Sunday, February 10, 2019

ERITREA






READ





Eritrea is an East African country situated just above Ethiopia. At one point in the country’s history, it was annexed by Ethiopia, which led to numerous armed conflicts between the Ethiopian army and Eritreans fighting for their country’s independence. Many civilians were forced to flee Eritrea, and they ended up living in refugee camps. This is what happened to Sulaiman Addonia, author of Silence is My Mother Tongue, and his novel is the story of life in one such refugee camp.



The central character in the novel is Saba, a teenage girl with a passion for learning. Before fleeing to the refugee camp with her mother and brother, Saba had been attending school, with the hope of becoming a doctor someday. Her family took very little with them when they left their home, and Saba was forced to abandon her books. “So Saba stayed up days and nights before their departure, memorizing her favourite passages from the books she would leave behind.” Being able to return to school is the dream that sustains Saba during her time in the camp.



The reason Saba was able to attend school before she lived in the camp was because her brother, Hagos, can’t speak, so it had been decided that it was a waste of time for him to attend school. Saba was sent instead. Hagos gradually settled into a more traditionally-female role, looking after his mother and sister. He is beautiful and fastidious, and he and Saba share a special bond. His silence is a metaphor for the secrets that people in the camp never tell.



Saba constantly fights against attempts by her mother and the camp’s midwife, who has known Saba since she was a child, to mold her into a compliant young woman, who will form an advantageous marriage and be a good wife. One bone of contention is that Saba was never circumcised, the euphemism for female genital mutilation. Her grandmother, who had been something of a free spirit, had managed to prevent Saba’s mother from having the procedure done when Saba was younger. Now that Saba is in the camp, however, she has to fend off the midwife, who sees herself as the guardian of Saba’s morals. The midwife wants to perform the circumcision to make sure Saba will never be able to enjoy sex, which the midwife believes would lead to promiscuity.



Acts of a sexual nature occur frequently in the book. Sometimes, they are loving acts, tender or joyous. Other times, they are acts of aggression, violent or exploitive. And often, they are just transactional, a simple commodity. Saba’s life in the camp involves all of these different scenarios.



Throughout the ordeal of camp life, however, Saba never loses sight of her dream to go back to school and become a doctor. When aid workers come to the camp to distribute food and other supplies, she always asks when they’ll come with materials to build a school. She finds ways to earn money in the camp so she’ll have the means to leave if she ever has the opportunity. She even finds someone in the camp who can teach her English. Thrust into an untenable situation, Saba takes to heart the words of a young woman she’d read about in a British newspaper: “Dreams for a woman are no longer inherited but created.”



COOK



Lentils are a staple in the refugee camp, as they are in a vegan kitchen. In Eritrean cuisine, berbere is a spice blend often used to season the food, and it is mentioned numerous times in Silence is My Mother Tongue. When looking for something to cook for this post, finding a recipe on the Global Table Adventure website for Eritrean lentil stew that was seasoned with berbere seemed like the perfect choice. I found berbere, a mixture of roasted red chilies, cumin, cloves, fenugreek, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, black pepper, garlic, and salt, at my local spice shop, The Allspicery.





The recipe was easy to make, and was very filling and flavorful. I served it over rice, which was often brought to the people in the refugee camp by the aid workers.





GIVE



Women and girls in the book’s refugee camp spend time every day gathering firewood to fuel their mogogo stoves. These mogogos are in common use throughout Eritrea and require large amounts of firewood, which leads to problems of deforestation. When I checked the GlobalGiving.com website, I was happy to see that one of the organizations needing funding in Eritrea is building “ecological and energy efficient ovens for Eritrean families that would contribute to reduce wood consumption by fifty per cent.” The new ovens will also reduce the amount of smoke that escapes into the air during the cooking process, which will lead to a decrease in pollution and help prevent health conditions that are caused by the smoke. More information about this project is available at https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/ecological-ovens-eritrea/.



NEXT STOP: ESTONIA

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

EQUATORIAL GUINEA







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Trying to find English translations of books from every country in the world has presented a few challenges. For Comoros, for example, no book was available, but I was able to obtain a file containing an informal translation of a novel from someone who had met the book’s author. More often, though, the problem is that there is only one author from a particular country who has had a book translated into English.



I assumed that, like everyone else who’s doing a similar project, I would be reading Shadows of Your Black Memory, by Donato Ndongo, for Equatorial Guinea. No disrespect to Mr. Ndongo, but I didn’t want to just read the same book everyone else was reading. Also, I’m making a conscious effort to read more books by women. You can imagine my delight, then, when I heard last April that Lawrence Schimel’s translation of Trifonia Melibea Obono’s La Bastarda had been published. Not only was it a new option for Equatorial Guinea, but it featured gay and lesbian characters, which have not been represented in any of the other books I’ve read for this blog.



La Bastarda is the story of Okomo, a sixteen-year-old girl living in a small village in Equatorial Guinea. Her mother died giving birth to her, and she doesn’t know her father, who never paid the bride price for her mother, which would have legitimized their relationship. Therefore, Okomo is a bastarda – bastard daughter – completely dependent on her maternal grandparents. Her grandmother is eager to marry her off, preferable to a rich man who can help out with the family finances, so she makes her put makeup on, braid her hair, and wear revealing clothes. Okomo isn’t comfortable with any of that.



Okomo is very close to her Uncle Marcelo, and doesn’t understand why her grandparents and the rest of the villagers hold him in such disdain, calling him a man-woman. She develops friendships with three teenage girls who her grandmother considers “indecent and mysterious.” These girls are also very close to Okomo’s uncle, and during the course of events, Okomo comes to understand that her uncle is gay and the girls are lesbians. She develops an intimate relationship with one of the girls, Dina, and resists the efforts of her grandmother to fix her up with a man.



While being gay isn’t a crime in Equatorial Guinea, Okomo’s uncle gets blamed for every bad thing that happens in their village – the local people think he’s a curse. At one point, he barely escapes with his life when they burn down his house, and he flees into the forest. Okomo and Dina visit him there one day, and they meet his lover, Jesusin. The four of them talk about how a gay man may be ridiculed as being a man-woman, but gay women don’t have a name at all. “If you don’t have a name, you’re invisible, and if you’re invisible, you can’t claim any rights,” explains Jesusin.



The book’s afterword, by history professor Abosede George, delves a little deeper into the issues confronting members of the LGBTI community in Africa. She says that conventional wisdom has always held that “…being properly African, and thus in conformity with community norms, was to be reproductive.” To be gay is often thought to be Un-African.



Writing La Bastarda was an act of bravery on the part of the author. Equatorial Guinea responded by banning the book.



COOK



When Okomo and Dina go visit Marcelo and Jesusin, they are given something to eat. “They served us vegetables. They lived in the middle of the forest, surrounded by animals, but refused to hunt them.” Professor George elaborates on this in her afterword, suggesting that their vegetarianism is a critique of heterosexual excess.



               “In Marcelo’s home, taking up a new life in the forest entails becoming vegetarian.

               Surrounded by forest creatures, they refuse to eat meat. In this last commentary on

               death, life, sustainability, and consumption, the story contrasts the cycles of life in

               the forest with the cycles of violence in the village. Marcelo, Okomo, and their free

               tribe of the forest will consume in new ways, finding their nourishment without the

               need to kill others.”



When I searched Google for recipes for this blog post, I found a website called “National Foods of the World,” which listed the national dish of Equatorial Guinea as succotash. With Okomo’s words, “they served us vegetables,” still in my mind, succotash seemed like the perfect dish to make. The recipe at nationalfoods.org calls for bacon, which I omitted, and butter, for which I substituted Earth Balance spread. This isn’t quite your grandma’s succotash, since it contains cherry tomatoes, red wine vinegar, and various herbs, but it will probably taste familiar.





GIVE



There were no projects listed for Equatorial Guinea at GlobalGiving.org, so I had to look elsewhere for a place to send my donation. It wasn’t easy to find a nonprofit organization offering services in Equatorial Guinea, but I finally found the Global Campaign for Education, a U.S.-based organization that promotes education as a basic human right. This is a coalition-member organization, consisting of more than eighty nonprofit groups. One such organization, Simply Equal Education, was started by two young women who spent a semester abroad studying in Equatorial Guinea. During that time, they volunteered in a primary school and learned a great deal about barriers to education. The Global Campaign for Education serves countries all over the world, but I designated my donation for use in Equatorial Guinea. More information about the Global Campaign for Education is available at  http://campaignforeducationusa.org/.

NEXT STOP: ERITREA

Sunday, January 27, 2019

EL SALVADOR







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First published in 1980, One Day of Life, by Manlio Argueta, details the brutal repression of working people in El Salvador, which led to the country’s civil war. The book is told from many points of view, but mainly it follows the life of Lupe Guardado, a grandmother whose family members are at risk because of their opposition to the authoritarian regime and the rich landowners who seek to exploit them.



Lupe’s son has already been murdered by security forces, and her husband has been hiding out in the hills, along with many other men from the town. Now the authorities want to question Lupe’s teenage granddaughter, who was part of a group that occupied the local cathedral to protest the slaughter of those who had fought back against the murder of Lupe’s son. Archbishop Óscar Romero, who we know from history was later assassinated by security forces, gives the group permission to stay in the cathedral for several days, then arranges for them to be safely evacuated by the Red Cross.



The role of the Catholic church in the repression of the townspeople comes into play throughout the book. Salvadoran peasants had been told by the priests for as long as they could remember that it was their lot in life to work hard for the landowners and be obedient to the authorities. They were promised that they would be rewarded in heaven. But new priests began to appear who wanted to help make their lives better in the here and now, and they encouraged the people to stand up for themselves and fight for their rights. Those priests were considered a threat to the people in power, and they suffered accordingly.



In addition to hearing the point of view of the working people, a couple of chapters in the book are written from the viewpoint of the members of the security forces, who grew up among the townspeople but ended up taking a different path. They look down on their fellow Salvadorans, convinced that they are Communists and that they will ruin the country if they are allowed to organize for a better life.



One Day of Life was a difficult book to read, as the torture and murder described by the author is unrelenting. By the end, though, I felt great admiration for the brave people of El Salvador, who were willing to fight for their human rights against such seemingly insurmountable odds.



COOK



Lupe and her family had a very simple diet as they were poor and unable to afford much variety in their food. There were always beans, though, so I decided to make a Salvadoran favorite – pupusas. These are fried disks of cornmeal dough stuffed with various fillings, often beans. I found a recipe for vegan pupusas online at the Curious Chickpea’s website. They are stuffed with refried beans and vegan jalapeño cheese, then served with purple cabbage slaw and either salsa or guacamole. The dough was very difficult to work with, so only one of the pupusas was pretty enough for a picture. But they were tasty and very filling.





GIVE



GlobalGiving.com listed four projects in El Salavador. For my donation, I chose a project by the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation, which is seeking to plant 100,000 fruit trees in El Salvador. As the project description explains, “Deforestation and soil erosion in El Salvador has had serious environmental, social, and economic impacts, and is something that affects mostly the rural population with nearly one million Salvadorans living in poverty and over 50% of El Salvador unsuitable for food cultivation.” It is the foundation’s hope that by planting these fruit trees, they will be able to “prevent erosion, create wildlife habitat, contribute to global cooling, provide nutritious food and improve air quality.” More information about the fruit tree planting project is available at https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/elsalvador/.



 NEXT STOP: EQUATORIAL GUINEA

Monday, August 20, 2018

EGYPT





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For my book from Egypt, I read Woman at Point Zero, by the acclaimed feminist writer Nawal El Saadawi. It took me much longer to get around to reading this thin volume than it should have. I knew it was based on a true story, and that it would not end well for the protagonist, so I had a hard time convincing myself to delve into its pages.

My intent in creating this project, however, was not to be entertained, but to be educated, and so I read about the life of a woman in prison, condemned to die for stabbing a pimp to death. Most of the book is written from her point of view, as told by a woman psychiatrist who visits the prison to do research on the personalities of women prisoners.

The condemned woman, Firdaus, has spent a lifetime experiencing the bad treatment of women by men. Her father beat her mother, her uncle molested her, she was married off to a much older husband who beat her, and when she left him, she was held captive by a man who raped her and passed her around to his friends. At some point, she realizes that being a prostitute will tilt the balance of power in her favor, as she can charge as much money as she wants for performing the same acts she was previously forced to do for free, and she can maintain an emotional distance from the clients who pay for her services.

As a prostitute, Firdaus has a very good life for quite some time. She lives in a nice house, eats good food, has servants to look after her, has a healthy bank balance, and has leisure time to go to the movies, read, or discuss politics with friends. She is content, and feels as though she’s in control of her own destiny. But then one of her clients makes an offhand remark about how she is not respectable, and that causes her to question her chosen profession. She decides she prefers respectability to comfort, and she gives up her luxurious life to begin working as an assistant to the chairman of a local company. She does her job well, but as a woman, she will never rise very high in the company’s power structure. She falls in love with a fellow worker, and believes he feels the same, but then she learns that he has become engaged to the chairman’s daughter.

Disillusioned, Firdaus returns to her life of prostitution, believing that “[a] successful prostitute was better than a misled saint.” She is able to reestablish herself and regain her creature comforts, but things take an ominous turn when a pimp forces himself into her life. Eventually, she reaches her breaking point and kills him, which lands her on death row. She faces her execution with no fear and no remorse.

The book’s author, Nawal El Saadawi, met Firdaus at Qanatir Prison near Cairo while conducting research about women and neurosis in Egypt. At the time, she had no way of knowing that she herself would be sentenced to spend a few months in the same prison, sent there by then-President Anwar Sadat because of her feminist activism.

Of Firdaus, Saadawi says: “Firdaus is the story of a woman driven by despair to the darkest of ends. This woman, despite her misery and despair, evoked in all those who, like me, witnessed the final moments of life, a need to challenge and to overcome those forces that deprive human beings of their right to live, to love and to real freedom.”

COOK

Either the scarcity or the abundance of food was mentioned frequently in Woman at Point Zero, but no dishes were described that were suitable for this blog. When I searched the Internet, I found a recipe for vegan kofta from a blog called “One Arab Vegan.” The recipe uses Field Roast Fieldburger patties as the base.  For some reason, I could not get the kofta mixture to stick together. I tried adding more liquid, which made the mixture too wet, and then I added more bread crumbs, which made it too dry. The first picture below shows the four kofta fingers I was somehow able to piece together. The picture below that shows what happened when I gave up and just decided to fry up the mixture into a kind of hash and serve it on a bed of rice. It was actually quite good!




GIVE


Since the mistreatment of women was pretty much the entire theme of Woman at Point Zero, I looked for a project that would help to address this problem. On the GlobalGiving website, I found a project that provides sexual abuse prevention curriculum to middle school students and teachers. According to the project description, “[t]his curriculum aims to intercept children at a young age to instill anti-abuse values, allowing them to refuse, advocate and report sexual abuse.” It is hoped that providing this training to students will cause a ripple effect in the community and raise awareness at both the local and national level. More information about this project is available at https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/anti-sexual-abuse-training-for-200-egyptian-students/.



NEXT STOP: EL SALVADOR


Sunday, July 22, 2018

ECUADOR




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Magical realism seems to be a staple of Latin American literature, so I was not surprised to find it in the book I read for Ecuador, Bruna and Her Sisters in the Sleeping City, by Alicia Yánez Cossío. The title character, Bruna, comes from an eccentric family that was once wealthy but has since squandered most of their riches. They are descended from a Spanish explorer and an indigenous woman who was forced to marry him. The family lives in a mountain village where everyone seems to be affected by a sluggishness attributed to soroche, or altitude sickness.

The book is full of stories about Bruna’s relatives, both living and long dead. We learn about the great-great-grandfather who died in a duel over who was going to sit where at a fiesta; the rich great aunt who captured the attention of all the men in the city; the great uncle whose life's work was to weave a carpet so long that the Pope would be able to walk on it all the way from Rome; the great uncle who was obsessed with frogs and built a huge frog nursery; the uncle whose matchbox collection took over the house; and the aunt whose obnoxious displays of piety made everyone else’s lives miserable as she plotted her own ascent into heaven.

Death is a major theme in this book, as someone or another is always dying in the family, which means everyone has to dress in black for months on end. This is particularly vexing for Bruna, who is young and vibrant and wants to wear colorful clothes. No sooner does the period of mourning end for one family member than someone else dies. Bruna would rather focus on living, knowing that “one lives only once and that a beautiful, full life, as deep as the limitless sea, is barely an atom in the eternity of time.”

Another theme is the conflict between the European settlers and the indigenous people, which is most poignantly expressed in the story of the family’s matriarch, whose name and religion were taken from her when she was forced to marry Bruna’s great-great-grandfather. “And she was named María from the moment they spilled water over her bowed head and washed away the idea of the sun god, chilling her heart, which had been warmed by the fire of his rays, and told her about some unknown god who seemed to get angry much more often than he should have.”

Because so much of the book is devoted to Bruna’s relatives, it took me a long time to realize that Bruna herself was undergoing an awakening that coincided with the awareness that was developing in women all over the world at the time of the book’s publication in 1971. She was beginning to question the way things had always been, with women considered to be good for nothing except to be wives and mothers. As the narrator says, “The women were giant ovaries, dressed in black.” Bruna begins to resent the unequal treatment of boys and girls, and she finally decides to take control of her own life, because, “[i]f you only lived once, it was necessary to feel fully like a human, a person, a woman.” Only by leaving the sleeping city does Bruna begin to experience the fullness of life.

COOK

No particular Ecuadorian dishes are mentioned in Bruna and Her Sisters in the Sleeping City, so I went to the International Vegetarian Union website to look for a recipe. I found one for quinoa soup with potatoes and tomatoes that sounded intriguing. It turned out okay, but the recipe calls for two cups of soy milk, which resulted in a pretty strong soy taste. If I had it to do over again, I’d either try almond milk instead, or just use vegetable broth.

The book contains numerous references to the family’s cherry tree: “a very tall, hundred-year-old cherry tree that dropped its fruit all over the orchard and onto the neighbors’ patios and whose branches sheltered hundreds of skittish and gluttonous singing birds.” And since it happens to be cherry season here right now, it seemed only fitting that I have a nice bowl of cherries for dessert after my soup.


GIVE

GlobalGiving listed many different projects in Ecuador that were in need of donations. I didn’t have to read very far, however, before finding the one I wanted to support, a library bus that will take books and other materials to children in six remote coastal villages in the Manabi province. This bus will supplement an existing program in which Domingo the donkey has been taking books to the children in a different village, following the devastation of Manabi province in an earthquake in 2016. More information about the library bus project is available at https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/library-bus-for-northern-manabi-coast-ecuador/.



NEXT STOP: EGYPT

Saturday, May 26, 2018

EAST TIMOR






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To the extent possible, I’m reading novels for this project. Merriam-Webster defines a novel as “an invented prose narrative that is usually long and complex and deals especially with human experience through a usually connected sequence of events.” In reading novels for this blog, I’m attempting to understand how people in other countries perceive the human experience from the standpoint of their cultural and geographical realities.

However, in many countries, it’s not possible to find a novel that’s been translated into English. For those countries, I just have to take whatever translated book I can get. With respect to East Timor, also known as Timor-Leste, the book that I could get was a memoir by Luís Cardoso, The Crossing: A Story of East Timor.

The Crossing covers a crucial time in East Timor’s history. This island nation, situated between Indonesia and Australia, was a Portuguese colony for four centuries, enjoyed a brief period of independence following Portugal’s Carnation Revolution in the mid-1970s, but was then invaded by Indonesia and endured more than two decades of violent occupation by that country before finally becoming a sovereign state.

Cardoso’s memoir encompasses all of these changes to the country’s political landscape. He was born in 1958, at a time when Portugal still ruled the Timorese islands. Cardoso’s father was a nurse, and the family traveled to wherever his father’s services were needed. It was very important to his father that Cardoso be properly educated, so when Cardoso was still a young boy, he was sent to live with relatives on another island to begin his formal schooling at a Catholic mission. His grandfather took it upon himself to introduce Cardoso to the spiritual tradition of his ancestors. “He wanted me to know my own nature before seeing it forever submerged in the Christian world.”

Cardoso’s education proceeded in fits and starts. At one point, his father decided he should be a priest and sent him off to the seminary, even though the head of the school said he was “too fond of life to be of any use to God.” When the seminary didn’t work out for him, he decided to become a good enough student at the next school he attended to be awarded a scholarship to study in Portugal. He did, indeed, earn a scholarship, and he left East Timor for Lisbon just ahead of the turmoil that followed the Indonesian invasion.

In Lisbon, Cardoso met fellow Timorese refugees from the war in their homeland and became part of a cultural group that shared Timorese song, dance, and poetry with the people of Portugal. As the book draws to a close, Cardoso’s parents arrived in Lisbon, and he was forced to deal with the toll the war had taken on his father.

At times I found the narrative confusing, especially when it veered into political territory and got into the upheaval occurring in both East Timor and Portugal. But for most of the book, The Crossing was a look back at the author’s childhood in what must have seemed to him a simpler, more idyllic time.

COOK

The Crossing didn’t mention any specific Timorese dishes, but there were occasional references to the produce that is grown there, such as strawberries, persimmons, mangoes, rice, maize, cassava, tea, coffee, and cacao. It wasn’t difficult to find a vegan Timorese recipe online. Batar da’an is a simple dish made of butternut squash, corn, and kidney beans. I found the recipe on the Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl website, which suggests preparing healthy, meatless recipes from around the world for Lent. Somehow, making a recipe recommended for Lent by a Catholic organization seemed appropriate, considering all the time Cardoso spent in Catholic schools. This was a quick, easy, and healthy recipe, and I enjoyed it.




GIVE


GlobalGiving listed four projects for East Timor, and they all sounded worthy. In the end, I picked one that is helping to revive traditional carving, weaving, and pottery skills in poverty-stricken rural communities and turning them into income-generating opportunities. Cardoso’s recollection about his grandfather schooling him in the spiritual tradition of his ancestors made this particular project very appealing to me, as it celebrates the local heritage. According to the description on the website, “[t]his project is part of our ‘Turning Traditions into Livelihoods’ program - an initiative that gives Timorese rural communities a chance to generate income and build a livelihood using their culture, identity and experience.” More information about this project is available at https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/turn-traditions-into-livelihoods-for-150-timorese/.



NEXT STOP: ECUADOR

Monday, May 14, 2018

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC






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I had intended to read In the Time of the Butterflies, by Julia Alvarez, for my book about the Dominican Republic. When I looked up her biography, however, I discovered that she was born in the United States, so I’ll have to save that book for reading outside of this project. Instead, I turned to The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz, a book for which the author won a Pulitzer Prize in 2008.

The book follows the life of Oscar de León, who, along with his older sister Lola, is being raised by their single mother Beli in Paterson, New Jersey. Beli had fled the Dominican Republic for the United States in her teens to avoid being killed by goons hired by the wife of a man she was having an affair with. She begins a relationship with a man she meets on the plane on the way to the U.S., and from that relationship, Lola and Oscar are born. Their father isn’t in the picture for long, though, and he doesn’t make much of an appearance in the book.

For the most part, the story is told by a narrator who remains unknown until about halfway through the book, at which point he takes on a fairly prominent role. He appears to be intimately acquainted with the de León family, and from him we learn that Oscar is obese, unattractive, and obsessed with science fiction and fantasy books and movies. He is also desperate to have a girlfriend, which is unlikely to happen because he is obese, unattractive, and obsessed with science fiction and fantasy. He is bullied throughout high school and college, and the few girls he does interact with never want to be anything but friends. He attempts suicide twice, unsuccessfully, then has a life-changing experience during a trip to the Dominican Republic with his family.

While most of the book is about Oscar, there are also chapters about his sister, his mother, and his grandfather. In these chapters we learn, among other things, about the bad times in the Dominican Republic during the thirty-one-year dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo. His was a particularly brutal regime, in which thousands of people were killed or imprisoned, and women were in constant fear of coming to Trujillo’s attention and being forced to have sex with him. The brutality and sexual appetite of Trujillo had brought about the downfall of Oscar’s mother’s once-prominent family, a family now thought by some to be cursed.

It took me some time to get into this book, partly because the author relies heavily on slang, in both English and Spanish, that’s not familiar to me and which I found distracting. The book is also kind of depressing, as the plot doesn’t contain many happy moments, and learning about the Trujillo dictatorship was horrifying. As I continued to read, however, I became invested in the lives of the characters and hoped the curse – or the fukú, as they called it – wasn’t real. But as the narrator says in the opening pages, “It’s perfectly fine if you don’t believe in the ‘superstitions.’ In fact, it’s better than fine – it’s perfect. Because no matter what you believe, fukú believes in you.”


COOK


The dish I chose to make for the Dominican Republic is unrelated to anything in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. It’s a recipe for stewed red beans (habichuelas rojas guisadas) I found on the Dominican Flavor website, which, unfortunately, was suspended shortly after I made the dish. The beans were really good, though, and I don’t want you to miss out on making them, so since I can’t provide you with a link to the recipe, I’m copying it down below, to the best of my recollection:

Ingredients

1 lb. dried red beans
2 T. olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp. salt

2 stalks celery, chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped

2 green habanero peppers, seeded and chopped

1 cup acorn squash, peeled and cubed

1 cup cilantro, chopped

2 T. tomato paste

1 tsp. oregano

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Rinse the beans and soak them overnight in water that covers them by about three inches.

In a large pot, sauté the minced garlic in the olive oil, add the teaspoon of salt, and then add the beans and the water they soaked in. Bring them to boiling and then turn the heat down to medium high, half cover the pot with a lid, and let the beans cook for about an hour.

At the end of the hour, add all the vegetables to the pot. Mix the tomato paste with a little of the bean water and then add it to the pot, along with the oregano. Half cover the pot again with the lid, and let the beans cook for another hour.

If the beans start to dry out at any point along the way, add more water. When the beans are soft, but not mushy, taste them and add salt and pepper as needed. Serve the beans over white rice.




GIVE


Even though I didn’t read In the Time of the Butterflies for this blog post, I read about it in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. It’s about the Mirabal sisters, three women who actively opposed the Trujillo regime and became martyrs to the cause when they were assassinated in 1960. They called themselves “las mariposas” – the butterflies -- which is why I chose the Mariposa Center for Girls to receive my donation for the Dominican Republic. The purpose of this project, which I found on the GlobalGiving website, is to create a center where “impoverished Haitian and Dominican girls come to engage in sports, receive academic tutoring, have access to libraries and computers, receive job and life skills training and health and wellness care.” More information about the Mariposa Center for Girls is available at http://www.mariposadrfoundation.org/mariposacenter.html.



NEXT STOP: EAST TIMOR