Sunday, January 29, 2017

BAHRAIN






READ




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.



COOK


One scene in the book describes a family get-together on National Day. They are at a carnival, where sweets and other foods are sold, a puppet show is performed for the children, and the Bahraini National Band plays. As Khadeeja describes it, “It was one of these days that we all waited for. We enjoyed watching all the people in their best from the rooftop. We would take some tea and nuts, biscuits and halwa (a Bahraini sweet).”



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.




GIVE

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




Sunday, January 22, 2017

THE BAHAMAS





READ


If you’re like me, the only thing you know about the Bahamas is that they are an island paradise in the Caribbean Sea. One reason for undertaking this global reading project is to look beyond the stereotypes and learn about these countries from the perspectives of people who live and work there.

Ian G. Strachan’s novel, God’s Angry Babies, tells the story of a family living in an area of the Bahamas that the tourists don’t see. The family is headed by the formidable Maureen Bodie, who left her good-for-nothing husband and raised their four sons on her own. With a father who doesn’t believe girls need an education and a husband who can’t be bothered to lift a finger on behalf of his wife and children, Maureen has had to carve out her own path to success. With the help of a government scholarship, she takes her young sons abroad with her and earns a college degree. Upon her return to the Bahamas, she gets a job as a vice principal making enough money to have a house built for her family in a nice neighborhood and to pay for a good education for her sons.

Maureen is also politically active, backing the PNF (Progressive National Front) party in the post-colonial Bahamas. When her youngest son Mark (also known as Tree) gets accepted into college abroad, Maureen urges him to talk to their Member of Parliament (MP), also a member of the PNF party, to ensure that he gets a government scholarship. Mark agrees reluctantly, since his political views are more closely aligned with the out-of-power FLP (Free Liberal Party). By requesting the MP’s help, however, Mark is coerced into working on the MP’s election campaign, where political dirty tricks abound.

Racism, sexism, and homophobia are encountered often by characters in this novel, and political corruption is a continuing theme. Through it all, Maureen Bodie’s strength and devotion to her sons provides inspiration to the reader.

I gave this book three stars out of five on GoodReads, not because I didn’t like it, but because of the author’s overuse of colloquial speech to tell the story. While a certain amount of vernacular can help to make the characters come to life, too much can distract from the plot and make it difficult for the reader to understand what the characters are saying. I felt like that’s what happened in this book, where there were entire chapters written in the vernacular. If not for that, I would have given the book four stars.


COOK


I would have expected to find more food descriptions in this novel, but there wasn't much to work with, so I started googling Bahamian recipes instead. I found a recipe for Bahamian-style peas and rice on the allrecipes.com website that seemed to fit the bill. I left out the bacon and replaced the butter with margarine to make it vegan. The only other issue was that the recipe calls for pigeon peas, which I have never seen in any of my local grocery stores. I did a little more searching to see what an acceptable substitute for pigeon peas might be, and found that black-eyed peas would work. This turned out to be a very tasty dish!





GIVE

Now that I've discovered GlobalGiving.org, that's the first place I look when I'm researching organizations to receive my Booktrekker donations. I was happy to find an opportunity there to donate to the Earthwatch Institute, which has projects worldwide that allow people to engage "in scientific field research and education to promote the understanding and action necessary for a sustainable environment." Their project in the Bahamas involves research to help save the habitat of the green sea turtle and the hawksbill sea turtle. More information about this project is available at https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/saving-sea-turtles-in-the-bahamas-with-earthwatch/.




NEXT STOP: BAHRAIN