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 Bombamakes 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…?”
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!
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.
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.”
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…”.
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.”
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
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.
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
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.”
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
countries have produced a wealth of literature that has been translated into
English. Other countries, not so much. Burundi is in the latter category.
Fortunately, Burundian journalist Roland Rugero wrote Baho!, which recently became the first novel from Burundi to be translated
Baho!is the story of Nyamuragi, a young
man living in a village in rural Burundi. Nyamuragi has been mute since birth.
In his mind, the reason he was mute initially was simply because he did not
want to speak. After his mother took him to a local healer, however, whatever
procedure the healer undertook to cure him made it physically impossible for
him to speak from that moment forward.
muteness has caused him a certain amount of trouble over the years, but nothing
like the trouble in which he finds himself when he is out walking and has an urgent
need to go to the bathroom. He runs toward a young girl, Kigeme, who is drawing
water for her family, to ask where he can find a latrine. Without words, his
question must be asked by gesturing, which Kigeme misinterprets as a prelude to
rape. She screams for help, bringing the villagers out of their homes, and they
all begin to chase Nyamuragi in order to bring him to justice.
Descriptions of the injustice and inhumanity Nyamuragi suffers at the hands of the townspeople are juxtaposed against references to the changes in the village brought about by Burundi’s civil
war, which began in 1993 and lasted until 2005. “The green fruits that life
intended to bring to maturity were carried off. Men were torn apart, ripped to
pieces by machetes, pierced by bullets, eaten away by poisonous death, and
violated by the unspeakable.” The repercussions of that war are still felt
deeply by the characters in this book, changing forever their relationships
with one another and their view of humanity’s place in the world. “Too many
deaths have taken away the people’s beautiful, united soul.”
the Internet to find out what “Baho,” the title of the book means. I found an
article in which this question was posed to the author, and he explained that the title means “to live”:
“Baho! is an exclamation to a country
consumed by death and violence: Live!”
many references in this book to the fruits and vegetables grown in Burundi: beans, sweet
potatoes, corn, apples, cassava, peas, squash, and rice, for example. In other
words, there are many ingredients to work with in order to create a delicious
vegan meal. I found a Burundian recipe for beans with coconut and cilantro on the Fandom Recipes Wiki. Although it was suggested that this
dish be served with green vegetables, I chose to serve it over rice
instead, after reading this passage in Baho!:
Nyamuragi adores rice—white, copious, beloved. To eat is to savor the present!
It is to quench hunger, to fully possess the present, to carry life on in peace…”.
I was a little concerned when I was adding the large quantities of spices listed in the recipe that they might overwhelm the other ingredients in the dish. They didn't, and this turned out to be a delicious meal. I loved the taste and texture of the coconut in combination with everything else. Also, this dish involved minimal chopping, always a plus for me. I will definitely make this again!
GlobalGiving’s website lists eight
different projects in Burundi, all of which sounded very compelling. The one I
chose was a joint project of BeyGood4Burundi and UNICEF to help take clean,
safe water to half a million people, mostly women and children. According to
the project description, “Burundi is the second most densely populated country
in Africa, the fourth poorest country in the world, and is facing a major water
When she is
approached by Nyamuragi in Baho!, Kigeme
is collecting water for her family, a task that is performed almost exclusively
by women and girls in Africa. According to UNICEF, “Globally, girls and women
spend about 200 million hours every day gathering water.” In many cases, they
have to walk long distances along unsafe routes, and with so much time spent
collecting water, they are forced to miss school.
“will support building water supply systems for healthcare facilities and
schools, and support the drilling of boreholes, wells and springs in order to
bring safe water to districts in grave need.” Bringing water to the people “enables
girls to stay in school developing critical skills and women to spend more time
focusing on other vital priorities in their lives.”
the start of The Parachute Drop, we
learn the sad fate of the author, Norbert Zongo, former publisher and editor of
the Burkina Faso newspaper L'Indépendant.
In the author’s preface, the reader is told that Zongo was beaten and
imprisoned for his political writings. In the translator’s preface, we find out
that Zongo was later killed in a car bombing, ostensibly by allies of Burkina
Faso’s president at the time, Blaise Campaoré.
The Parachute Dropis a novel about a
fictional African country, Watinbow, described as a place "...where spirit is measured strictly for its cash value." Watinbow is led by the corrupt President Gouama, who has risen to power with the help of a European country whose
leaders want someone in charge whom they can control. Gouama’s main
interests as president are to amass great personal wealth, ensure that people
(especially women and girls) are always at hand to do his bidding, and destroy
anyone whom he perceives as a threat to his power.
Early in the
novel, Gouama is told of a plot by two high-ranking military officers to stage
a coup and wrest control of the government from him. He and his advisors devise
a plan to do away with the ringleaders of the coup by having them participate
in a ceremonial parachute drop during the president’s visit to the northern
part of the country. The parachutes are rigged so they won’t open, and the
two ringleaders plunge to their deaths.
proceeds nevertheless, but the president evades capture.The rest of the book tracks his actions as he
tries to figure out how to regain power.
corruption and other moral failings are highlighted throughout the book, in
contrast to the political idealism voiced by some of the students he
meets along the way. Rather than using his power for personal enrichment and
for satisfying his depraved desires, he is told that “…if you presume to guide the
destiny of others, you must be willing to sacrifice your own destiny, your own
personal desires.” According to the students, “There is no real happiness for
anyone unless there is happiness for everyone, for all of the people.”
country and characters depicted in The Parachute Drop may have been fictional, the corruption and political
failings described in the book are all too real in countries the world over. It
is both a cautionary tale and a sad commentary on those who allow power to
ignite their baser instincts.
Many of the foods mentioned in The Parachute Dropsounded so bland I couldn't imagine making them for this blog. Millet porridge, plain couscous, corn mush -- where's the fun in any of that? So I started searching the Internet for other recipes from Burkina Faso and found several references to peanut soup, which sounded really good. The recipe I chose was from a blog called "A Planetary Potluck," and no changes were required to make the dish vegan. It was a little spicy for a hot summer day, but if you don't like a lot of spice, you can always put in less cayenne. I loved this soup, and I look forward to making it again during the fall and winter.
GlobalGiving website lists several projects in the western African country of
Burkina Faso. As someone who is passionate about books and reading, however, I
was especially drawn to the Friends of African Village Libraries and their
project to develop a mobile library, a tricycle motorbike with a wagon on the
back that would take books to about a thousand people in twelve rural villages.
Books in Burkina Faso are expensive and libraries are rare, so the hope is that
by taking books to the people, the Friends of the African Village Libraries
will be “empowering them and helping them develop and reinforce the habits of
reading and critical thinking.”
teenaged prodigy studying piano at an authoritarian school for the musically-gifted
in communist Bulgaria – what could possibly go wrong? Plenty, as it turns out,
and fifteen-year-old Konstantin learns some hard life lessons in Nikolai Grozni’s
semiautobiographical novel Wunderkind.
passion for playing the works of Frédéric Chopin is matched only by
his enthusiasm for having sex with the girls in his school, especially the
brilliant violinist Irina. He and Irina challenge each other to increasingly precarious
dares, like when Irina bets that her performance of Sergei Rachmaninov’s “Vocalise”
will make Konstantin cry. If she fails, she will have to walk naked through the
entire school, but if she is successful, he will have to take off his pants and
enter his classroom through the window, which entails walking along a narrow
ledge on the outside of the building, five stories up.
that Konstantin is always running afoul of someone or another in the
autocratic administration or on the faculty of the Sofia Music School for the Gifted. He
also has a bad relationship with his parents, of whom he says, “They seemed
unable to understand that I couldn’t be both a genius and an average kid who
went to school and brought home straight A’s; that my tendency to sabotage my
own achievements was perhaps a direct consequence of being born with a gift.” The
only adults who appear to be always on his side are his piano teacher, whom the
students refer to as “Ladybug,” and his mysterious Uncle Iliya, who appears
from time to time to tell Konstantin about the decades he spent in
closest friends at the school tend to be rebels and troublemakers, just as he
is, and one by one, they are expelled from the school. When that happens, these
young people, who were always considered to be special, find that their musical
talents have no value for them without the school’s backing, and they are just
average Bulgarians with no high school diploma and limited options for their future .
One thing I
loved about this book is that each chapter is titled with the name of a musical
composition, usually, but not always, by Chopin. Someday, I want to reread this
book while listening to the masterpieces that illuminate each chapter.
play a big role in this book, although I thought briefly about making borscht,
a beet soup that Konstantin’s piano teacher’s sister was preparing for dinner one night during Konstantin's piano lesson.
Standing over the stove making soup during this hot Sacramento summer just didn’t
sound appealing, however, so I decided to make a cold dish instead.
Tarator is a
cold cucumber soup, which is popular in Bulgaria during the summer. I used a
recipe from a website called Gourmed featuring recipes from the Mediterranean
region. The only substitution I had to make to veganize the recipe was to use
vegan yogurt. The soup turned out really well and was very refreshing.
GlobalGiving website lists numerous projects needing donations in Bulgaria.
The one I chose is a project of the Trotoara Foundation, which seeks to open a
youth center in Sofia to provide at-risk youth with a creative space where they
can participate in activities that involve music, arts, and crafts.
coordinators hope that by “[f]Focusing on creativity and personal
empowerment, our pedagogical approach can help raise a new generation with the
ambition to set challenging goals in life. By helping children obtain new
abilities and knowledge, complementary to what is taught at school, we can
foster self-esteem and a belief in one's own abilities.[f][ocusing on
creativity and personal empowerment, our pedagogical approach can help raise a
new generation with the ambition to set challenging goals in life. By helping
children obtain new abilities and knowledge, complementary to what is taught at
school, we can foster self-esteem and a belief in one's own abilities.”