Sunday, March 26, 2023




The book I selected for the Netherlands, The Following Story, written by Cees Nooteboom and translated by Ina Rilke, was something of a departure from the types of books I usually read. It is the story of a man who went to bed in Amsterdam, and woke up the next morning in a hotel room in Lisbon, Portugal.

How could that be? The man in question, Herman Mussert, doesn’t understand how it happened either. “I had waked up with the ridiculous feeling that I might be dead, but whether I was actually dead, or had been dead, or vice versa, I could not ascertain.” As he takes in his surroundings, he realizes that he has been in this room before. In fact, he has been in this very bed before with the wife of another man.

Mussert is a bachelor living in Amsterdam, and a writer of travel guides under the pseudonym Dr. Strabo. He is a classical scholar, working on a translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses in his spare time. But the book takes the reader back twenty years, to a time when Mussert teaches Latin and Greek in a Lisbon school. He is a popular teacher, nicknamed Socrates, and is happy in his work.

There is a student in the school, Lisa d’India, who is everyone’s favorite. Not only is she beautiful, but she is good in every subject. According to Mussert, he is the only person in the entire school who is not in love with Lisa, although he cherishes her as a student. Things begin to unravel for Mussert when one of the teachers, Arend Herfst, who is married to another teacher at the school, Maria Zeinstra, begins an affair with Lisa.

Mostly to spite her husband, Maria Zeinstra decides to have an affair with Mussert. She is the only woman whom Mussert will ever love, but things end badly for everyone.

At one point, Mussert muses that maybe he’s back in Lisbon on a sort of pilgrimage and must visit “all the stations where the past had a face.” He finds himself aboard a ship with an interesting assortment of passengers, including a priest who always hated hearing confession (“And they kept coming back, and one kept being forced to forgive them.”)

Being of a more literal bent, I had a hard time figuring out what was going on during this voyage, or, for that matter, in many parts of the book. The plot occupies a sort of twilight zone between life and death, with Mussert as the hapless soul trying to make sense of his metamorphosis.


I didn’t get any help coming up with food ideas from The Following Story. Mussert’s style of eating is “opening a can of beans.” So I went to the Internet and found a recipe for a vegan version of a traditional Dutch dish called stamppot, which consists of mashed potatoes, cabbage, and sausage. The recipe I found on the My Green Passion website called for seasoned tempeh instead of sausage. Since I’m not a fan of tempeh, I decided to use Beyond Sausage Brats. It turned out well – I even had seconds! Good thing, since the recipe made a huge batch, and I’ll be eating it for days.


I didn’t find any climate-related projects that interested me on the GlobalGiving website, so I turned to Google instead and found Milieudefensie, a Friends of the Earth organization located in Amsterdam. According to their website: “Our mission is a good life for all people on earth and for generations to come. For this mission, a safe and healthy environment is needed, a just distribution of and access to the natural wealth of the earth, respect for nature and a voice for people on how to manage these. We choose just solutions – solutions without adverse effects for the Global South or for generations to come, and which can involve more people in our own country and create jobs and opportunities for everyone.” They have been very active in campaigns and lawsuits against Shell, and in creating pressure against other large polluting companies.

More information about Milieudefensie is available at A good life for all people on earth and for generations to come — Milieudefensie.


Friday, March 17, 2023




Buddha’s Orphans, by Samrat Upadhyay, tells the story of a baby who is abandoned by his desperate mother in a public area in Kathmandu. His mother then goes and drowns herself in a nearby pond. The baby is found by an old homeless man, who takes him to a poor corn seller he knows, a woman named Kaki. They name the baby Raja, and Kaki takes it upon herself to raise him.

Buddha’s Orphans also tells the story of Nilu, a girl about the same age as Raja, who lives nearby with her widowed mother. Nilu grows up privileged and well-to-do, but her mother is a heavy drinker who eventually moves her young lover into the house and takes up other vices.

Raja and Nilu meet as young children when Kaki goes to work in Nilu’s mother’s house. They form a bond that lasts even during the times that circumstances keep them apart, such as when Raja is stolen away from Kaki and raised by another couple. Eventually, Raja and Nilu marry, against the wishes of both their families.

A baby boy is born to Nilu and Raja, and they name him Maitreya. Their marriage is happy, with Nilu working as a teacher and Raja eventually finding a job as a writer for a travel magazine. Tragedy strikes, however, causing them to separate. When they finally get back together, they have another baby, a girl named Ranjana. She gives them great joy, but her life takes an unexpected turn.

The book’s timeline spans decades, during which time the political situation in Nepal is volatile. Raja becomes involved in protests against the monarchy, and is jailed briefly during one of the protests. Over the years, the demonstrations intensify, especially after the fall of the Berlin Wall, which reminds the people in Nepal that change is possible. Finally, the King gives up his power and becomes merely a ceremonial figure.

Throughout the book, Raja is never able to come to terms with the fact that he was abandoned by his mother at birth. The narrator explains the circumstances towards the end of the book, but that only satisfies the curiosity of the book’s readers, not Raja himself, who never knows why his mother left him.

I found Buddha’s Orphans to be interesting and easy to read. Both Raja and Nilu were likeable characters making their way on their own, rather than asking for help from the families who had often failed them. This was the type of book I had hoped for when I first began this reading-the-world project, one that tells a compelling story, while also providing a glimpse into the culture of the country.


Raja spends many of his childhood years in the home of Ganga Da, a government worker, and his wife Jamuna, who is afflicted with a mental illness. Jamuna becomes very attached to Raja, and at one point in the book, Jamuna asks the servant to cook Raja some kheer. I googled to find out what kheer is, and discovered that it’s a rice pudding. I found a recipe for a vegan version on the VegNews website, and I’ve been eating it for breakfast the past couple of mornings. It’s quite good, especially served cold, and it's made with coconut milk, rice, brown sugar, coconut, dates, almonds, cloves, and cardamom.


GlobalGiving’s website lists dozens of projects in Nepal, so I searched through the list until I found one with a sustainability focus. Many areas of Nepal have no electricity because of the difficulty of building an electric grid in such a mountainous region. For this reason, people often rely on kerosene lamps for lighting. This is a problem for many reasons: “Fumes from the kerosene lamps affect eyes and lungs and contribute to global warming with the release of greenhouse gases. The quality of light is inferior and there is a high risk of accidental fire.”

This project would “provide solar powered lamps as a sustainable substitute.” In addition, village youth and students would be given an orientation on renewable energy, and would be trained in maintenance and repair. Multiple charging stations would be installed in schools.

More information on this project is available at: A Clean Solar Alternative to Kerosene Lamps, Nepal - GlobalGiving.



Tuesday, February 14, 2023



Nauru is a tiny island in the South Pacific with a population of fewer than 13,000 people. It’s no wonder, then, that finding a book to read for this country was challenging. When I was fortunate enough to find a copy of Stories from Nauru, by Ben Bam Solomon et al, in 2016, I bought it right away, and I’m glad I did. I’m convinced it was the last copy of the book available for sale anywhere on the planet.

Stories of Nauru was the result of a workshop sponsored by the University of the South Pacific in October of 1990. According to the book’s foreword: “It was organized so that a conscious effort would be made to encourage Nauruans to write and to record their folklore in the attempt to build a Nauruan literature.”

The eight stories in this short collection cover a variety of topics. There’s a creation story, accounts of personal challenges, and retellings of old legends. And inevitably, there are the stories of what Nauru was like before the arrival of the Europeans.

“Egade” is about an old woman who used to teach the people of the island about their culture – their traditions, laws, songs, and clothing. Because of her, the “people knew their identity and were proud of their rich cultural heritage.” But then the white people arrived, giving the people of Nauru trinkets and potions in exchange for their natural resources. Before long, the Nauruan people had forsaken their traditional way of life.

Another story, “Nauru: The Way It Used To Be,” says that “Nauru means Utopia.” The author chronicles the changes in culture, laws, and religion that came about when missionaries and foreign governments came to Nauru. Before the arrival of the Europeans, there was no religion and no marriage. There was no formal system of education either. Young people learned everything they needed to know by watching their parents and other elders. After the Europeans came, education became compulsory and children walked miles to school.

Stories of Nauru offers a quick glimpse into life on an island that is probably unknown to most people in the United States. Kudos to the University of the South Pacific for encouraging people to share their stories.


The story “Egade” tells of the wonderful things the Europeans brought the people on the island of Nauru. One of those things was “tasty food, in little tin cans, that would keep for days without going bad.” One tasty food in a can, which would not have been available at the time the original Europeans arrived but which has certainly become a staple since then, is Spam.

The last time I made a Spam recipe for this blog it was a Spam casserole from the island of Kiribati. At that time, there was no vegan Spam substitute commercially available, so I had to make one out of tofu. It tasted nothing like Spam. Since then, however, OmniFoods has developed a vegan Spam that is very much like the real thing. It doesn’t come in a can, though – I buy it in the frozen food section at Sprouts. And it’s perfect for the dish I made for Nauru – Spam-fried rice. I found the recipe on the Marty Made It website. It was very easy to veganize by substituting OmniPork Luncheon and JUSTEgg folded plant eggs for the Spam and eggs, and leaving out the fish sauce. It turned out great, and I’m sure I’ll make it again in the future. Vegan Spam – who’d have thought?



Nauru faces a daunting future due to climate change, but I couldn’t find a single nonprofit organization working to address this issue in Nauru. GlobalGiving didn’t have any projects in Nauru, and I couldn’t even find a suitable GoFundMe campaign. Finally, I found an organization called Hope for Nauru, which helps refugees.

The refugees helped by Hope for Nauru aren’t seeking asylum in Nauru, however. They are seeking asylum in Australia. Rather than allowing these refugees to stay in Australia while they pursue their asylum claims, Australia has contracted to ship them to Nauru, where they are kept in detention indefinitely, often in squalid conditions.

Hope for Nauru puts together care packages for refugees, consisting of items such as clothes, hygiene products, vitamins, dried fruit, and nuts. According to their website: “We believe that a care package can help give a detainee comfort and hopefully some dignity. It also shows each refugee that they are remembered and cared about, and that many Australians are against immigration detention both on and offshore. For as long as there are innocent people detained on Nauru (as well as Manus Island), we will continue our mission.”

Information about Hope for Nauru is available at HOPE FOR NAURU.




Sunday, February 5, 2023




For Namibia, a country in southern Africa, I read The Purple Violet of Oshaantu, by Neshani Andreas. The title character, Meme Kauna, is a once-beautiful woman who lives with her husband, Tate Shange, and children in the village of Oshaantu. When she first arrived in the village, the townspeople “called her the purple violet of Oshaantu. She was so delicate and she came when these flowers were in bloom.”

The book is narrated by her best friend and neighbor, Mee Ali, a happily married woman with children. The husbands of both women work some distance away, which means they are rarely home and the women do all the farming and other work around the house. Mee Ali’s husband, Tate Michael, is good and kind, treating her as an equal, but Meme Kauna’s husband is a louse who beats her and cheats on her.

Mee Ali hears screaming coming from Meme Kauna’s home and runs over to see what the problem is. She finds Tate Shange dead, and Meme Kauna telling everyone that he had only arrived home half an hour previously and he had not eaten any of her food. She is afraid people will think she has poisoned him.

Throughout the rest of the book, Tate Shange’s relatives arrive and the funeral is planned. Much like in the book I read for Mozambique, Paulina Chiziane’s The First Wife, Tate Shange’s family immediately begins to quarrel over which of his livestock and other possessions they’re going to take. It doesn’t matter that Meme Kauna was the one who took care of the farm and the animals – her husband’s family lays claim to everything that was his.

There is also much gossip among the family and the villagers because Meme Kauna has not shed a single tear over her husband’s death. She even refuses to designate anyone to speak on her behalf at his funeral. Throughout her ordeal, her friend Mee Ali is with her and does her best to help in any way she can.

The Purple Violet of Oshaantu is a sad commentary on the treatment of women, and I can only hope that things have started to change in Namibia since this book was published in 2001. 


I finished reading this book a couple of weeks ago, but I had a terrible time finding a recipe I wanted to make. I could have veganized a beef and carrot dish or buttered black-eyed peas, but those both sounded mundane. I finally found a recipe for Guava Squares at Namibia (Namibian Recipes) ( The recipe looked straightforward enough, but I ended up having to make several adjustments. For starters, I visited three grocery stores, and there was not a guava to be found. Instead, I used guava jelly. I made my usual veganizing substitutions – JUSTEgg and Miyoko’s cultured vegan butter. Many of the measurements were in grams, so I converted those, but I ended up with a crumbly mixture that clearly needed more liquid to hold it altogether. So I poured in more JUSTEgg until I had a batter that stuck together and could be scraped into the baking dish. Fortunately, the final product was pretty good, although I couldn’t even taste the guava flavor.


The GlobalGiving website had several climate-related projects to choose from. I decided I wanted to help protect lions. According to the project description: “Wild lion numbers in Namibia are under threat due to factors such as loss of habitat, lack of natural prey and revenge killings from human-wildlife conflict. When there is a lack of available natural prey, the local farmers’ livestock are targeted as they present an easy option – especially when they are not herded and protected at night. Due to frustration from farmers, and a lack of alternative solutions, these lion populations are hunted down in retaliation to prevent further livestock loss.”

This project will help to reduce this conflict by “collaring lions and training locals to become lion guards.” Predator-proof shelters will be built for the livestock, and deterrents will be set up to keep the lions away. It is hoped that these measures will help stabilize the wild lion population.

More information about this project is available at Protect lions in Namibia from retaliatory killings - GlobalGiving.


Monday, November 7, 2022




The book I chose for Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, was a feast for the senses. Smile as They Bow, written by Ni Ni Yu and translated by Alfred Birnbaum and Thi Thi Aye, is filled with the sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and feelings of Myanmar’s Taungbyon Festival, which is held for a week each year in a small village near Mandalay. A raucous crowd of tourists and pilgrims from all over the country pour into the village to honor two brothers who had been killed during the reign of King Anawrahta in the eleventh century, and to seek favors from the nats – god-like spirits who are represented on earth by natkadaws, their spirit wives in human form.

Historically, natkadaws were women, and the position was often passed from mother to daughter. Over the past several decades, however, the position of natkadaw has been increasingly taken on by gay men, known as meinmasha. Smile as They Bow follows one such natkadaw, U Ba Si, who goes by the name of Daisy Bond. Sixty years old, he has collected many faithful followers, who pay him to appeal to the nats on their behalf. They ask for things like riches or success, or punishment for a wayward spouse. For the right amount of cash, Daisy promises that all their wishes will be fulfilled.

Daisy has a much younger lover, Min Min, whom he bought from Min Min’s mother. Over the years, Min Min has also taken on the role of Daisy’s manager, making sure that his extravagant costumes are ready for his processions and consultations, handling his schedule, and trying to keep him in check when he becomes too outrageous (the language in the book is R-rated, to say the least).

Daisy is a jealous lover, always convinced that Min Min is going to leave him for a woman. And when it appears that Min Min is starting to fall for a beggar girl who has been singing outside their house, Daisy fights to hang onto him.

Smile as They Bow is a fascinating portrayal of the Taungbyon Festival, which was banned during the reign of King Mindon in the nineteenth century. It was brought back as a distraction by the British shortly thereafter when they seized control of the country. I don’t know the current status of the festival, or whether Smile as They Bow is available to read in Myanmar or not. According to the book’s dust jacket, it “was suppressed for over a decade by the Burmese military government.” It's definitely one of the more memorable books I’ve read for this project!


Have you ever heard of tofu made from anything other than soybeans? I certainly hadn’t until I started searching for recipes for this post and discovered that chickpea tofu is popular in Myanmar. The process for making it is much simpler than making tofu from soybeans; chickpea flour and water are mixed together and boiled, while stirring constantly, until it reaches the right consistency. I followed a recipe from the Vegan on Board website to make the tofu, then fried it and ate it with a garlic, ginger, and chili sauce. It wasn’t bad, but I think I’ll stick with ready-made soybean tofu.


Of all the projects for Myanmar listed on the GlobalGiving website, the one that most appealed to me provides technical training in solar power and regenerative agriculture. According to the project description: “Solar PV systems are now widely used in Burma, but homeowners have no access to accurate information on purchase, maintenance and repair of their systems. Rural electrification is set to expand quickly, but there are few trained technicians available. Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are widely used by farmers, but they are unaware of the negative consequences. Organic farming techniques need to be revived to improve food quality and safety, and to address soil degradation and soil erosion.”

The hope is that this project will bring renewable energy into people’s homes, reducing their reliance on fossil fuels, and that transitioning to organic agriculture will lead to more healthy soil, safer and better quality food, and improved water quality due to decreased nitrogen run-off. More information about this project is available at Solar Power and Regenerative Agriculture in Burma - GlobalGiving.


Monday, October 31, 2022




It took me awhile to get through The First Wife: A Tale of Polygamy, written by Paulina Chiziane and translated by David Brookshaw. The problem wasn’t lack of interest, but the fact that the book was almost five hundred pages long. I guess the author needed that many pages to tell the story of Tony, a police chief in Maputo, and the women and children he accumulated without any thought for the damage caused by his faithlessness.

Tony and his wife Rami have been married for twenty years and have five children. Rami is unhappy that Tony is never home, and she has heard that he has another woman. She goes to confront the other woman, Julieta, and they end up having a brawl, which Julieta wins because she is younger and fitter. Julieta tells Rami that Tony seduced her when she was a young girl, and only after she first became pregnant did he tell her that he was married. He swore he was going to get a divorce, but that never happened. Now Julieta has five children by Tony, and another on the way. What’s worse is that Tony is never around anymore, having moved on to another younger and more beautiful woman.

Rami finds that woman – Luisa – who has two children with Tony. They also get into a brawl, which temporarily lands them in jail. But then Luisa tells Rami that Tony has already moved on to a fourth woman, Saly, and Saly tells her that he has left her for a fifth woman, Mauá. Overwhelmed, Rami first turns to a wizard to help her win back Tony’s love, but doesn’t want to use the witchcraft he prescribes. Then she tries religion, but that doesn’t help either. She comes to a realization: “The worst of it is that God doesn’t appear to have any wife. If he was married, the goddess, his wife, would intercede on our behalf.” She laments the low esteem in which women are held in the part of the country where she lives and tells her herself: “But the goddess must exist, I keep thinking. She must be as invisible as all of us. No doubt her space is limited to the celestial kitchen.”

A man that Rami meets through Luisa tells her, “I think all women should unite with each other against the tyranny of men.” That leads to Rami’s decision to call a meeting of all of Tony’s women to hatch a plan to ensure that they are all protected under the law and that they all have a fair share of Tony’s time. Rami throws a big 50th birthday party for Tony and invites all the other women, who all dress alike, and all of Tony’s children, who all dress alike as well, so that everyone at the party will know what Tony has done. The upshot is that Tony is forced into polygamous marriage contracts with the four women he’s not legally married to, and now they all have rights that they didn’t have before.

This doesn’t stop Tony from womanizing, but Rami and the other four wives form an alliance and help each other, so that they need Tony less and less. They discover that, “Women should be better friends with each other, show more solidarity. We are the majority, we’ve got strength on our side. If we join hands, we can transform the world.”

There are so many great quotes and insights in this book that I can’t possibly include them all in this post. The First Wife is not only Paulina Chiziane’s first novel, it’s the first novel ever published by a Mozambican woman. I hope she’ll keep writing, as I would love to read more of her work.


I was getting a little tired of making soups and stews, so I decided to make bolo polana, a Mozambican cake, for this post. This cake contains a couple of unusual ingredients – mashed potatoes and ground cashews – and I had my work cut out for me in trying to veganize this recipe, which I found on the 196 Flavors website. I replaced the butter and eggs with Miyoko’s vegan butter and JUST Egg; used aquafaba made from canned garbanzo bean liquid in place of egg whites; and replaced the heavy cream with Silk Dairy Free Heavy Whipping Cream Alternative. I was a little worried about how the recipe would work with all those substitutions, but it tasted great.


There were lots of projects listed for Mozambique on the GlobalGiving website. Since my main focus now is climate change, I chose a fruit tree-planting project from Associação Esmabama. According to the project description: “Extreme climate events such as droughts, floods, and cyclones have been heavily affecting Mozambique in recent years, putting food security at risk. Agriculture is the main source of subsistence for the Mozambican families. However, in the past 3 years the production has been compromised causing famine, malnourishment and low income. Moreover, the access of students and the communities to fruits is insufficient or at unaffordable prices.”

The goal for this project is to plant 1,000 fruit trees, facilitated by the Medium Agrarian Schools. They will train 260 students to plant and nurture the trees, with the hope that the communities that are involved will then be inspired to plant fruit trees of their own, both for sustenance and for income. More information about this project is available at Plant 1,000 fruit trees in Mozambique - GlobalGiving.


Tuesday, October 18, 2022




In the Country of Others, written by Leila Slimani and translated by Sam Taylor, is the story of a French woman and a Moroccan man who fall in love during World War II. Mathilde is living with her father and sister in Alsace when she meets Amine, a soldier from Meknes who is fighting on the side of the French, since Morocco is a French colony at that time. They fall in love, and when the war is over, Mathilde goes to live with Amine in Morocco.

At first, they live with Amine’s mother in Meknes, but eventually move to a house on a piece of land that had been left to Amine by his father. He works hard, but he has little success at farming until he finally settles on growing fruit trees. Even then, their family, which has grown to include daughter Aïcha and son Selim, never has much money. Mathilde also works hard, not only with all her domestic duties, but helping to care for local people who have injuries and illnesses.

But there are tensions between Amine and Mathilde. She finds him dour and brutal, and he thinks she’s capricious and frivolous. Mathilde is troubled by how differently women are treated in Morocco than in France. She tells her sister “what it was like to live in a world where she had no place, a world governed by unfair, repulsive rules, where men never had to justify themselves, where she was not allowed to cry if her feelings were hurt.” But somehow they muddle along, projecting a united front when they need to.

To a large extent, the whole family is caught in a sort of no-man’s-land. When a movement begins for Moroccan independence from France, there is uncertainty as to how Amine and Mathilde will be perceived. Will their sympathies lie with the French colonizers or with the Moroccan nationalists? One old laborer tells Mathilde that she must never open the door if he knocks on it because, “If I come, it will be to kill you. It will be because I’ve ended up believing the words of those who say that if you want to go to heaven you must kill French people.” But the true test will come the night that the nationalists set fire to the farms owned by Europeans.

Many different themes are addressed in this book – colonialism, miscegenation, the treatment of women, and racism, among others – which provide much food for thought. I enjoyed Slimani’s storytelling, and hope to read more of her books in the future.


During the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Ramadan is celebrated, requiring fasting from sunrise to sunset. After the sun goes down, there is a feast, called iftar, that breaks the fast. When Mathilde arrives in Meknes, she decides to fast during Ramadan out of respect for her husband and his family. Her mother-in-law spends every day cooking, and Mathilde wonders “how anyone could deprive themselves of food while spending their days amid the aromas of tajines and baking bread.” So I decided to try making a vegan tajine using a recipe I found on the Cuisinicity website. The main ingredients were potatoes, sweet potatoes, olives, and chickpeas, simmered with a variety of spices. The recipe made a ton of food, so I’m glad I like it well enough to look forward to eating the leftovers.


GlobalGiving had several listings for Morocco on their website, many of which are projects of the High Atlas Foundation. According to their website, the High Atlas Foundation is “[c]ommitted to furthering sustainable development & supporting Moroccan communities to take action in implementing human development initiatives.”

The project I chose to support would help to build and maintain an argan tree nursery and forest in the city of Essaouira. If you’ve ever seen pictures of trees full of goats, it’s likely that the trees the goats had climbed were argans. The project description states that “[a]rgan trees are endemic to Morocco and are vital to maximizing prosperity, food security and biodiversity in the nation’s region of Essaouira. Its processing into oil and sale conducted by women’s cooperatives empower them and their families, and provides markets a medicinal and delicious food product in high demand.”

More information about this project is available at Argan Nursery and Forest in Essaouira, Morocco - GlobalGiving.