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


Sunday, April 9, 2017



The concept of karma is probably familiar to most readers. If you’re like me, you think of it as some kind of cosmic payback when a person does something bad, or a reward when they do something good. Other than that cursory understanding, I have to confess that I haven’t given much thought to how karma is actually supposed to work.

In reading The Circle of Karma, by Kunzang Choden, for my book about Bhutan, I was interested to see that karma is used to explain everything that happens in a person’s life, good or bad. The book’s protagonist, Tsomo, is the daughter of an important religious man in their village, who explains that “everybody was the way they were because of the way they had lived their previous lives.” Religious practice allows a person to accumulate merit to ensure that his or her next life will be better than the current one.

This causes a certain amount of consternation for Tsomo since, as a girl, she’s not taught to read or write, two things that she wants to learn more than anything, and she worries that her lack of education will preclude her from accumulating enough merit to make her next life better. But she’s a dutiful daughter and stays home learning how to cook, work in the fields, weave, and care for her family.

Astrology is also an important factor in Tsomo’s village. Her mother is told by the astrologer that Tsomo “will be restless, always wanting to travel." Her mother doesn’t really believe that part of the horoscope is true because, “where can a girl, even a restless one, travel to?”.

Actually, a girl can travel to many places, as Tsomo discovers when circumstances cause her to leave her village, and she comes to the realization that “[s]he had to learn to be on her own.” Her travels over the next few decades take her to India and Nepal, where she learns to be self-reliant, meets new friends, and finds many ways to accumulate merit.

I had more trouble than I expected with the use of karma to explain every situation in this book. For example, I felt like the man who took advantage of Tsomo and treated her with indifference for many years before finally abandoning her got off much too lightly by having his behavior characterized thus: “He had come to collect the dues she owed him from some lifetimes past and he left her fifteen years later, completely depleted both emotionally and financially.” Invoking karma as an excuse for bad behavior was a bridge too far for me.

I admired Tsomo’s resilience, persistence, and resourcefulness, and I followed her travels with interest. The book's author, Kunzang Choden, is the first Bhutanese woman to write a novel in English, and I felt like she did a wonderful job of bringing Tsomo's character to life.


Throughout The Circle of Karma, Tsomo eats momos, a steamed dumpling common to the Himalayan countries of India, Nepal, and Bhutan. The ones she eats are filled with meat, such as pork or yak, but I found a recipe for vegan momos on the Aapdu Kitchen website. I followed the recipe fairly closely, except that I couldn’t find ginger garlic paste at my grocery store. Instead, I added a tablespoon of finely chopped ginger to the recipe, and substituted chili garlic sauce for the red chilli sauce in order to include the garlic flavor. The recipe calls for a capsicum, and I didn’t know what that was, so I looked it up. Turns out it’s just the scientific name for the pepper family. Since there were numerous references in the book to the Bhutanese people’s love of chillis, I used a spicy serrano pepper.

I wish I could say the momos turned out well, but I really can’t. I didn’t roll the dough thinly enough, and I felt like the chili garlic sauce overwhelmed the taste of the other ingredients. Serving the momos with mango chutney helped, but this recipe definitely won’t go down in the books as one of my best.


I checked the GlobalGiving website to see if they had any projects in Bhutan. They had one, helping the Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy to create greater awareness among the citizens of Bhutan about how a participatory democracy works. The country transitioned from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy in 2008, holding the first election for the National Assembly of Bhutan. Since democracy is a new concept there, people are not necessarily familiar with their rights and responsibilities under this new system of government.

The Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy is taking a three-pronged approach to educating the people of Bhutan: “First, it ‘inspires active citizens’ through projects that tackle social problems. Second, it ‘encourages and expands public discourse’ by organizing forums focused on diverse topics such as the role of media and the crisis of democracy in modern times. Third, it produces ‘resources for democracy’ targeted towards all citizens, ranging from rural teachers to government officials.”

More information about the Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy is available at