This week’s blog post is about Bahrain, a small island in the Persian Gulf with a population that’s predominantly Muslim. The book I read was Yummah, by Sarah A. Al Shafei, and it tells the story of Khadeeja, beginning with her marriage at the age of twelve.
Khadeeja’s mother, a widow, arranges for her to marry Mohammed, a man several years her senior whom Khadeeja has never met. Her mother is eager for the wedding to take place because she herself has a terminal illness, and she wants to make sure someone is there to take care of Khadeeja after she dies. Khadeeja pours out her thoughts on the upcoming wedding to her doll Layla, who remains her confidant throughout her life.
Khadeeja is happy in her marriage, and she and her husband have eight children. When she is pregnant with her ninth child, however, she is suddenly abandoned by Mohammed, who until that moment has been a model husband. The rest of the book follows Khadeeja’s efforts in raising her children without any support from Mohammed.
One interesting aspect of the book is watching the way customs and mores change over the years. Khadeeja marries off her first daughter at the age of twelve, just as she was married. But her second daughter decides to quit school and go to work in a beauty salon to help support the family, something that would have been unheard of a few short years before. All of the children, including (or maybe especially) the girls, become strong and independent. There are quarrels and challenges, but the family bonds remain. By the end of the book, even Mohammed returns to the fold.
While most of the book is focused on Khadeeja’s responsibilities as a wife and mother, one chapter is devoted to a trip she decides to take to Mecca, the holiest city in the Islamic religion. After all the challenges she had faced after Mohammed left, Khadeeja feels the need to heal her soul. She arranges to go with a group of women, not only to Mecca, but to other holy sites as well.
The author’s descriptions of the places visited and Khadeeja’s experiences are beautiful and heartfelt. “The moment I entered the Prophet’s land I felt a shiver in my body, I felt as if the air was hugging me and the vibe filled my heart and soul with love and faith. Everything was different everything was better; the life, the harmony, the land, even the fruits, the dates, the vegetables. The sun was cooler, the moon had a special shine, and the stars had a continuous twinkle.” Khadeeja returns home with a renewed sense of purpose.
The word “Yummah” means grandmother, a tribute to Khadeeja’s long and fulfilling life as her children have children of their own and Khadeeja remains at the center of the family circle. The book presents a lovely portrait of a strong and loving woman and the family she raises on her own.
So I decided to make halwa for this blog post. I found a recipe for Bahraini halwa on a blog called “Spice Traveller.” It was easy to veganize by replacing the butter with vegan margarine, but it was a tricky recipe to make since I had never dry-fried sugar before and wasn’t sure I was doing it right. I also wasn’t quite sure what cornflour was, so I had to look it up. Apparently, if you live in the United Kingdom or Australia, cornflour means cornstarch, but if you live anywhere else, it’s just cornmeal. At any rate, it all worked out.
The organization I chose to receive my donation is Alia for Early Intervention, a program of the Bahrain Society for Children with Behavior and Communication Disorders. Services are available to children who are “at least eighteen months of age at the time of referral, and suspected of developmental delay or diagnosed with a physical or mental condition, resulting in a high probability of delay in the following areas: cognitive development, communication development, social or emotional development, or physical development.” More information about this organization is available at http://www.childbehavior.org/earlyinterventioncenter.html.
NEXT STOP: BANGLADESH