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



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…?”


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 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.

More information about the “Keep a Girl Alive” project is available at


Friday, July 21, 2017



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.”


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.


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


Friday, July 14, 2017



Some 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 into English.

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.

Nyamuragi’s 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.”

I searched 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!”


There are 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!:

“Above all, 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 crisis.”

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.

This project “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.”

More information about the BeyGood4Burundi safe water project is available at

NEXT STOP: CAMBODIA Burundi is the second most densely populated country in Africa, the fourth poorest country in the world, and is facing a major water crisis.

Friday, July 7, 2017



Even before 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 Drop is 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.

The coup 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.

Gouama’s 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.”

While the 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 Drop sounded 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.


The 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.”


empowering them and helping them develop and reinforce the habits of reading and critical thinking.

Saturday, July 1, 2017



A rebellious 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.

Konstantin’s 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.

It seems 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 concentration camps.

Konstantin’s 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.

Food didn’t 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.


The 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.

The project 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.”

More information about this project is available at


Wednesday, June 7, 2017



One of the biggest challenges in attempting to read a book from every country is finding books that have been translated into English. When I made my preliminary list of books for this blog, I was able to find only a couple of novels available in English written by authors from Brunei, and neither book actually seemed to relate to that country. Finally, I learned about Written in Black, by K. H. Lim, which is set in Brunei and centers around a Bruneian-Chinese family.

The book’s protagonist is ten-year-old Jonathan, who is reading Huckleberry Finn when he receives a phone call from his uncle telling him that his grandfather has died. That begins a series of life-changing events for young Jonathan, as his family’s problems cause him to do things he would never have attempted otherwise. We learn that his mother left the family six months ago, ostensibly for health reasons, and Jonathan is desperate to talk to her. Somehow, she always manages to call when he’s not home. His older brother also left home, seemingly the action of a rebellious teenager. Jonathan’s father, then, is left to raise Jonathan, his older sister, and younger brother.

They leave their home for a few days to stay with Jonathan’s uncle in order to perform the customary funeral rites for Jonathan’s grandfather. While talking with his cousin, Jonathan learns that his older brother Michael has been in frequent contact with their mother, which leads to Jonathan’s decision to sneak away and find Michael. What follows is misadventure upon misadventure, or as Jonathan later describes it, “…so far, I’d survived a ride in a coffin, a cursed house, a horde of bats, a pack of wild dogs, and a gang of lunatics.”

While Jonathan is no Huck Finn, and the author of Written in Black is no Mark Twain, this was a fun story about a boy who decided to take matters into his own hands. The plot’s twists and turns kept me interested all the way to the end of the book.


No particular Bruneian dish caught my eye when reading Written in Black. However, there were several descriptions of the lush fruit trees and extensive vegetable garden at Jonathan’s uncle’s house. In particular, there are two leafy mango trees that provide shade for the cage of Pak Tut, a nearly five-foot-long monitor lizard. When I googled Bruneian recipes, I found one for mangoes with sticky rice, which I decided to make in honor of Pak Tut.

The recipe I used was on a website called Asian Recipe, and was very easy to make, something I really appreciated after some of the more difficult recipes I’ve attempted for previous blog posts. I wasn’t able to find coconut cream at any of my grocery stores, so just used coconut milk instead. The rice didn’t turn out to be very sticky, but this was still a delicious and refreshing dessert.


I spent a long time searching online for an organization in Brunei with a mechanism for online donations, but I didn’t have any luck. In particular, I had hoped to donate to the Brunei Darussalam AIDS Council, “a non-profit, community-based organisation tackling the HIV & AIDS situation in Brunei Darussalam,” but couldn’t figure out an easy way to get money to them. So at this point, I have not made a donation to an organization in Brunei, but if I find a way to do that in the future, I’ll update this page with that information.


Sunday, May 28, 2017



It’s been much too long since my last blog post. I have an explanation, though. I really didn’t like the book I had chosen for Brazil, and it didn’t help that it was 521 pages long. I tried to keep plugging away, but when I was about halfway through, I finally threw in the towel and decided to choose another book.

I’m so glad I did! Otherwise, I would not have discovered Adriana Lisboa and her wonderful book, Crow Blue.  The book’s main character, Vanja (short for Evangelina), is a thirteen-year-old girl who leaves her home in Rio de Janeiro when her mother dies, and moves to Lakewood, Colorado, to live with her mother’s ex-husband, Fernando. He and her mother divorced long before Vanja was born, but Fernando agrees to let Vanja live with him and help her find her father.

Fernando was originally from Brazil too, where he was a Communist guerrilla fighting against the military dictatorship. While most of Crow Blue focuses on Vanja’s new life in the United States, there are flashbacks to the guerrilla days that Fernando left behind.

In Colorado, Vanja befriends a nine-year-old neighbor boy, Carlos, whose family is from El Salvador. She helps him with his homework, and gives him a safe and happy place to spend his spare time. Carlos has lived in Colorado for as long as he can remember, but the concern that he and his family will be sent back to El Salvador because they “didn’t have papeles” is never far from his mind. Vanja and Fernando take Carlos with them on a week-long road trip to New Mexico, which deepens the bond among the three of them.

Crow Blue is more than just a coming-of-age book. It’s a heartwarming story of how three exiles from other lives and other places can become a family of their own.


Since most of Crow Blue is set in the United States, Brazilian food doesn’t really factor into the plot. So the dish I chose to make for this post is one that was mentioned in the book I tried to read first. The dish is called feijoada, and it’s a Brazilian stew that’s usually made with meat. Fortunately, I found a Jamie Oliver recipe for a vegetarian version and decided to make that. I didn’t have to do much to veganize the recipe – I just substituted a dollop of vegan sour cream for the yogurt on top of the stew. The bigger challenge was trying to translate a British recipe into terminology and measurements that can be understood in a U.S. kitchen. For the record, a courgette is a zucchini, and I converted the ingredients that were listed in grams as follows:

·        Rice – since the stew is served over the rice, there was no need for a precise conversion. I just cooked a cup of brown rice according to the package instructions.

·        Sweet potato – 200 grams is a little less than half a pound.

·        Kidney beans – actually, I substituted black beans, which are more likely to appear in a Brazilian dish, and I used the whole 15-ounce can.

·        Fresh coriander (cilantro) – I used about a fourth of a cup, finely chopped

·        Vegan yogurt or sour cream – it’s just a dollop on top of a bowl of stew, so no measurement conversion was necessary.

It turned out quite well, although it’s a dish better suited to the fall or winter, rather than these warm late spring days that we’re having in Sacramento!


In Crow Blue, Fernando and other resistance fighters live and train in the state of Pará, a vast, forested area near the Amazon River. It’s described as being “…almost big enough for two Frances. Three Japans. Two Spains and a bit. More than one thousand, six hundred Singapores.” Since the time when Fernando was there, however, forests have been cleared in obscene numbers. “Amazon forests continue being cleared to the order of one Belgium a year, basically for cattle farming. The miracle of the transubstantiation of forest into beef. (Soy? It too is transubstantiated. It is exported and becomes cattle fodder in rich countries.)”

When I looked for projects in Brazil on the GlobalGiving website, I was happy to find Forests4Water Brazil, which is a community reforestation project administered by an organization called Iracambi. According to the project summary, this organization has already planted 100,000 native rainforest trees, and they have plans to plant another 10,000 this year. It may not be possible to undo the damage that’s already been done to the Amazonian rainforest, but I wanted my donation for Brazil to be used to help correct the mistakes of the past.

More information about the Forests4Water Brazil reforestation project is available at



Friday, April 28, 2017



First off, let me just say that I loved the protagonist in Unity Dow’s book, The Heavens May Fall. She’s a young, smart, fierce lawyer working for a nonprofit organization that helps women and children in Mochudi, Botswana. It’s hard for me to not love a character whose inner musings on the first page of the book go like this:

“Why can’t I watch the news of rapes by military men in the DRC, babies with distended bellies and flies eating at their eyes in the Sudan, and go back to my coffee? Why does an old woman waiting in a queue for service by a rude and incompetent clerk make me feel personally responsible? Why must I enter the fray, always, even if it just means dashing off a letter of complaint? Is there a busybody gene, and if so, why do I have to have it?”

If you are one of those people with a busybody gene, someone who feels the need to try to right every wrong, you’ll love Naledi Chaba too. As the attorney for the Bana-Bantle Children’s Agency, she handles cases for battered women, young rape victims, and those facing other heartbreaking situations. She fights against a system that lets a rapist go free because his young victim is mute and therefore unable to testify against him. She displays tact and sensitivity in dealing with a client who blames her marital problems on witchcraft. And she is relentless on behalf of a young girl who was raped by her grandparents’ tenant, even though her fight for justice puts her on a collision course with the judge hearing the case.

In between cases, the author shows the reader other sides of Naledi. She and her cousin and best friend Mmidi, a doctor, fret about standards of beauty and fashion, as well as society’s expectation that women will marry and have children. Naledi tries to balance the time spent on her professional responsibilities with her desire to build a relationship with the new man in her life, a rugby player on the Botswana national team. She laments the indignity of having to beg for funding all the time when working for a nonprofit organization. And she makes time every week to go see her widowed father, whom she adores.

The Heavens May Fall seems very authentic, possibly because the author herself began her career as a lawyer who championed women’s rights. She went on to become Botswana’s first female High Court judge, and she currently serves her country as the Minister of Education and Skill Development. I’m glad she found time to write this wonderful book in the midst of all her other work!


Early in the book, Naledi’s cousin Mmidi is talking with envy about a widow named Lesika, who seems to have everything. She has a pretty face and a full figure, speaks multiple languages, and never lets things get her down. Naledi knows Lesika. “She sold homemade bread door-to-door in the evenings and at weekends and was rather good at persuading me to buy yet another batch of diphaphatha, even before I had run out of the last.”

I looked up diphaphatha and found that it’s similar to a biscuit, although somewhat flatter and harder. I found a recipe on a blog called “Sapodilla Brown,” and gave it a try. I thought the bread was pretty tasty, especially with a little margarine and jam. Apparently, diphaphatha is usually cooked on a cast iron skillet over an open flame, so I was happy to find a recipe that used an oven instead. Also, some recipes use yeast as the leavening agent instead of baking powder, which would probably make for a lighter roll.


I looked online without success for the equivalent of Naledi’s Bana-Bantle Children’s Agency. I would have loved to donate to such an organization. Since I couldn’t find anything like that, I went back to GlobalGiving and found a project in Botswana that offers science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education to vulnerable girls, ages 12 to 25. According to Stepping Stones International, many vulnerable young girls “become caregivers which increases the likelihood that they obtain inadequate health care, are not protected from sexual exploitation and lose focus on education."

The “Girls Getting Geeky” program provides after-school education that helps girls develop design process skill, which they apply to different engineering challenges. It is hoped that this program will lead to an increase in the number of girls who complete secondary school and then either go on to college or find employment.

More information about the “Girls Getting Geeky” program is available at


SSI provides year long, daily after-school programming (including school holidays) which includes STEM activities that foster innovation and empower girls to solve real-world problems and understand the impact of engineering in their local community and in a global context. caregivers which increases the likelihood that they obtain inadequate health care, are not protected from sexual exploitation and lose focus on education.

Monday, April 24, 2017



One of the main reasons I embarked on this global reading project was to fill in the many holes in my knowledge about the people, culture, and history of other countries. I feel as though I am gaining a much greater understanding of the world in which I live, although reading only one book from a country doesn’t give me nearly the depth and breadth of knowledge that I would like to attain.

Reading The Bridge on the Drina, by Ivo Andrić, for my book on Bosnia and Herzegovina, however, provided me with a very broad perspective on this area, as the book covers a time period of approximately four hundred years. The focal point of the book is a bridge that was built to span the river Drina in the town of Višegrad. It is referred to only as “the bridge” in the book, but it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been named the Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge, after the Grand Vezir of the Ottoman Empire who ordered its construction.

The author, a former Yugoslav diplomat, uses the bridge, not as a character, necessarily, but as the unifying element that connects all the other characters and events chronicled in the book. Some chapters educate the reader about the history of the area, and others tell the stories of individuals or families. In all cases, however, the bridge plays a central role.

The Grand Vezir for whom the bridge was named grew up near the Drina, but was taken away by soldiers of the Ottoman Empire when he was ten years old. This was due to the practice of blood tribute, in which boys between the ages of ten and fifteen were forcibly removed from their families and taken to the Sultan in Istanbul, which was then known as Stambul. This boy grew up to become a very important person in the Sultan’s court, and he used his power and position to build the bridge in the area from which he had been taken.

Although The Bridge on the Drina is centered in the town of Višegrad, it soon becomes clear that what happens in Višegrad is symptomatic of what is going on in a much greater part of the world around it. As the residents of the town discover, “Who could ever have dreamt that the affairs of the world were in such dependence upon one another and were linked together across so great a distance?” While the town is controlled by the Ottoman Empire for most of the years covered by this book, the reader sees the beginning of the fall of the Ottoman Empire reflected in the handing over of Bosnia to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And when a Serb in Sarajevo assassinates Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the political repercussions are felt in Višegrad by not only the Serbian residents, but by all who live there.

Aside from the historical and political importance of the bridge, it serves as a meeting place for the people of Višegrad. As the author points out, “In all tales about personal, family or public events the words ‘on the bridge’ could always be heard. Indeed on the bridge over the Drina were the first steps of childhood and the first games of boyhood.” The book tells the story of an unhappy bride in a wedding party crossing the bridge to take her to the home of the man she’s been forced to marry. It showcases students arguing about politics and philosophy as they sit together on the bridge, men who have had too much to drink performing dangerous feats above the raging waters of the Drina, and old men of differing faiths smoking on the bridge as they discuss how best to navigate the changes facing the village.

Ivo Andrić was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1961, and in the award ceremony speech, The Bridge on the Drina was referred to as his masterpiece. The speech goes on to explain that the Nobel Prize was bestowed on Andrić "for the epic force with which you have traced themes and depicted human destinies from your country's history."

Clearly, if I had to pick only one book from Bosnia and Herzegovina for this project, I could not have chosen a better one than The Bridge on the Drina.


Judging from the number of cooking failures I’ve had in trying to prepare vegan dishes for this blog, I’d have to say that the “Cook” portion of this blog is the weak link. I’m going to keep plugging away and hope it gets better, but I’m afraid that this week’s dish didn’t turn out very well.

I didn’t find anything that I wanted to make mentioned in the book. The author included several references to halva, but since I’d made a version of that particular dish for my blog post on Bahrain, I didn’t want to make it again so soon. So I looked online and found a blog called the Old Curiosity Shop that had a recipe for a potato dish, kljukuša, that seemed easy enough to make. The only thing that needed to be changed to make the dish vegan was to substitute some other liquid for the milk and/or cream the recipe called for. I used almond milk, and just did not like the taste of the finished product. My mom suggested that if I make it again, I might want to just use vegetable broth in place of the milk, so I may give that a try someday.  


War was a constant in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the years covered in The Bridge on the Drina, and it has continued to plague the area in the years thereafter. On the GlobalGiving website, three of the seven charitable projects listed for Bosnia and Herzegovina were related to the subject of peace. I chose to give my donation to the Center for Peacebuilding in order to help sponsor youth to attend their Peace Camp. At the camp, participants will address their past traumas and learn to become involved in facilitating peacebuilding activities in their home communities. According to the Center for Peacebuilding, research has shown that young people who have participated in the Peace Camp have become more involved in volunteering and developed more close relationships with members of other ethnic groups. More information about the Center for Peacebuilding’s Peace Camp is available at post war peacebuilding strategy in Bosnia is that it separated the country into two entities, The main problem with the post war peacebuilding strategy in Bosnia is that it separated the country into two entities, which ultimately led to extreme nationalist rhetoric and ethnic segregation, acting as barriers to creating a peaceful, multiethnic, and pluralist society. The main problem with the post war peacebuilding strategy in Bosnia is that it separated the country into two entities, which ultimately led to extreme nationalist rhetoric and ethnic segregation, acting as barriers to creating a peaceful, multiethnic, and pluralist society. The main problem with the post war peacebuilding strategy in Bosnia is that it separated the country into two entities, which ultimately led to extreme nationalist rhetoric and ethnic segregation, acting as barriers to creating a peaceful, multiethnic, and pluralist society. The main problem with the post war peacebuilding strategy in Bosnia is that it separated the country into two entities, which ultimately led to extreme nationalist rhetoric and ethnic segregation, acting as barriers to creating a peaceful, multiethnic, and pluralist society.


Saturday, April 15, 2017



While reading Juan de Recacoechea’s American Visa, I was surprised by how familiar the author’s writing style felt. It didn’t seem as though I were reading a book from Latin America – it felt like I was reading something written by a U.S. writer. I finally realized that, even though the characters were Bolivian and the setting was in La Paz, the book was written in a style the protagonist and narrator, Mario Alvarez, greatly admires – that of a noir novel. When visiting a bookstore, he observes: “I always liked noir novels about detectives and hoods that have clear beginnings and endings. Guys like Raymond Chandler and Chester Himes can change my life for a few hours, freeing me to see the world through the eyes of Philip Marlowe or Grave Digger Jones.”

Mario is a small-town Bolivian school teacher who goes to the capital city of La Paz to try to obtain an American tourist visa from the U.S. consulate. His son, who lives in Florida, has sent him a plane ticket, but Mario needs a visa in order to travel to the United States. Obtaining a visa is no small task, requiring Mario to prove that he has considerable financial assets. Otherwise, the fear is that he won’t return to Bolivia but will remain in the U.S. without permission.

When Mario goes to the U.S. consulate, he has numerous documents with him as evidence of his financial security. Unfortunately, they’re all forged. He doesn’t think this will be a problem, but while he’s waiting for his number to be called, he hears the people around him talking about how they are going to have to wait for three days while the consulate verifies their documents. In fact, one woman tells him the consulate hires detectives to do background checks on visa applicants. Disturbed by this news, Mario leaves the consulate and goes back to the cheap hotel where he’s staying.

The hotel houses a variety of colorful characters that one might expect to find in a noir novel: an unsavory desk clerk, a down-on-his-luck former diplomat, a resplendent transvestite named Gardenia, and, of course, a hooker with a heart of gold. The former diplomat tells Mario about a travel agency that, for a hefty fee, will handle the whole visa process for him. The rest of the book follows Mario’s adventures and misadventures as he tries to come up with the money for the fee.

The book’s afterword by Ilan Stavans explains how de Recacoechea came to write a book in this style. Stavans calls American Visa “a by-product of the ‘90s, a period of intense reaction to magical realism and its forgotten generals, clairvoyant prostitutes, and epidemics of insomnia,” as found in the works of Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez, for example. According to Stavans, “Juan de Recacoechea, along with an entire generation, became allergic to these stories, finding them too remote, too ethereal. Instead, he prefers the dirty urban landscape of La Paz, where the only thing magical is one’s talent to make ends meet.”

I have to admit that I found the gritty quality of de Recacoechea’s work to be much more accessible than the otherworldliness of the magical realists. But then, I’ve always been a sucker for a good noir novel.


Most of the things Mario and his friends ate in American Visa didn’t seem like they would be very easy to veganize. Even searching the Internet for a good vegan Bolivian recipe was a little daunting, with one website saying “[t]he Bolivian cuisine almost lacks for the vegetarian recipes.” Fortunately, that same website, Recipes Wikia, provided a recipe for huminta that didn’t require any changes or substitutions. Huminta (or humita, in some Latin American countries) is a casserole that’s usually prepared with corn, but the recipe I used called for quinoa. Other key ingredients included tofu, winter squash, tahini, and anise extract, but the overwhelming flavors in this recipe were quinoa and anise. I found it to be a little dense, and thought it could have benefited from less quinoa and more butternut squash. I’m going to follow the recipe’s suggestion to slice and pan-fry the leftovers. Everything is better fried, right?


GlobalGiving offers several options for donating to non-profit projects in Bolivia. The one I chose should be near and dear to the hearts of all vegans – addressing the problems created by the practice of monoculture farming that relies heavily on the use of pesticides. Sustainable Bolivia has created the Permaculture Practitioner Young Leaders Program to provide “practical training for 400 middle school students from agricultural areas.” According to Sustainable Bolivia, the “Permaculture techniques we teach will be aimed at improving soil fertility, harvesting water, and building living interactions that save time and increase productivity.” The hope is that the students who participate in this program will go home and share these permaculture techniques with their communities. More information about the Permaculture Practitioner Young Leaders Program is available at