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.
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.
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