5/9/2013 - You don’t need to spend a fortune on airfare or deal with the hassle of international travel if you want to watch hurling, the fastest game on grass, which dates back 3,000 years in Ireland.
And you don’t have to navigate your way around Accra, the capital city of Ghana, if you want to learn the dances of the vibrant west African city.
To learn what separates a traditional Japanese flower arrangement from a western one, you don’t need to spend years studying the art form in Japan. Antoinette Drouart has already done that and imparts her knowledge of ikebana onto students in the back of her Nashua store.
For nearly two decades, Marina Forbes has brought the art and history of her native Russia to schools and libraries throughout New Hampshire, including at her own language school in Rochester. And in Karimah Nabulsi’s kitchen in Exeter, her students can make and taste authentic Lebanese cuisine.
You may not get the same sightseeing aspects you would if you boarded a plane. But, if you look hard enough, there are ways to experience just about any foreign culture without leaving southern New Hampshire. A trip around the world can be as easy as getting in your car and starting to drive.
Dance to celebrate
To dance in Ghana is to tell a story. And for more than a decade, Theo Martey has been passing along the tradition of storytelling through movement to the people of New Hampshire through his African dance and drumming classes and performances with the Akwaaba Ensemble.
Martey started dancing when he was just 5 years old, living in the small town of Bukom, just outside of Accra, the largest city in Ghana. Martey said he would spend nearly all of his free time with musicians in the area and took part in his first performance when he was 6.
He began performing professionally in Ghana before moving to London and performing throughout Europe. Martey eventually decided he wanted to reconnect with some of the friends he used to perform with in Ghana who had moved to the United States. The problem, he said, was that they were all spread across New York State.
So, he rounded them up from New York City, Albany and Syracuse and brought the newly formed Akwaaba Ensemble to New Hampshire, a place he had only visited once before. Martey said an African dance group was something very different for the Granite State, but he found its serenity made for a perfect place to study and practice music.
“When I came here the place was beautiful nature-wise, and quiet,” he said. “After I had been touring around, I thought this would be a cool place where you can ease your mind. So, I chose New Hampshire.”
Since he first took that gamble, the ensemble has grown to 10 members, and Martey said they perform throughout New England and New York. But he doesn’t just want to have Americans watching the group’s traditional Ghanaian dance — he wants them to learn it too.
On a Monday night at Studio 550 Arts Center in downtown Manchester, Martey led a group of four students through some basic dance movements. To the beat of a pre-recorded drum track, Martey had the group members touching their toes, rolling their hands above their heads and laughing as he instructed the group to stand on one foot and “jiggle, jiggle.”
“I like to set the pace in a way everybody can jump into and get involved in it,” Martey said. “It seems to be going well with people because they just look at it as something new to them.”
Martey said once people take a dance class, there are two reasons why they keep coming back. The first, he said, is that it’s not just a dance, it’s a workout. Second, it’s a social movement.
In Ghana, the traditional dance styles are a part of nearly every gathering of people. He said in everything from a celebratory dance during a baby naming ceremony, to a dance done in mourning over a recently passed loved one, dance holds an essential place in Ghanaian culture.
But, Martey said, wherever you find dance, you will also find drums. He teaches traditional African drumming on djembes and other similar African drums, which he said also has diverse uses throughout Ghana.
“You can play for stress relief and play for fun too,” Martey said. “There’s a whole lot behind drumming. We use it for calling the gods and for chanting rhythms that come from telling dancers what to do when they are on the dance floor.”
Whether they take part in a class or not, Martey said he has enjoyed the opportunity he and the rest of the Akwaaba Ensemble has had to bring a bit of their home to New Hampshire.
“[The ensemble] is meant to educate people about what another part of the world is about and what its culture and its music is about,” he said
Dance and drum with Theo Martey and the Akwaaba Ensemble
When and where: Mondays, at 6 p.m., at Studio 550 Art Center (550 Elm St., Manchester) Wednesdays, at 5:50 p.m., at Bareknuckle Murphy’s (163 Lake Ave., Manchester) and Friday drumming class at Bareknuckle Murphy’s at 6:30 p.m.
The warrior’s game
They were a world away from home the first time they saw it. On their way to Iraq in 2005, members of the New Hampshire Army National Guard were stuck in the Shannon, Ireland, airport on a layover.
On a TV screen they saw a broadcast of a sport they had never seen before, a little bit like lacrosse and a little bit like field hockey. They watched as Irish athletes played a sport that dates back 3,000 years.
When they returned to New Hampshire, the group of soldiers wanted to find a way to stay active and stay in touch. They remembered the first time they saw the hurling match in the Irish airport and decided they wouldn’t just learn the fastest game played on grass, they would form a team.
The Barley House Wolves have played home matches in Concord and road games throughout New England since 2006. With no padding on their bodies and just a helmet and facemask on their heads, the game is full-contact, and players wield hurleys, wooden clubs that look like oversized field hockey sticks, to strike the ball.
Team co-founder Eddie Clements said many of the players are drawn to hurling because of the game’s fierce nature.
“One way we hook guys from the military is by asking them, ‘Are you a warrior?,’” Clements said. “We tell them that Celtic chieftains used to play as a way to train their warriors.”
The hurley is used to propel the ball along the ground or to scoop the ball off the grass and into a player’s hand, where it can be carried for no more than four steps. Players can strike the ball, which is called a sliotar, with their hurley over the crossbar of the opposing goal for one point or into the goal for three points.
Though the Wolves are primarily made of players who did not grow up playing the sport, the team has made a splash on the American hurling scene. The team is the reigning North American champion and has also developed its own club league of four teams.
To join the team or the club league, Clements said, a military background is not required. As long as there’s a willingness to learn, a dedication to developing new skills and an enthusiasm for contact, anyone can sign up to become a hurler.
“Just show up,” he said. “We’re a pretty accepting group.”
As the Wolves carry out a practice session on a massive field that straddles the town line between Concord and Bow, there is an Irish accent that rings out over the sounds of hurleys striking sliotars. The team’s head coach, Ruairi O’Mahony, grew up playing the sport in Ireland and played at the college level in the Irish city of Cork. Before moving to New Hampshire, he played in a league based in Canton, Mass.
O’Mahony said he has been thrilled to be a part of hurling’s growth in America. He said Americans can easily pick up on the necessary skills of hurling because they are easily transferable from the mainstream American sports. There are plenty of similarities between hurling, lacrosse and hockey, and the Irish sport even shares some commonalities with baseball.
When the sliotar is struck in the air, players swing their hurleys just like they would with a baseball, though hand placement is reversed. Though it hasn’t caught on as a mainstream American sport, O’Mahony said he’s not surprised hurling is among the fastest-growing team sports in the United States.
“You get a lot of aspects of sport that Americans are drawn to,” he said. “It’s high-scoring, it’s full contact and it’s fast.”
Barley House Wolves next home game
When: Saturday, May 11, at 3 p.m.
Where: Amoskeag Beverages Field, 512 Hall St., Bow
A Russian connection
In 1993, Marina Forbes boarded a plane from Saint Petersburg, Russia, bound for the United States. She won a nationwide contest that would select one Russian citizen to travel to America and learn about the culture, specifically the education system.
Twenty years later, Forbes has completely turned the tables. Instead of returning to Russia at the end of her six-month internship in the US, she met her husband and settled in New Hampshire. She opened the New England Language School in Rochester and has spent the last two decades teaching Americans about Russian history, art and culture.
At her Rochester school and at schools and libraries throughout New Hampshire, Forbes leads workshops on traditional Russian art forms, like icon painting and creating Matryoshka nesting dolls, the popular Russian doll that opens into smaller versions of itself.
She also spends a great deal of time with children, teaching them about the Russian folklore their peers grow up with across the world. Around Halloween, she said, she leads workshops that focus on Baba Yaga, a main character of nearly all Russian fairy tales.
“She’s a wicked witch of Russia and in Russia she’s a 24/7, 365 character,” Forbes said. “If you grew up in Soviet Russia, people would tell you that Baba Yaga will come to get you. But what makes Baba Yaga special is that sometimes she can show unbelievable kindness.”
Another of Forbes’ popular traditional Russian folk art workshops centers on the myth of the firebird. Forbes said in Russian folklore, there are two reasons to catch a firebird. One is that catching it ensures all that your dreams come true, and the other is that the firebird is so bright that just one feather could light up a whole town.
With her art, Forbes said, she teaches the distinct differences between the Russian and American approaches to painting, including the proper way to hold a paintbrush. When it comes to children, Forbes said they will often grip a paintbrush in the same way they would a crayon. But once the grip is corrected, the common Russian teaching is that the brush will lead its own way around a canvas.
“In Russia we believe if you hold the brush the proper way, the brush will paint by itself,” Forbes said. “I always tell people that there are no mistakes. It’s art, and in art, there are no mistakes.”
To help excite adults about Russian art and history, Forbes said she will demonstrate the significant ties between the two countries. For example, John Paul Jones the 18th century Naval captain who lived in Portsmouth for a time, is also considered a Russian hero. Forbes said he lived in Russia for two years and was promoted to the highest rank for a Russian naval officer.
And when Abraham Lincoln was working on abolishing slavery in America, Forbes said, he was in discussions with the Russian czar, who, two years before abolition in America, freed four million slaves in Russia.
Forbes’ home base is on the seacoast, but she travels all around New Hampshire, teaching as many people as she can about her home. She said she’s been to more than 100 different libraries in the state and is always looking for more people to reach.
“I’ve been everywhere and it’s so interesting,” Forbes said. “Some people in Russia have never heard of many of these cities in New Hampshire.”
Marina Forbes will be in Russia in May and June, but visit marinaforbes.com to see keep up on upcoming workshops.
Fascinated with food
When Karimah Nabulsi moved to Exeter in 2009, she found it difficult to branch out and meet new people in her new hometown. She had lived in Omaha, Neb., for 30 years with her husband and five children.
Her older kids stayed behind in Nebraska and had a simple suggestion for Nabulsi when she would talk about the difficulties she was experiencing in her social life.
“Just do what you love,” they told her.
That advice put her where she had always felt the most comfortable — the kitchen. Originally from Lebanon, Nabulsi’s passions have always been with traditional Middle Eastern cooking. As a child in a family of seven kids, Nabulsi said there was always a need for a ton of food in her home in Lebanon and when she moved to Nebraska as a child.
Nabulsi said right after the family’s move to the U.S., her mother suffered an injury, requiring her to take over cooking duties for the family. As she worked alongside her mother, Nabulsi said she became fascinated by the traditional Lebanese recipes and the necessity for fresh, healthy ingredients. She said she also fell in love with the serenity of the kitchen.
“My mother taught me that to make food better, sing while you cook,” Nabulsi said. “She really gave me a great experience and taught me to create with a fun spirit. To me, food is not just food. It’s art.”
After voluntarily bringing samples of her food to events around Exeter, the positive feedback inspired Nabulsi to make it her business. She founded Karimah’s Kitchen and distributes authentic Lebanese products made with local New Hampshire ingredients to stores and farmers markets around the seacoast and in southern New Hampshire at the Salem Farmers Market.
Though the heart of Karimah’s Kitchen is the packaged food it sells and its catering services, Nabulsi said it’s not her favorite part of what she does. Karimah’s Kitchen also offers Middle Eastern cooking classes, where a group of at least five people can work with Nabulsi to create a four-course Middle Eastern meal, paired with Lebanese wine, Turkish coffee and Middle Eastern tea.
Once the meal is made, the conversation over dinner is typically just as intriguing as the cooking process, Nabulsi said. It’s usually a sharing of culture as Nabulsi discusses her background and Lebanese culture. But, she said, she’s just as interested in learning about the backgrounds of her students.
“We share everything about our cultures,” Nabulsi said. “It’s amazing how beautiful it is to bring cultures together. There are more commonalities than differences.”
While a cultural education is at the core of Nabulsi’s classes, the food is the star of the show. Nabulsi said when people take her classes, they find they are amazed by how aggressively spices are added to the food, but how well they blend together.
She said the other shock comes from how no matter how much someone eats, a Middle Eastern meal doesn’t leave a diner weighed down.
“When they eat, people tell me they don’t get tired,” Nabulsi said. “They feel energy throughout the day. … It’s because of the fresh herbs. With the taste of the lemon, garlic and herbs, you want to eat more, but it’s all good for you.”
Where: 2 Heritage Way, Exeter. Packaged products can be found in stores and farmers markets around the Seacoast and at the Salem Farmers Market (37 Lake St., Salem).
Cost: Classes are $65 per person.
Simple beauty in ikebana
Inside a storefront in downtown Nashua, small branches are balanced in a saucer, standing nearly upright. One red flower floats below the branches in about an inch of water.
It’s a simple beauty, but creating this traditional Japanese floral arrangement requires patience, attention to detail and extensive practice. Antoinette Drouart first learned about ikebana when she was living in Japan with her husband, working as a translator.
The most obvious difference between Japanese floral arrangements and those that are popular in the western world is that the Japanese arrangements utilize negative space in their construction. Drouart said that with ikebana, what you don’t see is just as important as what you do.
“There’s only one type of flower and one type of branch,” Drouart said. “You focus on the beauty of the flower and the lines of the branches. Your eyes are not bouncing around.”
Drouart said despite the simple elegance of the arrangements, every portion of an ikebana arrangement is essential. She said when designing an arrangement, everything from the water to the container to the space the arrangement will be displayed in is taken into consideration.
“If I have a picture of the pot it’s going in, I will think of what will look good,” she said. “Or, tell me where in the house it will go and how it will be seen. It’s all about making it in harmony with the space.”
One of the aspects of Japanese floral arrangement that Drouart said she finds most interesting is that in Japan flower arrangements are not just for celebratory or special occasions — there are constantly flowers in the home, and they can be used as a welcoming element or as a piece of art.
She said with ikebana, there is always a seasonal element too; since the arrangements have a very short lifespan, the types of flowers and branches used will change depending on what is in bloom.
In addition to creating and selling her ikebana arrangements, Drouart teaches the art form in a small classroom in the back of her store. She said she receives a wide range of students from age 16 to 90, and they all seem to come from varying backgrounds.
“I have Japanese students who did some ikebana in Japan and I have some that are interested in learning about the Japanese culture and what the flowers mean,” Drouart said. “I get all ages, men and women.”
Students can sign up for five two-hour classes for $125 or drop in on one class for $50, to give it a try. Drouart said she keeps her ikebana classes small, to just five or six students at a time, so she can provide specific attention on each student’s work. That is especially important in ikebana, she said, because each arrangement is different.
“No two arrangements are ever alike,” she said. “You can’t look in a book and say, ‘Oh, I want that one.’ Each flower and each branch has its own characteristics.”
Ikebana Flower Classes
Where: 175 Main St., Nashua
When: Classes are offered at various times Wednesday through Saturday.
Cost: The full five-week course with two-hour sessions each week is $125. Ikebana Flower also offers one trial lesson for $50.
Taste and style of India
Behind Indira Shelat’s storefront is a cross-section of essential parts of Indian culture. There’s a market stocked with vegetarian food and spices. The kitchen in back is where she cooks an all-vegetarian takeout menu, and additional shelving houses kurtis for women and kurtas for men and saris for dressier occasions.
Shelat said she has enjoyed sharing her Indian background with southern New Hampshire in part because of her multicultural upbringing. Before moving to New Hampshire, Shelat said, she grew up in Uganda and then lived in London for 13 years.
She said that no matter where parents bring up their children, it’s important to maintain their background. Since she opened Food & Fashion of India in 2006, Shelat said, it’s been a way to both hang on to her culture and teach a little bit of it to those who are unfamiliar with it.
“Eighty percent of my customers are American,” Shelat said. “The whole thing started because people wanted to learn.”
What brings most of her customers through the door, Shelat said, is health driven. She said Indian cooking uses specific spices for specific purposes and many of them can be used to stave off cancer or Alzheimer’s disease.
For example, Shelat said turmeric can be used as a defense against nearly all diseases. Fenugreek is good for joint pain and ajwan seeds can help with digestion issues.
Shelat said the American interest in Indian food has also transitioned to the fashion part of her business, selling the traditional Indian temporary tattoo products of henna and mehndi in addition to the clothing. She said the kurtis and kurtas, traditional Indian shirts, come directly from India, and since she has incorporated the fashion aspect into her store, American customers have been intrigued by the clothing.
“I’ll measure and make out the clothing too so it fits right,” Shelat said. “As far as I know, I’m the only Indian tailor in New Hampshire.”
Food and Fashion of India
Where: 483 Amherst St., Nashua
When: The store is open Monday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., and Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.