Thursday, October 30, 2014

Black Paris Profiles™ II: Erma Manoncourt - Part 1

Part 1 of this Black Paris Profile™ features Dr. Erma Manoncourt and her devotion to public service through international development organizations.

Dr. Erma Manoncourt
Image courtesy of Dr. Manoncourt

Erma Manoncourt is a social-behavioral scientist and owner of M & D Consulting, Inc. With advanced degrees in clinic social work and public health, she designs, develops and evaluates programs and interventions that promote health and well-being for individuals, families, and communities. She also trains public health and international development professionals in techniques and methods that can be used to change societal attitudes, individual behaviors, and social practices and norms.

Erma’s work focuses primarily on populations living in low and middle-income countries. She often finds herself crisscrossing continents as she implements projects that tackle childhood obesity, domestic violence, poor nutrition and sanitation, and other social problems. Paris has been her home base since 1990, though she spent a number of years away when she worked for the United Nations. She resumed full-time residence here in 2011.

The civil disobedience and Black Power movements of the mid-60’s served as the backdrop of Erma’s undergraduate education and she attributes her study of psychology and history in this environment as formative of her desire to understand

why people do the things they do, believe what they do and what must be different for them to change...

After completing college, she decided she wanted to work with local communities in the U.S. to effect social change. So she pursued advanced degrees to strengthen her skills in understanding human and social behavior. Over time, she was drawn to international work, which was fueled in part by the love for travel that she developed at an early age. She nurtured a desire to work in public health in developing countries – always with the aim of understanding others to promote positive change.

Beginning with an opportunity to train Peace Corps volunteers in Togo in the mid-1980s, Erma has accumulated 15 years of experience working in sub-Saharan Africa (nations served include Benin, Mali, Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Zaire [now DRC], Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda and Sudan).

Her Peace Corps experience led her to challenge her perception of herself and come to terms with her African heritage and working in numerous countries helped her to better understand the wide diversity that exists on the continent. Part of this diversity stems from the influence of European colonizers. Erma notes that one can immediately distinguish a country that was colonized by the French versus the British or Germans – in addition to what European language may also be an official language, the approach to bureaucracy, the private sector, architecture, etc. is different.

Since those initial days of working in sub-Saharan Africa, Erma has adapted her approach to work to suit the needs of different cultures and organizations in Asia, Central Asia/Eastern Europe, and the Middle East.

Erma was working in Rwanda at the time of the genocide and returned almost 20 years later. I asked her to talk about her experiences there:

In 1994 I went to Rwanda as member of a 3-person team of public health consultants whose task was to evaluate a family planning program of a large American Non-Government Organization (NGO), which was located in a district outside of Kigali. Our arrival was one week before the genocide started and I remained in-country two weeks after it started. I was finally evacuated with the help of the Belgian government, CARE and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Rwanda and UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) once I and my colleagues escaped across the border to Tanzania. To this day, my first-hand experience has led me to have immense respect for the work of these two non-governmental organizations and UN agency. I will never forget their staff’s dedication and commitment to helping others during this traumatic period, even if meant putting their own lives in danger.

Flier for Paris’ Mémorial de la Shoah exposition on the Rwanda Genocide
© Discover Paris!

In 2012, I returned for the first time in 20 years, again as a consultant. My task was to assist a United Nations country office in reframing its country program focus and strategies and to co-facilitate a staff retreat that focused on how to effectively address organizational change that would affect the structure, staffing and work processes. In both instances, I was dealing with aspects of attitude and behavior change.

Over the 20 years that lapsed, a transformation had taken place... Rwanda is now a country on the move – its vibrancy and energy today is a direct contrast to the fear and rage that I experienced earlier. It was a surprise to find that the country had changed its official language from French to English. A low-functioning health system that struggled with an AIDS epidemic in the 80’s has been improved - health services are now more efficient and available to local communities all over the country and the system is responsive to community needs and concerns.

I was also struck by the cleanliness of the streets, the bustling businesses and the computer stores throughout Kigali, just to name a few things. In the 1990’s I remember Kigali as a quaint, but very poor city that reflected the country’s low development status. Today, Rwanda is set to become a middle-income country as it experiences an economic boom and serves as a regional power broker in Africa.

Next week, Part 2 of this profile will feature Erma's work at UNICEF and her life in Paris.


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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Cap 99 - Afro-Caribbean food in the Quartier Mouffetard

Sunday was a picture perfect day in Paris and Tom and I decided to cap off a photography session on Pont Alexandre III and the Tuileries Garden with dinner at a neighborhood restaurant that we've walked by many times - Cap 99 on rue du Pot de Fer in the 5th arrondissement. The restaurant is less than half a block from rue Mouffetard, our favorite market street.

Cap 99 Façade
© Discover Paris!

Eric is the proprietor of Cap 99. He is from Benin and is quite the convivial host. When he saw that we wanted to take photos of the dining room, he pulled out a drum and posed for us!

Cap 99 dining room
© Discover Paris!

Eric poses for us
© Discover Paris!

The cuisine at Cap 99 is primarily West African. Traditional dishes such as Ndole, Yassa, and Mafé are accompanied by missolé (plantains) and Cameroonian beers are listed on the beverage menu. The French Caribbean gets a nod with Accras and Colombo...

Eric makes fabulous jus de gingembre (ginger juice) that he "spiked" with morsels of dried ginger for me. (I thought the juice was potent until I tasted these little nuggets!) He sold his last Cameroonian Guinness before we arrived so he offered Tom a Mützig (another beer brewed in Cameroon - made with barley, corn, and hops) that was three times the volume of the Guinness - for the same price. So we were set for beverages for this amazing meal.

We were so hungry after our photo shoot that we forgot our cardinal rule - never order three courses at an African restaurant because the portions are so large that you either overeat or can't finish your meal. I ordered Samoussa de chasseur followed by Yassa poulet for the main course and Blanc manger coco for dessert. Tom ordered Accras de morue followed by braised tilapia for the main course and Mont Mandara (named after a Cameroonian mountain range) for dessert. And sure enough, we left feeling stuffed because we tried to eat everything that Eric set before us!

The samoussas, three triangles of brick pastry stuffed with minced beef, green peas, diced potatoes, and minced carrot, were large enough to have served as my main dish. Piping hot, they were accompanied by a tomato-based sauce flavored with dried shrimp and ginger. They were absolutely scrumptious!

Samoussa de chasseur
© Discover Paris!

The yassa was prepared with loads of onion and pitted green olives. A large mound of white rice and five generous slices of caramelized plantain were served alongside a large chicken leg and back. I couldn't even fathom eating the rice!

Tom loved his accras and he eagerly sampled one of my samoussas as well. When his tilapia arrived, he was overwhelmed! An entire fish - plus rice and missolé - covered his plate, which was larger than mine. He devoured it with gusto.

© Discover Paris!

Eric saw that he finished his plantains and offered another serving of them, which Tom accepted. He made a valiant attempt to finish his rice with the spicy onion condiment served with the tilapia, but he could only manage to eat half of it. He wanted to save room for dessert, as did I.

My Blanc manger coco was a coconut pudding made with condensed milk, coconut milk, coconut flakes, and a coconut wafer on top. Tom's dessert was a portion of warm chocolate cake with a molten chocolate center sitting in crème anglaise and topped with coconut ice cream.
Mont Mandara
© Discover Paris!

After finishing this course, we both pushed away from the table feeling that we needed an after-dinner nap!

Cap 99
5, rue du Pot de Fer
75005 Paris
Metro: Place Monge (Line 7)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Return to Ohinéné

I first wrote about Ohinéné last June, after Tom and I dined there upon the recommendation of a friend who lives nearby. We recently returned to celebrate the success of Tom's e-book, Dining Out in Paris, because Ohinéné is one of the twelve restaurants featured in it!

Ohinéné restaurant
© Discover Paris!

Edith (co-owner and chef) and Jean-Benoit (co-owner and part-time server) were as cheerful and welcoming as ever.

Edith Gnapié and Jean-Benoit Chauveau, co-owners
© Discover Paris!

We were surprised to see an image of their son Owen on a poster in the window on rue Orfila as we approached the front door:

Y'a bon, BISSAP
© Discover Paris!

It tells passersby that Ohinéné serves wonderful bissap (a soft drink made from hibiscus flowers). I can testify to this because Tom and I both ordered it the last time we dined here and we loved it.

© Discover Paris!

This time, we elected to try Edith's fresh ginger juice and were equally impressed. It is the best I've tasted in Paris!

Ohinéné still serves French cuisine at lunchtime, as the menu behind the counter shows. They've even begun serving burgers, which have become ubiquitous in Paris restaurants.

Lunch menu
© Discover Paris!

But at night, cuisine from Côte d'Ivoire reigns! Edith almost always prepares a dish that is braised and smothered with a vibrant array of chopped veggies.

Special of the day
© Discover Paris!

And Jean-Benoit is proud of the top quality mangoes that he selects for dessert.

Fresh mango
© Discover Paris!

Read about Edith and Jean-Benoit's story in Dining Out in Paris.

14, rue de la Chine
75020 Paris
Telephone: 01 71 20 67 62
Metro: Pelleport (Line 3bis)or Gambetta (Line 3)


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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Two Black Men at the Institut de France

A couple of weeks ago, writer Dany Laferrière participated in Festival AMERICA. He is the first black person since Léopold Sédar Senghor to be elected to the Académie Française (French Academy - the organization that is responsible for the protection of the French language)*. He is also the first member who is neither French, naturalized French, nor a resident of France. His coming investiture was announced on December 13, 2013, and he will be officially inducted into the august institution in 2015. He will occupy the chair vacated by Hector Bianciotti, who died in 2012.

Dany Laferrière during the Salon du Livre in Paris (2010)
Creative Commons Attribution - Georges Seguin (Okki)

Laferrière is a native of Haïti who immigrated to Montreal in 1976 to escape the regime of Jean-Claude Duvalier (Baby Doc). A prolific writer, he has published over twenty books to date - using a Remington typewriter that purportedly belonged to Chester Himes. Hemingway, Henry Miller, and Baldwin are among the writers who have influenced him.

In 1985, he exploded onto the Quebeçois literary scene with his first novel Comment faire l’amour avec un nègre sans se fatiguer (How to Make Love to a Negro without Getting Tired). In 1989, the book was made into a film, which was boycotted by the NAACP.

Book cover - Comment faire l'amour avec un nègre sans se fatiguer

Laferrière lived in Miami, Florida between 1990 and 2002, then returned to Montreal, where he lives today. He was in Haïti during the 2010 earthquake and wrote his book Tout Bouge Autour de Moi (The World is Moving around Me) from the notes he took during the hours and days after the disaster struck. Published in 2010 by Memoirs d'encrier in Montreal and a year later by the prestigious Paris editor Grasset, it provides an intimate look at the strength and dignity of the Haïtian people in the face of disaster.

A winner of numerous literary awards in Canada since 2009, Laferrière was named Officier de l'Ordre National du Québec (National Order of Quebec) in 2014. This is described as the highest honor in Quebec.

A couple of days prior to the announcement about Dany Laferrière - at 3:00 PM on December 11, 2013, to be exact - sculptor Ousmane Sow became the first black and the first African to occupy a chair at the Académie des Beaux-Arts (Academy of Fine Arts)*.

Ousmane Sow
Image from

During his acceptance speech, the 78-year old Sow paid tribute to his continent, to his predecessor, Senghor, and to Nelson Mandela:

As was my colleague and fellow Senegalese Leopold Sedar Senghor, who was elected to the French Academy thirty years ago [2 June 1983], I am an Africanist. In this spirit, I dedicate this ceremony to the whole of Africa, it's Diaspora, and the great man who recently left us, Nelson Mandela...

Arriving in Paris at the age of 22, Sow began his life here by working odd jobs before studying to become a physical therapist. He repatriated Senegal when it gained its independence. He began sculpting in earnest at the age of 50 and began showing his works in Dakar.

The year 1999 brought the "tipping point" in Sow's career with the magnificent exposition of his African wrestlers and warriors as well as pieces from his Battle of Little Big Horn series on the Pont des Arts, which stretches across the river between the Louvre and the Institut de France. Seventy-five sculptures were viewed by more than 3,000,000 visitors during this show.

Ousmane Sow - Pont des Arts Catalog Cover

Part of the Little Big Horn collection was shown at the Whitney Museum in New York in 2003.

Sow was unanimously elected to the Academy. He takes the chair of the American painter Andrew Wyeth (1906-2001). The Tunisian fashion designer Azzedine Alaïa created the ceremonial costume that he wore to his investiture. He designed the pommel for the ceremonial sword himself. The first lady of Senegal, Madame Marième Faye Sall, presented the sword to him.

To view photos of the ceremony, click here.

*The Académie Française and the Académie des Beaux-Arts are part of the Institut de France (French Institute). The institute is responsible for the management of several foundations and cultural venues, including museums and historic monuments in France and abroad.