First things first. Where on earth is Comoros? I’d never heard of it until I started making plans for this project. Turns out it’s an island nation off the eastern coast of Africa, situated between Madagascar and Mozambique. It used to be a French colony, which means that I needed to find an English translation of a book written in French. Unfortunately, it does not appear that any Comorian novels have ever been translated into English for commercial publication. Hmmm, what to do?
I did what other people who have embarked on a similar global reading project have done – I emailed an entreaty to Dr. Anis Memon, a professor at the University of Vermont who has done his own informal translation of Mohamed Toihiri’s novel, The Kaffir of Karthala. Dr. Memon graciously emailed me a copy of his translation, and my problem was solved.
The Kaffir of Karthala opens with the protagonist, Dr. Idi Wa Mazamba, being told by his physician that he has cancer and has only a year to live. He doesn’t tell his wife, with whom he leads a fairly loveless existence. He recently met a young woman from France and a relationship appears to be developing between them, although it is complicated not only because he is married, but by the fact that he is a black Muslim Comorian and she is a white Jewish European.
The book is full of descriptions of Comorian life, including wedding customs, religious rituals, and personal relationships. As the book proceeds, we also learn more about the government of Comoros when the President offers Idi a position in his administration. I especially liked this quote from Idi when he was talking to the President: “To succeed in changing attitudes you have to begin, Mr. President, by demanding of each of your ministers that in full council they give you a summary of the books they’ve read this month, for the mind is like a plant: if you don’t water it, it dies.”
The author of The Kaffir of Karthala, Mohamed Toihiri, served as a Comorian diplomat. According to Wikipedia, he was Permanent Representative to the United Nations for Comoros, accredited as Ambassador to the United States, Canada, and Cuba, and he was also the first published author of Comoros. I enjoyed having the opportunity to learn about this country from a man who knows it so well.
The book mentioned a plethora of fruits and vegetables that grow in the Comorian islands: mangoes, guavas, coconuts, bananas, litchis, oranges, lemons, almonds, tamarind, grapefruit, wild raspberries, corn, manioc, and breadfruit, for example. There were also some dishes that sounded like they might possibly be vegan, if only I had been able to find recipes for the Comorian versions of them, such as sambosas, nutmeg biryani, and halwa. I decided to just search online for Comorian recipes, and I found one for soupe faux pois, or sweet pea soup. The recipe was vegan as written, so I didn’t have to make any substitutions. The soup was very tasty and a little spicy. It was not pretty, however, as you can see in the photo below. It was supposed to be garnished with lime slices and coconut milk, but they were too heavy to stay on top of the soup. So those Jackson Pollack-type speckles of coconut milk are the best I could do for the garnish. The recipe was from a website called InternationalCuisine.com.
Finding an organization to receive my donation for this country was a bit of a challenge. My go-to donation website, GlobalGiving.com, didn’t have any projects listed for Comoros, so I had to do a little Internet searching. I found the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, which works to save species from extinction throughout the world. According to their website, Comoros and nearby Madagascar “form part of one of the five most important areas in the world for biodiversity.” However, many species on these islands are being threatened. Consequently, “Durrell focuses on the most threatened species and the most threatened habitats of Madagascar and the Comoros. Rural communities depend on the same ecosystems for their livelihoods, so our approach is based on empowering these communities to lead in the protection of their local environments.” I asked that my donation be used for a project in Comoros. More information about the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust can be found at https://www.durrell.org/wildlife/.
NEXT STOP: DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO