On Friday one of my students asked me what the word “fantasy” meant. It’s a word I’ve defined so many times over my ESL teaching career that I had my answer ready for him: “A fantasy story is not real, it has magic, talking animals, maybe people that can fly. Like Harry Potter.” Usually this definition does the job. On Friday, however, my student responded, “What is Harry Potter?” I assumed I’d just spoken too quickly, so I repeated the name of everyone’s favourite boy wizard more slowly, only to be met with the same blank stare. “You don’t know Harry Potter?!” I spluttered in disbelief.
I quickly got pictures of both the books and the films up on the white board and waited for recognition to dawn on poor old Basem. “It is famous?” he asked suspiciously. I confirmed that yes, it is pretty well-known, and when he dismissed it as kids’ stuff I showed him a trailer for the final film. “See? It’s scary and exciting! You must know Harry Potter!” He shrugged and asked, “Is it a British film? Then it’s only famous in the UK, not in my country.” To prove him wrong, I went around the class asking students of each nationality (Thai, Chinese, Colombian, Libyan, Czech) and even one of his countrymen (Saudi) and they all confirmed that they had heard of Mr Potter. “Your homework this weekend is to watch Harry Potter,” I ordered him. Today we will see if he has obeyed.
In the classroom it’s always a struggle to find cultural references that people from different nationalities can relate to, but I’ve always felt Harry Potter was a safe bet. As stunned as I am, I also find it fascinating that this phenomenon has completely passed him by. If he’s not really interested in it, fair enough. But to never even have heard of it…how is that possible? What kind of sheltered, isolated life does he lead? Not knowing Harry Potter seems to be on par with not knowing about tea or the Queen or the Beatles or curry. Speaking of which…here’s a good ‘un.
Serves 4, from Simon Rimmer
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced
1-2 red chillies, deseeded and sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp each ground cumin, coriander and fenugreek
1 tbsp turmeric
2.5cm piece ginger, chopped
1 tin chopped tomatoes
150ml vegetable stock
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into chunks
2 courgettes, thickly sliced
1 red pepper, chopped into chunks
large handful spinach
1. Heat half of the oil in a pan and fry the onion for about 7 minutes.
2. Add the garlic and chilli and fry for another 3 minutes.
3. Add the ground spices, ginger and tomatoes. Stir well.
4. Pour in the stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes.
5. Allow to cool slightly, then blitz in a blender to make a smooth sauce.
6. Meanwhile, bring a pan of water to the boil and cook the sweet potato chunks for about 10 minutes or so until tender.
7. Heat the remaining oil in a pan and fry the courgettes and pepper for 5-7 minutes until soft. (If you intend to serve the curry with rice, put it on to cook now.)
8. Transfer the blitzed sauce into a large pan and add the cooked potato, courgettes and pepper, along with the spinach. Heat through gently.
9. Season the curry and serve.