Wednesday, September 13, 2017

CHAD




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When I started this project, I wasn’t aware that there was a novel available in English written by an author from Chad. The only option I had heard of was a short memoir called Told by Starlight in Chad, by Joseph Brahim Seid. To the extent possible, though, I’m trying to read fiction from each country, so I was happy when two other women who are doing a global reading blog of their own came across a novel, The Plagues of Friendship, by Chadian author Sem Miantoloum Beasnael.

This book is written in the form of a journal kept by the protagonist, Njeleulem, a college-educated man who has worked in leadership positions in a couple of different organizations in both Chad and Ghana. He has come a long way in his professional life and he has a happy home life, with a loving wife and children. Unfortunately, since childhood, he has been bedeviled by his interactions with his friend Ngarbel, whose motives and loyalties are always suspect. The plot centers around Njeleulem’s increasing unhappiness with his treatment by Ngarbel.

I enjoyed reading about the customs of Chad, as well as the issues facing the African continent during the timeframe in which the book was set. At one point, Njeleulem works in Ghana for the fictional Organization for the Promotion of African Language and Culture (OPALC), which has been created in response to the Pan-African movement that came about after colonialism ended. He and Ngarbel discuss the vacuum that was created when the colonists left, and there are numerous references to Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first prime minister after the country gained its independence, who was a strong advocate for African unity. It appears that this was an exciting time for many newly-liberated African countries.

While the book’s plot was not particularly engaging, and the protagonist seemed almost absurdly overwrought about his problems with Ngarbel, it was interesting to read about Njeleulem’s travels in central and western Africa and to listen in on conversations he had with friends about various social and cultural topics. The Plagues of Friendship helped me develop a better understanding of a country about which I’d known very little before.

COOK


The most prominent food item mentioned in The Plagues of Friendship is the pangasso, a kind of donut made from millet. Early in the book, Ngarbel saves a fellow student who is choking from having crammed too many millet donuts in his mouth in order to not have to share them with his classmates. I looked for a good pangasso recipe, but couldn’t find one. Instead, I searched the Internet for vegetarian recipes from Chad and found several. Predictably, I chose one of the easier dishes, courgette with peanuts. “Courgette” is another word for zucchini, and this dish is basically just boiled zucchini mashed with margarine and topped with peanuts, which seem to be ubiquitous in central African cuisine. It turned out to be a tasty and unique side dish. The recipe came from the InternationalCuisine.com website.


GIVE


The GlobalGiving.com website lists four projects in Chad. Three of the projects assist refugees from Darfur who have had to flee their native Sudan. I wanted a project to help the people of Chad themselves, so I chose the fourth project, which offers life skills and peer education to Chadian youth. The project is administered by the International Blue Cross and seeks to give vulnerable youth “the skills and knowledge to make informed decisions about alcohol and drugs and associated risks, including the transmission of HIV/AIDs.” The hope is that [t]eaching the ability to make informed decisions empowers youth to be strong leaders and role models within their community.” More information about this project is available at https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/life-skills-peer-education-africa/.



NEXT STOP: CHILE

Thursday, August 31, 2017

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC





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As was the case with the book I chose last week for Cape Verde, there are very few books from the Central African Republic that have been translated into English. The book that I and other bloggers who are reading the world have found for this country is Daba’s Travels from Ouadda to Bangui, by Pierre Makombo Bamboté.

This book is geared more to children than adults, maybe in the eight to twelve-year-old range, and tells the story of Daba’s idyllic life growing up in the Central African Republic. According to the book’s dedication, it’s based on the author’s own childhood. It begins in the village of Ouadda, where Daba lives a happy life with his parents. His father supports the family by gathering rubber, honey, and beeswax, and by growing cotton.

The action soon moves to the town of Bambari, about 125 miles away, where Daba is sent to attend boarding school. He does well in school, spends time in other villages during school breaks, and acquires a pen-pal from Marseilles named Guy. When Guy wins a trip to Africa in a contest, he, Daba, and a few other of Daba’s fellow students spend a summer teaching people in a nearby village how to read and write. As the summer ends and Guy returns to Marseilles, Daba and his friends find out they’ve been awarded scholarships to attend school in France.

The book has no plot to speak of – it’s just an account of Daba’s childhood. Published in 1970, those happy-go-lucky days are likely a thing of the past for anyone currently living in the Central African Republic, which has endured many years of civil war in the recent past. It has been called the worst country in the world for young people, and it is also the unhealthiest country, according to researchers at the University of Seattle.

Considering the dire condition in which the Central African Republic currently exists, Daba’s Travels from Ouadda to Bangui serves as a sad reminder of the country’s good old days. The author is fortunate to have grown up there when he did.


COOK

Many of the meals Bamboté wrote about in Daba’s Travels from Ouadda to Bangui were heavily meat-based, and hunting was a favorite pastime in the villages Daba visited. Food crops and fruit trees were mentioned too, however – manioc, corn, papayas, mangos, guavas, oranges, groundnuts (peanuts), and bananas. In fact, when Daba goes away to boarding school, he often skips the school meals and “lived mostly off the fruit he had gathered from the guava and papaya trees where he did his homework.”

Of all the vegan or veganizable recipes I found online for the Central African Republic, the one that appealed to me the most was the one for this sweet peanut butter rice dish that I found on the Global Table Adventure website. Apparently, peanut butter is a staple of Central African Republic cuisine. This dish could not have been any more simple to make, and it was really good. I had it for breakfast, and it was a great way to start the day!


GIVE

There were no projects listed for the Central African Republic on the GlobalGiving website, so I had to do a little digging to find an organization for my donation to this country. I discovered Water for Good, which is working to bring clean water to the people of the Central African Republic through the drilling, servicing, and rehabilitating of wells. This organization works with local water businesses in order to ensure that the wells will be sustainable in the long-term. More information about Water for Good is available at https://waterforgood.org/.

After I’d made my donation, I came across a very recent article on UNICEF’s website about the vast numbers of people from the Central African Republic who are currently fleeing the violence caused by armed groups that control much of the country. According to the article, “These past months and weeks have seen horrendous reports on children’s rights violations. Precise numbers are impossible to know but we know for a fact that children have been killed; there have been incidents of sexual violence, and that recruitment into armed groups is happening. But there are less direct violations with lasting consequences – having to flee or take refuge in the bush; having no education or health care.” For that reason, I decided to also make a donation to UNICEF to help the children of this troubled country.



NEXT STOP: CHAD



Friday, August 25, 2017

CAPE VERDE




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One of the joys of this global reading project is learning about countries I’ve never had occasion to think about before. With a country like Cape Verde, this meant searching my desktop globe to find out where in the world it is. As it turns out, Cape Verde is a small group of islands located off the western coast of Africa, just across from Senegal and Mauritania. It was formerly a colony of Portugal, so the official language is Portuguese. Trying to find a novel from Cape Verde that’s been translated from Portuguese into English is difficult, so as far as I know, pretty much everyone who has embarked on a project like this one ends up reading The Last Will and Testament of Senhor da Silva Araújo, by Germano Almeida.

This book tells the story of Napumoceno da Silva Araújo, who has just died at a ripe old age and left a 387-page will that must be read aloud by a notary to the assembled witnesses and hopeful beneficiaries. Senhor da Silva Araújo, who is referred to throughout the book as Sr. Napumoceno, has always had a reputation as a successful businessman, straightlaced in both his personal and professional life. His nephew Carlos, assuming that he will inherit Sr. Napumoceno’s entire estate, takes great pains to plan the funeral exactly the way his uncle has requested.

However, the bulk of the estate has been left, not to Carlos, but to Sr. Napumoceno’s daughter, who had been born out-of-wedlock twenty-five years earlier. Her existence was a big surprise to everyone attending the reading of the will, because “who would ever have dreamed that Napumoceno da Silva Araújo would be capable of taking advantage of the days his cleaning woman came to the office to engage in a little hanky-panky, in the corners of the room and on top of the desk…”.

Sr. Napumoceno’s will, as well as several boxes of notebooks in which he has written, provide a wealth of information about the man he really was. We learn of his accidental successes in business, his dabbling in philanthropy and politics, and his social awkwardness. His daughter, Maria da Graça, attempts to find a woman named Adélia, who may have been the great love of Sr. Napumoceno’s life. Maria’s hope is that Adélia “could shed light on just who that man really was who had sired her on an office desk.”

In the end, both Maria and the reader come to know Sr. Napumoceno through his will and his other writings, which strip away almost every layer of the person he believed himself to be.

COOK

Food didn’t play a big role in The Last Will and Testament of Senhor da Silva Araújo, and the food that was mentioned wasn’t vegan. So I went to Google and found a dish called cachupa that’s famous in the islands of Cape Verde. Cachupa is a stew made with corn or hominy, beans, potatoes, and other vegetables. It usually contains meat or fish, but I found a vegan recipe on the Global Table Adventure website. Mine turned out to be more of a soup than a stew, which means I probably should have cooked it a little longer, but it was dinnertime and I was hungry. The only seasoning the recipe calls for is paprika, but I thought it needed salt, so I added some to the pot. It was a tasty and satisfying dish, although more suited to winter than summer.



GIVE

There were no projects listed for Cape Verde on the GlobalGiving website, so I took to Google to see what I could find. What I found was the Turtle Foundation. Apparently, Cape Verde has the third largest population of nesting loggerhead turtles in the world, but they are in danger from poachers and from problems associated with hotel construction to bring more tourism to the islands. Turtle Foundation has sent in monitors and set up patrols to help stop the slaughter of the turtles. They are also collecting data and tagging turtles for further study. More information about Turtle Foundation’s Project Cape Verde is available at https://www.turtle-foundation.org/en/project-cape-verde/.



NEXT STOP: CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC

Sunday, August 20, 2017

CANADA




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If you enter the term “Canadian novelist” into Google’s search engine, a seemingly endless number of names come up, making it very difficult to narrow down the choices to just one book for Canada. I’m not quite sure how I picked Lauren B. Davis’ Our Daily Bread from the myriad books that were available to me. However, it turned out to be a timely, if sobering, selection, addressing such topical themes as bullying and isolation, as well as the tendency to ignore problems confronting other people if you can somehow convince yourself that the “otherness” in those people make them less deserving of your help.

The book is set in the fictional town of Gideon and on the mountain, known as North Mountain, nearby. North Mountain is home to the Erskine clan, who have lived there for generations. In the world of the Erskines, the children are savagely abused -- physically, psychologically, and sexually -- but they are taught from birth that “Erskines don’t talk and Erskines don’t leave.” While the Erskines are fictional, I was horrified to learn in the book’s acknowledgements that they are based on a real-life family, the Goler clan of the eastern Canada province of Nova Scotia.

The townspeople of Gideon stay away from the North Mountain people, for the most part, although some drive up under cover of darkness to buy the product of the Erskines’ newly-established meth lab, and some are complicit in the abuse of the children. Most of the “good” people of Gideon, though, are content to simply look down their noses at the North Mountain people.

There are three unlikely heroes in the book, whose lives intersect at a time when the children of North Mountain need help the most. Albert Erskine lives on North Mountain in the Erskine compound, but at twenty-two years of age, is no longer subject to the same abuse as the Erskine children, and he hasn’t adopted the unspeakable habits of the older Erskines. Tom Evans has lived in Gideon his whole life and is a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy. Many years earlier, he married a much younger woman whom he met in New York, and it seems the whole town knows things about her that his love blinds him to, making him a frequent topic of gossip. Dorothy Carlisle is my favorite character, a widow who owns an antique shop and is friendly, but generally doesn’t involve herself overly much in the lives of the people in town. By the end of the book, all three of these characters discover inner reserves of strength and purpose that they didn’t know they possessed.

The subject matter could have made it impossible to stomach Our Daily Bread, but the author’s skillful storytelling drew me in. It’s a reminder that evil can’t be swept under the rug, no matter how much we’d like to pretend it doesn’t exist.

COOK

Canada is just across the northern border of the United States, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Canadians eat many of the same things that people in the U.S. do. The characters in Our Daily Bread ate things like burgers and grilled cheese sandwiches, and I didn’t see any mention of dishes that were distinctively Canadian. So I turned to Google and found a recipe for Canadian Maple Pie on the UnconventionalBaker.com website. How delicious does that sound?

Really delicious, as it turns out! The recipe is already vegan (and gluten-free, for that matter), so no substitutions were needed. The ingredients listed are for a very small pie, though, so if you intend to share it and not just eat it all yourself, you’ll need to triple the ingredients for a regular-sized pie.



GIVE

Since the abuse of children was the great evil in Our Daily Bread, I looked on the GlobalGiving website for a project or organization that would benefit children. I found the Boys & Girls Clubs of Canada, which provides “a safe, supportive place where Canadian children and youth can go to experience new opportunities, overcome barriers, build positive relationships and develop confidence and skills for life.” Homework help, healthy meals, and a safe space are just a few of the benefits the Boys & Girls Clubs of Canada offer. More information about this organization is available at https://www.bgccan.com/en/.



NEXT STOP: CAPE VERDE

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Booktrekker is taking a short break, and here's why.


I'm reading baby books to this little guy for a couple of weeks!


Blogging will resume in mid-August.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

CAMEROON







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Father Drumont is a French priest who was sent as a missionary to Cameroon in the first half of the twentieth century. Because he resembles the likeness of Jesus Christ the villagers have seen in pictures, many people at the Bomba mission seem to believe the priest and Christ are one and the same; hence, the book’s title – The Poor Christ of Bomba.

Denis is Father Drumont’s fourteen-year-old assistant, sent by his father to live at the mission after his mother dies. He is the novel’s protagonist, and the book takes the form of his journal, in which he writes every day about the goings-on at the mission. When Father Drumont takes him along as part of the entourage during a tour of other missions in the area, Denis is exposed to a variety of new emotions, viewpoints, and experiences, including his first encounter with sex.

Father Drumont is discouraged because the people in most of the villages he visits have little interest in Christianity. This has been a problem for quite some time, and Father Drumont has punished those villages by staying away from them for three years, thinking they’d feel so abandoned by his absence that they would mend their ways. However, he finds that, with few exceptions, people have been happy enough without him. In their minds, Father Drumont is just another colonizer.

As the tour wears on, Father Drumont begins to question whether his work in Africa has any value. He tells the local colonial administrator, a European in charge of running that part of the country, that he feels as though he and other missionaries are merely “softening the people up and making them docile,” which paves the way for the colonizers.

At one point, Denis muses that misfortune brings people to God. It appears that this theory may be tested soon, as the administrator is planning to build a road, which will require him to conscript the local villagers and force them into labor camps. The administrator takes the cynical view that this will certainly have the effect of bringing people back to the church. The father objects to the use of forced labor, but the administrator reminds him that his mission was built by people who were told, “Go and work at the mission, or you’ll all go to Hell.”

The Poor Christ of Bomba makes a powerful statement about the long-lasting damage inflicted on Africa, not only by colonialism, but also by the church. As Father Drumont observes at the end of his tour, “These good people worshipped God without our help. What matters if they worshipped after their own fashion…?”

COOK

At every mission visited by Father Drumont during his tour, the people affiliated with the missions gave him gifts to take back with him to Bomba. In nearly every instance, one of the gifts Father Drumont received was a supply of groundnuts, which is apparently just another word for peanuts. In searching the Internet for Cameroonian recipes, I found one for sugared groundnuts, which turned out to be one of the easiest and most tasty dishes I’ve made for this blog. The recipe for this sweet treat can be found at http://www.africanbites.com/groundnut-sweet-sugar-peanuts-aka-candied-nuts/. I bought roasted peanuts that had already been shelled, so I skipped the whole roasting process described in the recipe, and I followed the first method listed for cooking the peanuts in the sweet syrup. Delicious!



GIVE

I was appalled by Father Drumont’s treatment of women in this book. Young women who wanted to get married were told they had to live in a special dormitory at the mission, called a sixa, for a period of months beforehand or the father would not consecrate their marriages. While at the sixa, the young women were forced to perform manual labor for long hours, which was just the beginning of the problems there. Toward the end of the book, the father’s actions against these young women were beyond reprehensible, just when I had hoped he was becoming more enlightened.

When I began looking for a project for my donation, then, I naturally searched for one that would help women. At GlobalGiving, I found Reach Out Cameroon’s “Keep a Girl Alive” project, which “enables uneducated and unemployed single mothers and girls to become economically independent through the creation of small businesses.” Training, grants, and continuous counseling are offered, with assistance provided until the woman is completely removed from poverty. Coaching is also provided to deal with gender violence and sexual rights and health.

More information about the “Keep a Girl Alive” project is available at https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/keep-a-girl-alive/.



NEXT STOP: CANADA

Friday, July 21, 2017

CAMBODIA






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Near the beginning of In the Shadow of the Banyan, the narrator, Raami, thinks back to a particularly heartbreaking moment from her childhood. She is seven years old, a member of the royal family, and the Khmer Rouge has just won the civil war in Cambodia. Revolutionary soldiers are everywhere, and they view those who are educated, the intellectuals, as their enemies. Raami and her family have fled Phnom Penh and taken refuge in their country home, where everyone is trying to figure out what their next move should be. Everyone, except for Raami:

“But at the moment I saw nothing, heard nothing, nothing that revealed to the world what I alone knew – I’d be shot because I too was an intellectual, an avid reader, a lover of books.”

She isn’t shot, but her life of privilege vanishes as she and her family are rounded up with everyone else and forced to begin a new life of hard labor under miserable conditions in far-flung parts of the country. Raami’s beloved father tries to help her understand what is happening: “Everything is connected, and sometimes we, like little fishes, are swept up in these big and powerful currents.” Her father is not only a prince, but a poet as well, and thus an obvious target for the wrath of the Khmer Rouge. Raami, a mere child, can only watch as her grandmother’s prophecy threatens to become a reality: “There will remain only so many of us as rest in the shadow of a banyan tree…”.

The stories Raami’s father told her and the ideals he espoused help sustain her during this terrible time. She comes close to losing all hope, but in the words of her father, “…if there’s a sliver of opening, a crack in the wall somewhere, you must take it, walk through to the other side.” And in the end, Raami understands “that while all else may vanish, love is our one eternity.”

The book’s author, Vaddey Ratner, weaves a moving tale of the horror Cambodians faced on a daily basis during the short rule of the Khmer Rouge. It wasn’t until I finished reading the book and saw the author’s note at the end, however, that I realized In the Shadow of the Banyan, although a work of fiction, tells the author’s own story. She, like Raami, was the daughter of a royal prince, and her family suffered the same hard fate as other Cambodians when the Khmer Rouge took power. Ratner wrote this book to honor her father’s spirit, “to give voice to his memory, and the memories of all those silenced.”


COOK


Raami’s family eats well in the beginning of In the Shadow of the Banyan, dining on things like lotus seed porridge and mango crepes. As the book progresses, however, Raami’s diet consists mostly of watery rice, soggy wild morning glory greens, and insects (so not vegan!).

I decided to look elsewhere for food inspiration, and found a recipe for fragrant eggplant on the Asian Recipe website. Served over rice, it made for a lovely, though somewhat piquant, dish.



GIVE


In one of the villages where Raami is sent by the Khmer Rouge, the children are required to attend school for a few hours each day. All they learn, though, are pro-revolution songs.

“We didn’t learn to read or write a single word, and even though I already knew how, I never let on. It was clear we must keep quiet, keep what we knew hidden.”

When I went to the GlobalGiving website to find a project in Cambodia, then, I knew I wanted my donation to go to an organization committed to educating children. I chose Helping Hands, a project by an organization called Globalteer, which seeks to provide a free education to 300 children in the province of Siem Reap. According to the project description, “We often take education for granted but in Cambodia, where an entire generation of educated people were killed by the Khmer Rouge, basic education is still a luxury.”

The Helping Hands project includes kindergarten for younger children, “free supplementary education for older children so they can complete their state school studies and university scholarships so that high school graduates can go to university.” In addition, training is provided in health and hygiene, nutrition, and agriculture.

More information about the Helping Hands project is available at https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/two-new-classrooms-for-300-children-in-cambodia/.



NEXT STOP: CAMEROON