Aug 192016


World Humanitarian Day is a day dedicated to the recognition of people carrying out humanitarian work and those who have lost their lives working for humanitarian causes. It was designated by the United Nations General Assembly as part of a Swedish-sponsored GA Resolution A/63/L.49 on the Strengthening of the Coordination of Emergency Assistance of the United Nations, and set as 19 August. It marks the day on which the then Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Iraq, Sérgio Vieira de Mello and 21 of his colleagues were killed in the bombing of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad.


A national of Brazil, Sérgio Vieira de Mello dedicated a lifetime spanning over thirty years in the United Nations, serving in some of the most challenging humanitarian situations in the world to reach the voiceless victims of armed conflict, to alleviate their suffering and to draw attention to their plight. His death together with 21 colleagues on 19 August 2003 in Baghdad, deprived the victims of armed conflict worldwide of a humanitarian leader of unmatched courage, drive and empathy who championed their cause fearlessly and etched their plight on the world map. The tragic event also robbed the humanitarian community of an outstanding humanitarian leader and intellectual whose thinking, philosophy, dynamism, and courage inspired all, and whose timeless efforts should be a model for coming generations to emulate.


Mindful of this legacy, in 2006 the Vieira de Mello family and a group of close friends founded the Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation dedicated to continuing his unfinished mission of encouraging dialogue between communities and relieving the plight of victims of humanitarian crises. The Foundation is dedicated to supporting initiatives and efforts to promote dialogue for peaceful reconciliation and co-existence between peoples and communities divided by conflict through an annual Sergio Vieira Mello Award, an Annual Sergio Vieira Mello Memorial Lecture, a Sergio Vieira de Mello Fellowship and advocating for the security and independence of humanitarian workers, wherever they may be operating and whomever they may be operating for. The Foundation views World Humanitarian Day as a befitting tribute to all humanitarian personnel who have made the ultimate sacrifices to make the world a better place for all victims of humanitarian crises and an encouragement to all their colleagues to aspire to even greater heights in accomplishing that laudable goal.

The Sérgio Vieira de Mello Foundation is committed to working closely with all Governments, the United Nations, International Organizations and Non-Governmental Organizations to make Word Humanitarian Day a meaningful observance every year. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is leading efforts to plan and guide the observance of the Day that will be commemorated annually world wide by Governments, the United Nations and International Humanitarian Organizations and NGOs.

World Humanitarian Day was commemorated for the first time on 19 August 2009. Subsequent years have focused on a particular theme. In 2010, the focus was on the actual work and achievements of humanitarian workers in the field, with the theme, “We are Humanitarian Workers.” The 2011 campaign, “People Helping People” was about inspiring the spirit of aid work in everyone. The 2012 campaign, “I Was Here” was about making your mark by doing something good, somewhere, for someone else. The campaign has had a social reach of more than 1 billion people around the world. It was supported by the singer Beyoncé, whose music video for the song “I Was Here” has been viewed more than 50 million times.


In 2013, the UN and its partners launched a project called “The World Needs More…”. In collaboration with global advertising firm Leo Burnett, the campaign aims to turn words into aid for people affected by humanitarian crises. Private sector companies and philanthropists are being encouraged to sponsor a word that they believe the world could use more of, e.g. “action.” People can then ‘unlock’ money pledged by sponsors by ‘sharing’ these words through social media, SMS and through the campaign website at  Events to mark World Humanitarian Day and launch the campaign were held in more than 50 countries around the world.

World Humanitarian Day also aims to bring attention to the fact that there is a humanitarian crisis in the world today. The UN’s Agenda for Humanity has five areas of focus.

1 End & Prevent Conflict

2 Respect Rules of War

3 Leave No One Behind

4 Work Differently To End Need

5 Invest In Humanity

If #1 were in effect there would be no need for #2 of course.

The Syrian refugee crisis is of major importance right now, but the UN estimates that at least 130 million people in the world today are in crisis because of war. It’s quite easy to discern counterproductive imperatives in developed countries: they cause conflict around the world and then refuse to help the refugees who are displaced by their actions. Monstrous. We ALL must speak out. Spread the word.

It would not be right to celebrate conflict and the refuge crisis, but I the day is really about honoring the life of Sérgio Vieira de Mello (as well as all humanitarian aid workers). So, a Brazilian recipe is in order. What could be more Brazilian than feijoada?  At root feijoada is a stew of black beans and meat, and, of course, you can cook it a million different ways. Here is a serviceable recipe. You can alter the meats, but it must have black beans.




1 lb/480 g dry black beans
4 tbsp olive oil
1 lb 480 g pork shoulder, cut into chunks
2 large onions, peeled and sliced
1 head of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 lb/450 g carne seca or corned beef, cut into chunks
½ lb/225 g fresh Brazilian pork sausage
1 lb/480 g  lingüiça  (smoked sausage)
1 smoked ham hock or shank
3-4 bay leaves
1 14.5 oz/411 g crushed tomatoes
meat stock


Soak the black beans overnight in cold water.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed large pot over medium-high heat and add the onions and pork shoulder and brown them well all over. Add the garlic and sauté 2 more minutes.

Add the other meats and bay leaves, and cover with rich stock. Bring to a gentle simmer, cover, and cook for 1 hour.

Drain the black beans from their soaking liquid and add them to the meat. Continue simmering gently, covered, until the beans are tender – about 1½ hours.

Add the tomatoes, stir well, and taste for seasoning. Add salt if needed.

Simmer the stew, uncovered, for a further 2-3 hours.

Serve with white rice and hot sauce.

As side dishes you can serve collard greens and fried plantains.

Aug 112013


The Mesoamerican Long Count calendar is a very long, cyclic, base-20 and base-18 calendar used by several Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures, most notably the Maya. For this reason, it is sometimes known as the Maya (or Mayan) Long Count calendar, even though it was also used by the Olmec and Aztec.

Long Count Sites

Long Count Sites

Using a modified base-20 tally, the Long Count calendar identifies a day by counting the number of days passed since a legendary Mayan creation date that corresponds to August 11, 3114 BCE in the Gregorian calendar. On this day, Raised-up-Sky-Lord caused three stones to be set by associated gods at Lying-Down-Sky, First-Three-Stone-Place. Because the sky still lay on the primordial sea, it was black. The setting of the three stones centered the cosmos which allowed the sky to be raised, revealing the sun. Let there be light!


The long count was broken down into five components:  b’ak’tun, k’atun, tun, uinal (sometimes winal), and k’in.  As shown in the table below 1 k’in is equivalent to 1 day, 1 uinal is equivalent to 20 days, and so forth. It is essentially a base-20 system except for the fact that 1 tun is only 18 uinal (approximately a solar year).

b’ak’tun k’atun tun uinal k’in
Equals 20 k’atun 20 tun 18 uinal 20 kin
Days 144,000 7,200 360 20 1


Today’s date (11 August 2013) in long count is meaning that today is 13 b’ak’tun  0 k’atun  0 tun  11 uinal  13 k’in since the beginning of the earth in Mayan terms. There has been a certain amount of debate concerning the correlation between the Mayan Long Count and modern calendars, but the system I am using is the most widely accepted. It is known as the Goodman-Martinez-Thompson, or GMT, correlation, not to be confused with GMT meaning Greenwich Mean Time! (see post 10 August). The numbered Long Count was no longer in use by the time the Spanish arrived in the Yucatán Peninsula, although named uinals (months) and numbered k’in (days) were still used in a system known as haab’ that consisted of a year of 18 months each with 20 days. The haab’ year was 360 days long, so 5 days were added each year to bring the calendar in line with the sun.   You can use this site to convert Gregorian calendar dates to Mayan Long Count (and haab’ dates).

Long Count dates are written with Mesoamerican numerals, as shown on the pictured table. A dot represents 1, a bar equals 5, and these can be combined. The shell glyph was used to represent the zero.


The Long Count calendar required the use of zero as a place-holder, and represents one of the earliest uses of the zero in history. There was no zero in the Roman numeral system, and that absence seriously hampered computation. Try doing this simple sum in Roman numerals: MCDXCIX – CCCXXVI = ? (The answer is MCLXXIII if you are interested).

On Mayan monuments, the Long Count syntax is complex. The date sequence is given once, at the beginning of the inscription, and opens with the so-called ISIG (Introductory Series Initial Glyph) which reads in translation “the year-count was revered by the patron of [name of the month]”. Next come the 5 digits of the Long Count, followed by the date in two different Short Counts, plus an optional supplementary set of glyphs containing lunar data for the day, such as the phase of the moon. The text then continues with whatever activity occurred on that date.


The earliest contemporaneous Long Count inscription yet discovered is on Stela 2 at Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas, Mexico, showing a date of 36 BCE, although Stela 2 from Takalik Abaj, Guatemala might be earlier. Takalik Abaj Stela 2’s highly battered Long Count inscription shows a 7 bak’tun, followed by a k’atun with a tentative 6 coefficient, but it could also be 11 or 16, giving the range of possible dates  as falling between 236 and 19 BCE.


Amateur misunderstanding of the Maya Long Count led to ridiculous prophecies of the world ending on 21 December 2012, the date marking the completion of 12 b’ak’tun. Serious Mayanist scholars dismissed these nonsensical predictions on two grounds. First, there is no hint whatsoever in Mayan records that the end of a b’ak’tun cycle portends anything good or bad.  It is simply the end of a cycle and an excuse for a party much like New Year’s or the turning of a millennium in the West.  Second, 2012 marks the end of only 12 b’ak’tun. There are 7 b’ak’tun more to go before the long count reaches That’s about 2761 years from now. Check back in with me then.


As is well known, the encounter of Europeans with Mesoamerican cultures, especially the Maya and Aztec, vastly diversified fruits and vegetables available.  ALL modern cuisines worldwide rely on vegetables domesticated in the New World.  The Mayans gave the West corn, tomatoes, black beans, chiles, avocados, sweet potatoes, squash, papaya, chocolate, and vanilla.  Here’s a dish I created using only indigenous Mayan ingredients. The annatto adds a fine earthy flavor. Adjust the chiles to suit your abilities with hot stuff. Removing the seeds will reduce the heat. You can use store bought corn tortillas of course, but fresh are best.  You will need a tortilla press to make them yourself. I’ve never had much luck with a rolling pin because the dough is so crumbly.


Black Beans in Tortilla Wrappers

Black Bean Filling


1 cup dried black beans
½ cup fresh corn kernels
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 finely chopped habanero chilis (or other hot chiles)
1 chopped green bell pepper
1 tsp powdered annatto
2 cups water

chopped tomato and avocado for topping


Soak the beans overnight, inspecting them to be sure there are no foreign materials such as small stones.

Heat the oil over medium high heat in a heavy saucepan.  Add the chile, bell pepper, annatto, and salt to taste, and sauté briefly.

Add the beans and continue to sauté for 2 minutes.

Add the water and bring to a gentle simmer.  Cook covered for about 40 minutes and add the corn to the pot. Cook for another 20 minutes, or until the beans are soft. When the beans and corn are cooked, the cooking liquid should be reduced to a thick coating. Keep warm.

Yield: about 2½ cups

Corn Tortillas:


2 cups (500 ml) masa harina (treated corn flour)
1 ½ cups  (400 ml) warm water
pinch of salt


Slowly mix the corn flour and salt with the water until you have a soft, smooth dough. Don’t make it too moist. Cover the dough with a damp cloth.

Pinch off a golf ball sized piece of dough, flatten it, place it between two squares of waxed paper, and squeeze it flat in a tortilla press.

Heat an ungreased heavy skillet or non-stick frying pan over medium heat.

Gently remove the tortilla from the waxed paper with wet hands and place it in the skillet. Cook for about a minute per side.  You are looking for the tortilla to brown and take on some speckled darker spots.

Remove the tortilla and start a stack on a plate covered with a damp cloth.  Repeat.

Yield:  about 15 tortillas


Place a tortilla on the palm of your hand.

Place 2 tablespoons of beans in a line down the middle.  Top with chopped tomatoes and avocadoes.

Roll up and eat.


If you want to be fancy you can roll them up in the kitchen and place them on a serving plate.  But, even so, you really must eat them with your hands. If you like you can also add a fresh salsa made of tomatoes, chiles, and bell pepper pulsed in a blender or food processor.