, Eurasia, and the Arabian peninsula were as much about trading as about communication. One of techniques communicated along the way was glass making.

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bracelets made in Bida, Nigeria using ancient glass making technique

Roman Finds Group (provides a forum in Roman artifacts.) Read about the exhibition at: http://www.romanfindsgroup.org.uk/exhibitions

During my journey along the Silk Road, I searched for evidence of glass making. Other than a reference in literature that ‘Arabs’ carried glass in caravans, I did not see evidence of ancient glass. Pottery shards and ceramic bowls were seen in museums as well as at archeological sites.  Glass would be difficult to transport, however,  why did the technique not travel into Central Asia? Or if it did why are there no surviving remnants of glass, glass making, or glass blowers?

Also see: Une Histoire de bracelets  https://archeoglass.jimdo.com