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Malawi

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A few years ago I was living and working in the small island nation of Samoa. The Independent State of Samoa, or Western Samoa, to distinguish it from it’s American cousin.

I was living with a local family, the Malakis, working as a journalist for the Samoa Observer and trying very hard to learn the fa’a Samoa – the Samoan way of life. And I did a pretty good job if I do say so myself. It’s definitely tough learning how to tie your beautifully handcrafted lavalava and how to husk a coconut, not to mention how to siva like a graceful Polynesian princess instead of like the plastic hula girl toy on the dashboard of your car.

Samoa is the kind of place that wears its culture on its sleeve. Tourism is relatively low there, despite having beautiful weather, landscapes, beaches and people, so foreigners are few and far between and palagis (white people) stand out in particular. Everything that is done in Samoa is done with fa’a Samoa in mind and it is one of the only places I have travelled where the culture is so strong and so visible in every way. And with a culture that features the always impressive fire dancing, an almost co-dependent relationship with island music and a humble and always respectful manner of carrying oneself, it definitely does seem a shame to let that blend away with the phenomenon of globalisation.

In my first few weeks in Samoa I fell in love with this idea of the Samoan way of life. Of beautiful Polynesian dresses, and island music; of taking things in island time and learning my way around the Samoan sense of humour. My Samoan father, Dr Malaki, taught me everything he – and possibly anyone ever – knew about Samoa, about the history, the culture, the myths and the legends. I can assure you, I knew all about Maui long before Moana hit the theatres.

I was still young when I moved to Samoa; fresh out of uni with all the knowledge and no idea. Samoa was just a short flight from my home in Australia – short enough to be a weekend trip for some of you seasoned weekend break Europeans – but to me it felt like I was lightyears away from my home and everyone I loved. I, and the other Australian girl living with the Malakis at the time, became a real part of our Samoan family; like adopted daughters, they worried when we weren’t home when we said we would be, celebrated our front page stories and comforted us when the homesickness hit. Taking all these huge steps forward in my life without my family and friends around to support me, the Malakis filled that space, as only Samoans can, by cramming as many people as they can in there and leaving no room for sadness.

So when tragedy struck, and we lost our chief (our matai in Samoan); Dr Malaki, I wasn’t the only one adrift. Grief exists in all cultures. Emotions are a universal human constant. But often it’s culture that dictates how we manifest and handle those emotions.

The Malakis were broken, there’s really no other way to describe it. Crumbling from within the family had to find a way to hold themselves together long enough to plan and execute a traditional Samoan funeral with all the inherent cultural nuances whilst still upholding their Catholic beliefs.

Christianity is strong across most of Polynesia but arguably nowhere more so than Samoa. There are anthropological studies and theories drafted as to how both Christianity and traditional culture have been able to co-exist and thrive in Samoa, but without going in to too much detail the general conclusions are this. When missionaries first arrived in Polynesia their task was to take the local, native religion and replace it with Christianity – or whichever religion they had brought with them. It was a successful colonisation technique, perfected mostly by the French. But when the missionaries arrived in Samoa they quickly found that there was no native widespread religion for them to replace. For the Samoan people didn’t worship any religion – not, if you’ll excuse the pun, religiously anyway. The Samoan people worshipped their fa’a Samoa; their way of life. They worshipped their matai system, an island democracy considered quite advanced by the missionaries. They worshipped their society, and since the adoption of Christianity wasn’t going to affect their ability to do that, it was accepted with very little concern. The two belief systems could work side by side happily, or, as was the case at Dr Malaki’s funeral, inside and outside.

Samoan funerals usually last around a week and include both traditional cultural rituals as well as religious services. Throughout this week the body is displayed quite openly and friends and family members are encouraged to come and say goodbye, to hug, kiss and take pictures with the deceased. There is a traditional service, usually held around halfway through the week where anyone who knew the deceased are invited to eulogise. These services can last for as long as necessary depending on how well respected and loved the deceased was. Dr Malaki’s traditional service went for over 9 hours.

The next day all the furniture from the top floor of the house was removed and that night Dr Malaki returned to the house to spend his last night with his family, watched and prayed over by a rotation of priests accompanied by church choirs. Outside, the family were hosting the traditional Samoan exchange of goods. The Malaki’s large backyard had been turned into one part food hall, one part butcher shop and one part earth oven (called an umu in Samoan), all joined together by a large staging area covered by Samoan fine mats. On either side of the mats were rows of seats facing each other; one side for the family and the other for the attending villages. Seating was specific – the village chief in the middle, his orator to his right and the other village matai’s filling the remaining seats. Village after village arrived at the house, offering fine mats, tapa cloth, clothing and food. Every item was displayed clearly to both sides of the staging area before a counter offer from the family was given. This process lasted for 12 hours, from 6pm to 6am when the sun rose and it was time for Dr Malaki’s body to be carried to his childhood village where he would be buried.

The cultural complexities of the Samoan funeral are deeply rooted in their history of cultural continuance that has withstood missionary arrivals, civil war, and the dividing of the archipelago into American and Western Samoa. I could write this article for days and never be able to fully articulate just what it all means. But I guess that’s the point. Culture encompasses all that we know about the world from our particular point of view at a certain place in time and in geography. It gives us lessons in how to manage our societies, how to mark the passing of time, and how to grieve for lost loved ones.

As travellers we know the importance of respecting the environments in which we find ourselves. We know not to vandalise property and to not litter, or steal pieces of heritage sites. But the importance of respecting culture is something different. Culture encompasses all that a native citizen is. It is their outlook on the world, their unique point of view, the result of long histories, usually marked with violence, colonialism or dispossession that has led them to build the society that you stand in today. Respecting culture is not about loving the dance style, or the patterns of the clothing although those things are good too. Respecting culture is about honouring the people you meet, the people who came before them and the people who will come after.

It was revealed last month that Uganda, otherwise known as the ‘Pearl of Africa’, saw a 10% increase in tourist numbers to its national parks in 2018-2019. With such unique opportunities to discover wildlife, this does not surprise us at #Teamcoco. And yet we know that there is much more to Uganda than the bush. Its iconic Lake Victoria and the vibrant capital of Kampala are also unmissable and unmistakably Ugandan experiences. Having sent our girl, Rachael Lindsay, to visit Africa’s Pearl earlier this year, we take a look at her round-up of the best three resorts to experience the best of Uganda.

For the lake: Lake Victoria Serena Golf Resort & Spa

Nestled on the banks of the world’s largest tropical lake, the Lake Victoria Serena Golf Resort & Spa is our top pick of Uganda’s hotels. The winding pathways, bridges and fountains of the resort make it a joy to get lost in and the Marina restaurant offers fresh fish and sunset views at the lake’s edge. It has all of the luxurious touches that you would expect of a five-star resort as well as bespoke boat expeditions to nearby Ngambe Island, home to 49 orphaned chimpanzees.

For more information, visit serenahotels.com or read our full review here.

For the bush: Bwindi Lodge by Volcanoes Safaris

Set on the boundaries of Uganda’s Impenetrable Forest, this stream-side hideaway is the perfect place from which to visit Uganda’s mountain gorillas. A new deluxe Banda opened in June this year and all Bandas feature four poster beds, locally inspired furnishings and personal butler service. The local gorillas often choose to relax around Bwindi Lodge, making it both a stylish and natural spot from which to get to know these fascinating animals.

For more information, visit volcanoessafaris.com.

For the city: Latitude O, Kampala (due to open October 2019)

With stunning properties in Lilongwe, Malawi, and Lusaka, Zambia, Latitude Hotels offers experiences in Africa’s cities that match its great beach resorts and safari lodges. That’s why we had to include Latitude 0 in our list, which is set to open in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, in October 2019. Located among indigenous orchid-filled trees atop of Makindye Hill and with a Ugandan-inspired design using reusable materials, this hotel is going to be a seriously stylish addition to the capital and the perfect base to recover from those post-safari blues.

For more information, visit 0.thelatitudehotels.com.

Cover photo: @rachannelindsay at Lake Victoria Serena

In the realm of culinary creativity, “Hannah Gregory MasterChef” and I struck a chord over Instagram, exchanging tips on recreating the classic American half-and-half. The US half-and-half after meeting in our TeamCocoGang group. The ubiquitous diner staple had been on my mind since March and yet I was resisting the urge to slug single cream into my filter coffee. I would like to officially thank Hannah for her assistance in getting me to cross that hurdle.

Hannah Gregory is an inspirational woman. You might have seen her on MasterChef earlier this year (no spoilers here if you haven’t managed to catch up). Her love of travel and world cuisine has always permeated her cooking and she recently founded WanderSups, a fantastical adventure-inspired private chef supper club. Says Hannah, “all WanderSups events – no matter how big or small, follow one mantra – PREP | COOK | SUPS | PLAY.”

Hannah Gregory MasterChef

Intrigued by Hannah’s culinary adventures? Discover her journey through globally inspired dishes.

Hannah: So, funny story as it happens. One of the first dishes I had travelling that I became obsessed with was Shrimp Bobo which is a Brazilian dish. A friend and I were backpacking in South America and we ended up on Ilha Grande, a small, beautiful island just off of Rio and after weeks of rice, beans and churrasco we were really craving something a little different. We found this super cute café on one of the side streets and explained to the maître d’ that we wanted something authentic, but not rice and beans (although holy macaroni, what I would give for a plate of authentic Brazilian rice & beans right now). We were served the most incredible Shrimp Bobo in huge coconut shells – it’s a really creamy stew made from manioc roots (more commonly known as cassava) and full of fresh, sweet shrimp and I was instantly addicted.

When I got home I had a small dinner party in my VERY small flat in South London and decided this was the dish I would make. I searched high and low for the illusive manioc root – at the time – we’re going back a bit – I hadn’t made the connection between manioc and cassava and spent a good week looking all over London for it. Finally, I learnt that they were indeed the same thing, and hopped to the greengrocers ACROSS the road from my flat to grab one.

A key part of the dish is to boil the root and then pick out the stringy fibres – I missed this part. First problem. You then blend the cassava with coconut milk to create a smooth sauce – of course, my blender blew up mid-blitz. Second problem. Finally, my guests arrived, and I dished up my lumpy, stringy stew. After the first spoonful, I froze. I’m not sure if it was because it was lumpy or if it actually was undercooked, but I had read that if cassava is not cooked properly it is toxic as it contains cyanide. Worried that I was poisoning my guests, and with a dramatic “Stop, I think I’m about to kill you!” I dashed their plates away, knocking over everyone’s glass in the process. I ended up sending my brother to the Turkish restaurant across the road to pick up kebabs for everyone.

HOC: How far you’ve come! Does any dish still evade your recreation?

Hannah: Bingas bloody Wingas! A friend and I were on a road trip in the U.S. and were just north of Portland. The original plan was to drive back to Portland and have a boujee night with cocktails and jazz bars (I was clearly in Portland Maine, not Oregon) but we were so tired from a long drive that we thought we would just look on Google Maps, see where the closest eatery was and go there. The trusty knife and fork symbol informed us that there was somewhere a three-minute drive away. This seemed odd as we were on the side of a highway in the middle of nowhere but we figured, why not?

We arrived – a stand-alone purple building in the middle of nowhere stood before us, illuminated in purple neon with a giant dog guzzling chicken wings on the front of the building.

We were greeted by our server for the night, Doreen. Doreen was an absolute peach. She handed us a menu that wasn’t so much a menu but a long list of every sauce you could think of to douse your wings in. The concept was simple: decide how many wings you want, decide if you want them smoked or fried, and decide what sauce. My eyes were instantly drawn to Buffalo Bacon Nacho – three glorious things, all in one sauce. Had to be a winner right? Doreen explained that it was the most decadent, unctuous wing sauce she had ever come across (and Doreen ate a lot of wings). Nacho cheese, crispy bacon mixed through, spiked with house buffalo sauce. Sounds simple right? Let me tell you, I have been trying to recreate this dish for 2 years, probably once a week we eat wings and I have come close to it, but no cigar. There has been more than one occasion – ok, there have been lots of occasions – when BA does a flash sale and I check to see if Boston or Portland are on the list just to fly and get these wings – I haven’t caved… yet. Maybe one day I will unleash my inner Kardashian and fly across the world for a meal.

And yes, I did ask Doreen for the recipe, I have also emailed them countless times begging for it. They are not giving that s**t up for anyone!

Hannah’s culinary journey: deliberate destinations or serendipitous discoveries?

Hannah: I think a bit of both but leaning towards the former although I was doing it subconsciously until a friend pointed it out to me. I just thought everyone planned their trips around food. It is so alien to me that food isn’t at the forefront of everyone’s mind because it is all I think about.

It first became apparent when a friend and I went to the States – we went on a Dawson’s Creek / Bruce Springsteen pilgrimage but I had an ulterior motive. We were flying into Boston and I had always wanted to go to Maine and New England to eat lobster from roadside shacks and experience real clam chowder so I managed to weave that into the trip, then I thought as we were going to Wilmington NC, it would be rude not to head a little further south and experience some real southern soul food.

I never over-plan my trips, I usually just book a place to stay the first night and then see what happens. It was only after a few days in that my friend pointed out that I was planning our days and our route solely around restaurants and diners. I just thought she was being pernickety but then a few months later another friend and I went to Central America with no other plan than we wanted to hit Mexico, Belize & Guatemala – the same thing happened again. Before I knew it I was hunting out cooking lessons, street food festivals, and restaurants and then our route evolved from that. That’s when I realised that my love for food and travel was so intertwined and WanderSups was born.

When it comes to tracking down where to eat – I’m not entirely sure how I do it. There is certainly no formula but I am like a bloodhound on a scent when it comes to finding good, authentic, local cuisine. One of my first jobs out of university was working for a lifestyle concierge company and putting together itineraries for clients of things they should see and do when travelling – maybe it stems from that.

If I am in the UK I will always consult the Waitrose Good Food Guide – I trust them implicitly. If I am further afield and I have time to do the research then I will check out blogs and ask IG for recommendations – I always think word of mouth is the best way to go. I never engage with things like Trip Advisor because I think it just brings out the worst in people.

If I am in a city or a built-up area I always look up – some of the best places are on roofs so look for the telltale signs of festoon and canopies – some of the most memorable meals I have had are from chasing the sounds of laughing friends and clinking glasses happening high up above me, especially in places like Marrakech and Tulum. And my number one rule: always eat where the locals eat. However, that did backfire for me once when I ended up eating goat intestines in rural Africa. We live and learn.

Hannah’s cherished travel memory for a quick pick-me-up?

Hannah : This is a bit Pinterest / vom-inducing but on my office wall I have post-it notes on which I have written things that have made me happy and content so that whenever I feel a bit low or am struggling to remember life pre-covid, I have an instant pick me up close to hand.

The majority of them are travel based and the general theme is road-tripping. It is my absolute favourite thing to do in the world. I think freedom and independence sense that it gives, knowing you can go anywhere, in your own time, listen to great music, eat great car snacks and drop in at roadside diners and restaurants. My two favourite trips of all time were driving from Maine to North Carolina and driving across Malawi. If I need a pick me up I always put on the playlist that I was listening to and it brings it all flooding back.

HOC: Sounds ideal! Where’s next for you when travel is more achievable?

Hannah: Um the whole world… I am not coping very well with this feeling of being trapped on an island so am desperate to just see everything I possibly can as soon as I can. But currently sitting top of the list :

Malawi – I have spent a lot of time here but my boyfriend has never been and I am desperate to take him and hope he falls in love with it the same way I have.

Amalfi coast road trip – we are both desperate to do this, hire an Italian sports car and live the Insta life.

Deep South states – I need to do another research trip and the deep southern states are calling my name. I am thinking of taking a month and pootling around Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas…

For more from Hannah Gregory, check out her travel-inspired food tips over here – including how to craft the perfect hotel club sandwich dupe! Hannah will also be appearing in our next print volume STAYCATION, out in early January.

Follow Hannah @wandersups

Check out WanderSups to create your own travel-inspired dining experience.