Myths of Bhutan Revealed

Up until recently, when I visited the tiny country of Bhutan, it remained a mystery to me. I pictured this magical place where the entire nation practices Buddhism, animals roam free through the protected forests, and everyone is happy and content all the time. Some of the movies I watched also suggested that one becomes very peaceful and all the illnesses go away when you go to Bhutan.

As an eager journalist, I wanted to find the facts for myself. What I discovered was very different from everything I knew, which is generally what happens until you actually travel to that destination.

Here are some of my questions answered…

Is everyone in Bhutan Buddhist?

Technically, Bhutan is a Buddhist country. Majority of the population is Buddhist, followed by Hindu. Though the influence of Buddhism is strong in many areas, not 100% of the people observe all its beliefs and rituals. About 15% of the population are Buddhist monks. There are both male and female monks in the monasteries.

female monk in Bhutan

Do Bhutanese eat meat?

If you look at the traditional Bhutanese menus, they tend to have a lot of meat dishes, including pork, beef and chicken. The government does not allow killing of animals for consumption. In fact, you can get arrested and fined if you slaughter an animal for food, fish from the rivers, or even accidentally kill a stray dog. Therefore, the meat you find in Bhutan is imported, mostly from India.

Though the Buddhist belief does not allow consumption of animals, many of the Bhutanese people do eat meat.
bhutan food

Is everyone in Bhutan happy?

In 2016, the World Happiness Report published by the United Nations ranked Bhutan as the 84th happiest country. According to the domestic survey done to measure Gross National Happiness in Bhutan, 90% of the population reported that they were happy. Now the definition of happiness can be subjective. In Bhutan, you will find a lot of poverty and access to very little resources. Infrastructure is undeveloped, there is high unemployment, work is mostly in agricultural sectors, and practically everything is imported into the country. One might question, how one can be happy having so little? In fact, while walking around shops, I didn’t particularly find anyone smiling or laughing with joy. Most people went about their day very seriously and responded only when spoken to.

Perhaps the people in Bhutan are happy because of their culture which embodies the teaching of Buddhism. There is strong emphasis on living as a community, helping each other, doing good deeds and finding happiness from within.

Is there any crime in Bhutan?

Though Bhutan is a peaceful country and quite safe, there is some petty crime especially among the youth. You can find instances of pick pocketing, theft, domestic violence and an occasional murder as well. When I asked one of the judicial officials regarding this, he mentioned that most cases of crime are committed by adolescent boys, perhaps overcome by peer pressure, alcohol or just hormones. Crime in Bhutan is significantly less than other countries.

Is Bhutan a mountainous country?

Given that the country is half the size of Indiana, there is unimaginable diversity in nature. Valleys, subalpine mountains, rivers, and plains are spread through the country, making it hot and rainy in the south, and dry and cold in the north. 60% of the country is protected as forest land under a strict regulation for maintaining the environmental impact. It is home to many animals including leopards, tigers, musk deer and takin. There are also some of the highest peaks in the world found in the Himalayan mountains of Bhutan, making it a great destination for trekking and mountaineering.

punakha bhutan scenery

The highest point in Bhutan is Gangkhar Puensum at 7,570 metres (24,840 ft), which has the distinction of being the highest unclimbed mountain in the world

Can you feel the monarchial presence in Bhutan?

Bhutan’s political system has recently changed from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. In 2005, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck transferred most of his administrative powers to the Council of Cabinet Ministers and allowed for impeachment of the King by a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly.

In everyday life, you can feel the presence of the monarch though. Pictures of the royal family, including the current 36-year old king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema are displayed at homes, shops, museums, hotels, etc. They make ceremonial appearances at festivals and assemblies, and give motivational speeches to the kingdom on the importance of education, giving back, and following one’s customs.

How much freedom do the Bhutanese people have?

In 1999, the government lifted a ban on television and the Internet, making Bhutan one of the last countries to introduce television. They believed that exposure to the western world makes people unhappy as it encourages desire and greed.

There are few bars and clubs in Bhutan, mostly frequented by young people. Certainly not a destination for party lovers.

happiness wine in bhutan

Traditions supersede freedom of expression. The King requires everyone to wear the national costume to work, school and temples. Only during free time, one can choose to dress as they like.

Women and men have equal rights in Bhutan. Even in jobs involving manual labor, such as construction and agriculture, you can find women working alongside men. Respect for women is also an important part of Buddhist culture. Bhutanese men perform domestic duties including cooking. Traditionally the groom moves to the bride’s family home after marriage.

people of bhutan

What shocked me most about Bhutan?

The poverty in Bhutan was very noticeable from the moment I landed in Paro. There were dirt roads right outside the airport, and lots of garbage on the streets. I guess I was expecting this enchanted land with forests and mountains, where everything is squeaky clean, and the people in a constant state of eternal bliss.

Bhutan facts

5 Cities in Jamaica You Must Go To!

Jamaica is a wonderful island known for its white sand beaches and reggae music. The country is a perfect destination for a family vacation, wedding celebration, outdoor excursion, or culinary tour. Here are some of the most important Jamaican cities you must visit:

1. Kingston

Kingston, the capital, is Jamaica’s bustling metropolitan city and is considered the cultural district of the island. It’s mix of jungle, modern business, and original colonial architecture makes the city a must-see for any visitor. Kingston is located in the Southeast corner of Jamaica far from the northern resort towns, which speaks to why Kingston is known as the most authentic city on the island. An interesting tourist destination located in Kingston is The Bob Marley Museum, which is coincidentally the departed reggae star’s former home in Jamaica. All of the rooms in his home have been meticulously preserved to display Bob’s life as accurately as possible, including his personal recording studio, closet, and award showcase. Also, the “One Love Café” in the museum boasts some of Bob’s favorite meals.


2. Montego Bay

This Jamaican destination is perfect for the traveler who loves relaxing on the coast with a piña colada in their hand. Montego Bay, or simply “MoBay” by the locals, is home to many famous and luxurious beaches. The city is the second largest on the island and is located in the Northwest corner where it holds many hotels, restaurants, and a cruise ship port. For the beach bum, Doctor’s Cave beach is the most popular beach in Montego Bay and is known for it’s clean and beautiful waters. Interestingly enough, one can also experience a winter wonderland in the city while enjoying the tropical paradise. CHILLIN at Coral Cliff holds the island’s only ski lodge and ice bar!

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3. Ocho Rios

Ocho Rios, or “Eight Rivers,” was initially a historic site and is now a thriving tourist city. Columbus Park is located just outside of Ocho Rios and is where Columbus supposedly first landed in Jamaica. There is also a port here for cruise ships and interesting scuba diving spots. Even though there are not actually eight rivers in Ocho Rios, there are many beautiful waterfalls in the area. The most well known is Dunn’s River Falls, which receives thousands of visitors each year because of its resemblance to a giant staircase. Tourists can actually climb the waterfalls with a guide in about an hour!


4. Negril

About an hour drive from the Montego Bay Airport lies the quiet resort town Negril on the westernmost shore of Jamaica. A relaxing and popular attraction is Seven Mile Beach full of soft white sand and palm trees for as far as the eye can see. For the more adventurous visitor, a must-see spot is Rick’s Café on the coast. Not only can you taste a great Jamaican meal and party at their nightclub, but you can cliff dive off the rocks. The highest platform jump at Rick’s Café is 35 feet and ensures the thrill of a lifetime.


5. South Coast

The South Coast in Jamaica is a hidden treasure dripping with luxury. Any traveler should definitely visit the Bubbling Spring mineral baths known for their healing powers. The spring is fed by water that is filtered through limestone, and contains substantial levels of magnesium, potassium, chloride, sodium, iron, and manganese. Hungry? Schedule an outing to the Bloomfield Great House. It’s an expansive 200-year-old coffee plantation house that was recently renovated into a breathtaking restaurant.

2911To learn more about Jamaica, attend Go Eat Give Destination Jamaica on April 23, 2015 at Stir It Up Atlanta.

6 Must Try Food and Drinks in Indonesia

Indonesia is a country brimming with sights, shopping, and fabulous food. As a country known for its diverse use of spices, its cuisine is one of the most colorful and vibrant of any in the world. Here is a quick overview of some of the most traditional and popular foods of Indonesia, and some of what you can taste at Go Eat Give Destination Indonesia on March 26th in Atlanta…

 1. Gado Gado

Gado Gado is a traditional Indonesian dish suitable for every foodie, including vegetarians. The dish, translated to “mix-mix,” is a blend of various vegetables, tofu, and tempeh in a peanut sauce. It is sometimes served with crispy crackers as a snack, or on its own as a side or entree with rice.


2. Saté

An Indonesian dish the is well known in the West and is similar to a shish kabob. Sate consists of different kinds of meat roasted over coals on bamboo skewers, and is often times paired with a peanut sauce. The meat may include chicken, beef, pork, tofu, and more. Saté originated in Java and was a creation of the Indonesian street vendors, but has spread around Indonesia and to neighboring countries.


3. Kerak Telor

This dish is a crispy Indonesian “frittata” made with sticky rice, shrimp, coconut, shallots, and spices. Duck or eggs are commonly added to the meal based on the customer’s preference. Kerak Telor is one of the most popular street foods in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, and derives from the Betawi culture. The dish also is said to resemble the western omelet though its spice and crispness set it apart.


4. Rendang

Rendang originated in Pandang, a city in Sumatra, and is one of the most flavorful and iconic dishes of Indonesia. It is referred to as “West Sumatran caramelized beef curry” by culinary experts and was named the #1 most delicious food in the world by CNN International readers. The dish is made with beef, which is marinated, in a special curry for hours. Rendang can also be served dry as a soft jerky, but this is reserved only for special occasions.


5. Cendol

Cendol is a traditional Indonesian dessert drink that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen or tasted before. The base is made up of coconut milk, palm sugar, and shaved ice, and is mixed with various kinds of jelly noodles. The noodles are made out of red beans, rice, or even grass jelly. Iced cendol with durian fruit and chocolate milk is also popular in Indonesia.


6. Bintang Bir Pilsner

If you ever find yourself in Indonesia during a night out, you’re bound to run into someone drinking Bintang Beer. It was introduced to the country by the Heineken brand during the 1930s under the original name Java Bier, and later took on its’ current name in 2006. Bintang means “star” in Indonesian, and the Bintang bottle features a red star that is reminiscent of the classic Heineken bottle. Additionally, the taste of Bintang is said to be very similar to Heineken with its’ malt and hop flavor.


A “Culturally Fresh” Lebanon


Go Eat Give had the pleasure of welcoming a new group of attendees to Destination Lebanon at Nicola’s Restaurant last week!  The Greening Youth Foundation, a non-profit that works with underserved and underrepresented children to create overall healthy communities, attended the event bringing 15 students from Grady High School in Atlanta. And, this will not be the only time that Go Eat Give will host the Greening Youth Foundation. We are excited to announce that Go Eat Give has decided to partner with the Greening Youth Foundation to create a new program entitled “Culturally Fresh”. The aim of the program is to help raise awareness of international cultural and environment issues among the youth in the southern United States.


The night started off with appetizers – hummus and baba ganoush, and a Q&A session with Lebanese born Nicola, who was an educator himself before he opened his restaurant about 31 years ago.  The students were full of enthusiasm and asked him lots of questions about his life growing up in Lebanon and immigrating to the United States. In addition, they had to complete a treasure hunt assignment on Lebanon. The assignment included questions about the typical Lebanese diet, interesting facts, and history of Lebanon.

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The second course included stuffed grape leaves, fried artichoke hearts, traditional fattoush salad, tabbouleh, and kibbee, which were all delicious. Later, the main dishes served were kafta with Lebanese rice, chicken a la beef, and chicken with artichoke hearts.  Dinner was especially exciting since most of the students from Grady High had never tried Lebanese food before!


The bunch also had a unique opportunity to hear from Mr. Hrair Balian, Director of the Conflict Resolution Program at The Carter Center and adjunct professor at Emory Law.  He is also Lebanese born, specializes in Middle East conflicts, and speaks English, French, and Armenian.  Hrair discussed the culture of Lebanon, including how it evolved through time due to the influence of other countries and how this evolution has created the rich diversity of Lebanon’s population.

After the speaker and discussion, we were able to taste baklava for dessert (my personal favorite!).  Baklava is a rich and sweet pasty made of thin layers of filo dough and filled with nuts and honey.

Lastly, the students got a lesson in Dabke dancing from Nicola.  Typically there is a dabke leader, and the group joins hands together and stomps to the beat.  We had a blast, and theentire crowd at the restaurant got together for a line dance around the room.


We are very excited about the future of Culturally Fresh and truly enjoyed the students joining in on the food, friends, and fun.

9 Places to Visit in Lebanon

Lebanon is a beautiful country in the Middle East, bursting with history, great food, and great culture.  It being a classic traveler’s destination, how can you decide where to go and what to see?  Since planning a trip can be quite the task, Go Eat Give has named the nine must see cities in Lebanon for your touring pleasure:

1. Beirut

This capital city of Lebanon is nicknamed “The Paris of the Middle East,” and is bustling with things to do. Along with great shopping and beautiful scenery, Beirut has a rich cultural history to explore. There are many museums and sacred religious sites there, such as the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Saint George, the National Museum of Beirut, and the Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque.


2. Baalbek

Baalbek is located on the western end of Lebanon and is home to some of the most well preserved Roman ruins known to mankind.   The city dates back over 9,000 years and was previously known by the name of “Heliopolis,” or The City of the Sun, during the period of the Roman rule. Jupiter, Venus, and Bacchus are all believed to have been worshipped at the Baalbek temples.


3. Jeita Grotto

Located in the center of the Nahr al-Kalb valley in Jeita, Lebanon, the Jeita Grotto is an amazing sight. The interconnected limestone caves, which can only be accessed by boat, span around nine kilometers in length. To make the grotto even more intriguing—it was a finalist to become one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature.

Lebanese journalists and photographers tour the Jeita Grotto by boat during a media day to campaign for the selection of the Jeitta Grotto as one of the seven natural wonders of the world

4. Sidon

This is a Lebanese town that is filled with old history and remarkable sight seeing.   Located on the western coast of the country, it was one of the most important Phonecian cities and is now known as an active fishing town. Sidon is home to the largest Lebanese flag and also the Old Souk, a famous marketplace.

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5. Tyre

Tyre is another city in Lebanon that contains very interesting ruins and historic sites. One main attraction here is the Roman Hippodrome—an ancient stadium for chariot and horse racing! The Tyre Coast Nature Reserve is also the largest sandy beach in the country.

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6. Beit ed-Dine

Beit ed-Dine is a town famous for its’ magnificent Beiteddine Palace (shown below). This one-of-a-kind palace was built in 1788 and hosts the annual Beiteddine Festival and Beiteddine Palace Museum. Interestingly enough, after Lebanon’s independence in 1943 the palace was officially renamed the “People’s Palace” since it had been created by the people’s hard work and will.


7. Faraya

Lebanon is known for it’s interesting climate, and this town is the perfect example why. Above this village lies the Mzaar Resort, which is a ski resort. The resort is only about 20 miles away from Beirut, meaning you could experience warm weather and winter all in the same day!

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8. The Cedars of God

Cedar trees are sacred and known to have covered Mount Lebanon in the past, but The Cedars of God is one of the last forests left in the country. This was caused by persistent deforestation by Lebanon’s ancestors, such as for shipbuilding and construction. The snowy area has great hiking and beautiful views.

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 11.28.24 PM9. Deir el-Qamar

The name of this Lebanese village can be translated from Arabic into the “Monastery of the Moon.” It’s home to many important religious sites such as Saydet El Talle and the Mount of the Cross. This village is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Sati – An Ancient Hindu Practice

Sati, meaning “good wife” in Sanskrit, refers to a very interesting and ancient Hindu mourning ritual, which generates quite a bit of attention due to its historically radical means of an end. Sati is a ceremony that was practiced after the death of a woman’s husband, during which the mourning woman was required to be burned alive in order to show mourning and devotion to their lost spouse. It began around the 10th century B.C. The ceremony was first practiced by the wives of kings, until it gained popularity in the Hindu religion and was practiced by other regional groups.

It use to be part of the Hindu religion that if a married woman’s husband was to fall ill and die or perish in battle, the spouse was expected to immolate; or end her life as an offering, to the spirit of her deceased husband. When this act was being carried out, the woman would also have to do so on top of the husband’s funeral pyre. If a woman refused this act, she was typically sought after, and more or less forcibly convinced to agree to its completion. After a woman went through this ritual, she was then revered and idolized by her community as a holy woman, as well as an object of worship.

source: Wiki Commons
source: Wiki Commons

A Greek geographer by the name of Strabo who traveled to India with Alexander the Great noted that the majority of these women were in fact, happy to burn in sacrifice of their husbands. The few who did not see this act as honorable and refused to die, were shunned and seen as outcasts of their community. According to historical data, the practice of sati came about because marriages were typically formed by love (as oppose to arranger marriage) in ancient India. When these marriages would take a turn for the worst, the woman would often poison the man and continue on to find a new lover. To put an end to the murders and to protect the women’s virtues, a law was enacted that stated that a woman who was left without a husband was required to burn alive in order to join him, or to be cast out of the community and live out the rest of her days as a widow.

"Sri Rani Sati," an oleograph print published by S. S. Brijbasi, Bombay, c.1960's
“Sri Rani Sati,” an oleograph print published by S. S. Brijbasi, Bombay, c.1960’s

While this bit of ancient history seemed desolate and painful, it was done out of respect for the sacred bond of marriage and love. In the Hindu religion, marriage is a sacred bond that binds two souls together for more than one lifetime. Even the Hindu gods and goddesses lead married lives and respect the duties and bonds that come with the Hindu concept of love and marriage. Although this ritual seems violent in our Western culture, it originated out of love, respect, and dedication between spouses.

The act of sati was banned in 1829 in India, and as late as 1920 in Nepal. This practice was also not necessarily limited to India, but was seen widespread throughout Asia, and remote, bordering parts of Europe.

Going Beyond Bangkok at Destination Thailand

Go Eat Give’s October event, Destination Thailand, allowed me to experience Thailand in a multi –dimensional way that I hadn’t been exposed to. Before Destination Thailand, my knowledge about the Southeast Asian country was slim, as the closest cultural thing I knew about Thailand was the pad thai that I would order during cramming for midterms and finals during college.

Before the event commenced at the Thai restaurant, Zen on Ten, I met guests who were excited about the event as they were preparing their first trips to Thailand. They then got the chance to meet with other guests, members of the Thai Association of Georgia, who shared their travel recommendations of the best places to visit in their homeland.

The owner of Zen on Ten, Tom Phing laid out a buffet which included some of the best Thai cuisine with vegetarian som-tum ( a spicy green papaya salad), fried wonton, crispy vegetable rolls, panang curry with beef, massaman curry with chicken, vegetarian pad thai, thai fried rice, and steamed rice. The food was the prefect combination of sweet and spicy, typical of Thai cuisine. Once all the guests had their food, the show began.

Owner of Zen on Ten, Tom Phing (red shirt), helps unveil the Thai buffet for the evening
Guests help themselves to the Thai buffet

Auraree Montroy and Vivian Sihachack, dance instructors from the Thai Association of Georgia, performed a traditional Thai dance, Thepbantheong (Angels Delight). The dance is performed as a welcoming gesture and expresses blessing for honored guests, which were our entire guest of the evening. The dancers were adorned in traditional Thai clothes of bright silk patterns and gold jewelry, which moved elegantly as they dance barefoot with their delicate hand movements.

After the dance performance, the master of ceremonies, King Tantivejkul, Chairman of the Thai Association of Georgia, gave the audience a lesson in Thai. We learned a few Thai words including the most important Thai word, sawasdee, which is used a greeting or farewell. Saying sawasdee, is accompanied by the wai, similar to the Indian namaste, and which is done with a slight bow and the hands pressed together like in prayer, and a smile. Our Thai guests performed this gesture many times through the night, which is symbolic of respect. King also told us that pad thai was influenced by Chinese culture and didn’t become popular in Thailand until World War II. I was surprised that the most popular cuisine in Thailand was less than 70 years old!

Divya and I salute the wai with the dancers from the Thai Association of Georgia
Head-to-toe view of our dancers in traditional Thai clothing: bright silks adorned with gold jewelry

After Mr. Tantivejkul lesson, our keynote speaker, Dr. Sutham Cobkit, professor of Criminal Justice at Kennesaw State University, took the audience to Thailand with his speech, “BKK is Far Beyond the Capital of Thailand”, which was as informative as it was funny. Dr. Cobkit, highlighted that BKK to him, meant far more than the airport code of Bangkok. For him, BKK symbolizes Thai culture with the acronym, Buddhism.Kingdom.King. Dr. Cobkit spoke of the importance of Buddhism in Thai culture, which has influenced the positive and respectful attitude among the Thai. Dr. Cobkit continued that although Westerners may see bowing to someone as a submissive act, it is quite the opposite and represents love and respect. Dr. Cobkit shared his own experience being a monk in Thailand, with photos of him bald during his month long career as a monk. I didn’t know much about monks, so I found this part of his speech interesting as he shared how monks beg for food, as they are not allowed to cook.

For Kingdom, Cobkit spoke about Thai history. Thailand used to be the Siam Kingdom and was the only country in Southeast Asia that hadn’t been colonized. The Thai people are very proud of their history and how they resisted colonization. The pride of their kingdom also extends to the second K, for King. The king of Thailand, Rama IX is the longest ruling king in the world. I learned from Dr. Cobkit’s speech that the Thai people revere him as he is unlike any other king. During his reign, he as worked alongside farmers extensively throughout the country on public development works and through the pictures of him in the presentation, it was hard for me to distinguish him as the king from the other Thai people. It was remarkable to see a king act so humble.

Dr. Sutham Cobkit giving his speech
Dr. Sutham Cobkit giving his speech

At Destination Thailand, I learned about the rich culture in Thailand and what makes the Thai people proud of their heritage. It was a beautiful to witness many Thai people coming together at Destination Thailand to teach others about their culture and offer a glimpse of their homeland.

Sucheta and Kelly with members of the Thai Association of Georgia


Go Eat Give organizes Destination Turkey

As part of our monthly focus on cultures in Atlanta, Go Eat Give hosted Destination Turkey an evening to discuss the cuisine, culture, travel and issues in Turkey. The event was held at Cafe Mezo, a Midtown establishment opened in January 2014 by two brothers who migrated from Istanbul. Kemal, one of the brothers, was visiting US as a tourist, and met his future wife. They got married and decided to stay back for 2 years to gain some experience living abroad. Turned out their passion for the restaurant business lasted much longer, so they decided to open another restaurant in Atlanta (the first one being in Istanbul).

The evening started with networking and cash bar featuring traditional Turkish beverages such as Ayran (non alcoholic yogurt, water and salt), Boza (fermented bulgur with water and sugar), Raki (strong, clear, anise-flavored spirit, similar to Greek ouzo and French pastis), and a selection of Turkish beer, wine, tea and coffee.

Turkish food at Cafe Mezo

A private space upstairs seated 50 Go Eat Give guests who enjoyed family style dinner in an in time environment. Cold Mezes (appetizers) included delicately spiced shoksuka (eggplant salad) and sweet and savory carrot salad, served with warm bread. For entree, long wooden planks boasted tender pieces of Mezo lamb kebabs and boneless chicken kebabs, decorated over thin sheets of pita and dressed with an unassuming bulgur and onion salad. Vegetarian diner enjoyed a special platter of grilled vegetables prepared just for them. For dessert, we had homemade Turkish Baklava with chopped pistachios and honey, that tasted like it had just come out of the oven a few hours ago.

Dr. Mustafa Sahin, who runs academic affairs at the Atlantic Institute shared his journey of coming to the US. He said when he wanted to go abroad to study, he only thought about US. Except for the good education system, he was fascinated by the fast cars (as seen on popular TV show Knight Rider) and the city of Miami, where Turkish people dream to have a home at. When he arrived in Atlanta, he realized that the popular Italian restaurant called Veni, vidi, vici is actually a Julius Caesar phrase that means “I came, I saw, I conquered” that originated from Zile, a Tokat province in Turkey, where Dr Sahin grew up.

Dr Sahin pointed out that Turkish-American relations dated back to 1802 when President Jefferson appointed a US consulate to Smyrna, Turkey. Even today, Muhtar Kent, Chairman and CEO of Coca Cola, cardiothoracic surgeon and award-winning author Mehmet Öz, along with a number of scientists, professors, and business leaders are contributing to the society at large.

Click here to see the full speech by Dr Mustafa Sahin

Live entertainment was performed by a local artist, Joshua. A self taught American dancer, he was deeply interested in the male form of belly dancing called köçek.  Popular in the Ottoman culture, the köçek was typically a very handsome young male rakkas, “dancer”, usually cross-dressed in feminine attire, employed as an entertainer in the courtrooms. The male dancers were generally more prized than the female ones.

Watch live köçek dance at Destination Turkey.

Joshua wowed the crowd with his sword balancing acts and encouraged the audience to participate. Not everyone felt so confident with sharp edged swords on their heads, but at least they posed for photos and had the most unique Turkish experience in Atlanta.

Go Eat Give organizes Destination events every month featuring a different country. Sign up for our mailing list to receive an invitation for the next destination.

See photos from Destination Turkey

Cafe Mezo
794 Juniper Street
Atlanta, GA 30308

Macedonia’s Galichnik Wedding Festival

The Galičnik Wedding Festival is an annual festival held in the Macedonian village of Galičnik, in which a selected couple gets married in the traditional “Galička” style wedding. Traditionally the wedding lasted for 5 days with the main activities on St. Peter‘s Day (12 July) every year. It was the only period of the year when couples got married. Today it is part of the festival “Galičko Leto” meaning Galičnik Summer. It is a two-day event held on the weekend nearest to July 12th. Tourists in Macedonia flock to Galičnik to witness this beautiful ceremony and take part in the festivities. Each year, couples from all over Macedonia enter a competition run by the organizers to be the couple that gets to have a Galicka style wedding.

The five day event comprises of the following program….

Inviting the dead relatives to the wedding:
The bridegroom, along with a group of his closest relatives, visits the graves of dead family members where he proceeds to invite the deceased to his wedding.

Inviting the ‘kum (literally: “godfather”, though the closest equivalent in English is “best man”): After returning from the cemetery, the bridegroom, his friends and closest relatives invite the best man to the wedding.

Shaving the bridegroom:
In front of the “Upija” fountain, one of the friends shaves the bridegroom; an act which makes the closest relatives rueful because the shaving is a symbol of the separation of the boy from his mother and father.

Off to the bride’s house to formally ask for her hand in marriage:
From the bridegroom’s house, an entourage of over 50 in-laws goes to the bride’s house. The entourage is led by a bajraktar (flag bearer) and his friends on horses. The horses walk slowly in front of the entourage. Before their arrival, one of the bridegroom’s friends goes to the bride’s house to ask for permission for the arrival of the in-laws. He then returns to re-join the procession.

Arrival of the marriage brokers:
After the arrival of the in-laws, the flag bearer hands over the flag which is hung by the window. Then one of the bridegroom’s friends leads his horse in front of the bride’s house where the bride looks at the bridegroom through her ring. The bridegroom kisses the hands of the bride’s parents and then they put a towel over his shoulder.

The bride welcoming the marriage brokers:
In front of the house the bridegroom’s closest relatives sit at a table. The bridegroom’s mother gives presents to the bride and then the bride kisses her hand. The bride gets dressed and ready to go.

The bride sets off with the in-laws:
A bridegroom’s friend informs the in-laws that the bride is ready and they all prepare to go. The bride mounts a horse. The procession is then led by the flag bearer.

Welcoming the bride:
The bridegroom’s mother welcomes the bride with a sieve, a cake, and a goblet full of wine. She circles around the bride three times tapping her on the head with the cake. Then she puts a bridle on her and on the bridegroom’s cap. The bridegroom helps the bride to dismount the horse. Then she walks into the house.

Macedonia’s Galichnik Wedding Festival

Marriage ceremony:
The bride, the bridegroom’s mother and father, the flag-bearer and the other relatives walk up to the church. The bridegroom’s mother carries a kettle and a basil bouquet. She spatters the young couple and other guests on the way from the house to the church. A carpet is laid in front of the church and a flag is hung to the right of the entrance.

Marriage banquet:
After the wedding ceremony there is a wedding banquet at the “Upija“. The best man resides at the head of the table and the bridegroom calls for a toast.

Taking the bride to “Upija” where she leads the brides dance:
The bridegroom’s father and the best man lead the entourage. The bride is taken to the fountain where she fills water jugs. After that, the bride leads the bride’s dance.

Farewell to the musicians:
When wedding ends, the closest relatives say goodbye to the musicians.

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Arriving on Kuningan in Bali

I arrived in Bali during an auspictious time. The streets were decorated with bamboo poles and prayer offerings were everywhere. I saw processions of women carrying towers of food and flowers; groups of kids of all ages playing the gamelan; and processions  taking Barong (mystical beast) through the streets. In fact, every home and business had its “penjor” (similar to a Christmas tree), but outdoors and decorated with fruit, coconut leaves and flowers. Continue reading “Arriving on Kuningan in Bali”