Tuesday, January 29, 2019



Trying to find English translations of books from every country in the world has presented a few challenges. For Comoros, for example, no book was available, but I was able to obtain a file containing an informal translation of a novel from someone who had met the book’s author. More often, though, the problem is that there is only one author from a particular country who has had a book translated into English.

I assumed that, like everyone else who’s doing a similar project, I would be reading Shadows of Your Black Memory, by Donato Ndongo, for Equatorial Guinea. No disrespect to Mr. Ndongo, but I didn’t want to just read the same book everyone else was reading. Also, I’m making a conscious effort to read more books by women. You can imagine my delight, then, when I heard last April that Lawrence Schimel’s translation of Trifonia Melibea Obono’s La Bastarda had been published. Not only was it a new option for Equatorial Guinea, but it featured gay and lesbian characters, which have not been represented in any of the other books I’ve read for this blog.

La Bastarda is the story of Okomo, a sixteen-year-old girl living in a small village in Equatorial Guinea. Her mother died giving birth to her, and she doesn’t know her father, who never paid the bride price for her mother, which would have legitimized their relationship. Therefore, Okomo is a bastarda – bastard daughter – completely dependent on her maternal grandparents. Her grandmother is eager to marry her off, preferable to a rich man who can help out with the family finances, so she makes her put makeup on, braid her hair, and wear revealing clothes. Okomo isn’t comfortable with any of that.

Okomo is very close to her Uncle Marcelo, and doesn’t understand why her grandparents and the rest of the villagers hold him in such disdain, calling him a man-woman. She develops friendships with three teenage girls who her grandmother considers “indecent and mysterious.” These girls are also very close to Okomo’s uncle, and during the course of events, Okomo comes to understand that her uncle is gay and the girls are lesbians. She develops an intimate relationship with one of the girls, Dina, and resists the efforts of her grandmother to fix her up with a man.

While being gay isn’t a crime in Equatorial Guinea, Okomo’s uncle gets blamed for every bad thing that happens in their village – the local people think he’s a curse. At one point, he barely escapes with his life when they burn down his house, and he flees into the forest. Okomo and Dina visit him there one day, and they meet his lover, Jesusin. The four of them talk about how a gay man may be ridiculed as being a man-woman, but gay women don’t have a name at all. “If you don’t have a name, you’re invisible, and if you’re invisible, you can’t claim any rights,” explains Jesusin.

The book’s afterword, by history professor Abosede George, delves a little deeper into the issues confronting members of the LGBTI community in Africa. She says that conventional wisdom has always held that “…being properly African, and thus in conformity with community norms, was to be reproductive.” To be gay is often thought to be Un-African.

Writing La Bastarda was an act of bravery on the part of the author. Equatorial Guinea responded by banning the book.


When Okomo and Dina go visit Marcelo and Jesusin, they are given something to eat. “They served us vegetables. They lived in the middle of the forest, surrounded by animals, but refused to hunt them.” Professor George elaborates on this in her afterword, suggesting that their vegetarianism is a critique of heterosexual excess.

               “In Marcelo’s home, taking up a new life in the forest entails becoming vegetarian.

               Surrounded by forest creatures, they refuse to eat meat. In this last commentary on

               death, life, sustainability, and consumption, the story contrasts the cycles of life in

               the forest with the cycles of violence in the village. Marcelo, Okomo, and their free

               tribe of the forest will consume in new ways, finding their nourishment without the

               need to kill others.”

When I searched Google for recipes for this blog post, I found a website called “National Foods of the World,” which listed the national dish of Equatorial Guinea as succotash. With Okomo’s words, “they served us vegetables,” still in my mind, succotash seemed like the perfect dish to make. The recipe at nationalfoods.org calls for bacon, which I omitted, and butter, for which I substituted Earth Balance spread. This isn’t quite your grandma’s succotash, since it contains cherry tomatoes, red wine vinegar, and various herbs, but it will probably taste familiar.


There were no projects listed for Equatorial Guinea at GlobalGiving.org, so I had to look elsewhere for a place to send my donation. It wasn’t easy to find a nonprofit organization offering services in Equatorial Guinea, but I finally found the Global Campaign for Education, a U.S.-based organization that promotes education as a basic human right. This is a coalition-member organization, consisting of more than eighty nonprofit groups. One such organization, Simply Equal Education, was started by two young women who spent a semester abroad studying in Equatorial Guinea. During that time, they volunteered in a primary school and learned a great deal about barriers to education. The Global Campaign for Education serves countries all over the world, but I designated my donation for use in Equatorial Guinea. More information about the Global Campaign for Education is available at  http://campaignforeducationusa.org/.


Sunday, January 27, 2019




First published in 1980, One Day of Life, by Manlio Argueta, details the brutal repression of working people in El Salvador, which led to the country’s civil war. The book is told from many points of view, but mainly it follows the life of Lupe Guardado, a grandmother whose family members are at risk because of their opposition to the authoritarian regime and the rich landowners who seek to exploit them.

Lupe’s son has already been murdered by security forces, and her husband has been hiding out in the hills, along with many other men from the town. Now the authorities want to question Lupe’s teenage granddaughter, who was part of a group that occupied the local cathedral to protest the slaughter of those who had fought back against the murder of Lupe’s son. Archbishop Óscar Romero, who we know from history was later assassinated by security forces, gives the group permission to stay in the cathedral for several days, then arranges for them to be safely evacuated by the Red Cross.

The role of the Catholic church in the repression of the townspeople comes into play throughout the book. Salvadoran peasants had been told by the priests for as long as they could remember that it was their lot in life to work hard for the landowners and be obedient to the authorities. They were promised that they would be rewarded in heaven. But new priests began to appear who wanted to help make their lives better in the here and now, and they encouraged the people to stand up for themselves and fight for their rights. Those priests were considered a threat to the people in power, and they suffered accordingly.

In addition to hearing the point of view of the working people, a couple of chapters in the book are written from the viewpoint of the members of the security forces, who grew up among the townspeople but ended up taking a different path. They look down on their fellow Salvadorans, convinced that they are Communists and that they will ruin the country if they are allowed to organize for a better life.

One Day of Life was a difficult book to read, as the torture and murder described by the author is unrelenting. By the end, though, I felt great admiration for the brave people of El Salvador, who were willing to fight for their human rights against such seemingly insurmountable odds.


Lupe and her family had a very simple diet as they were poor and unable to afford much variety in their food. There were always beans, though, so I decided to make a Salvadoran favorite – pupusas. These are fried disks of cornmeal dough stuffed with various fillings, often beans. I found a recipe for vegan pupusas online at the Curious Chickpea’s website. They are stuffed with refried beans and vegan jalapeño cheese, then served with purple cabbage slaw and either salsa or guacamole. The dough was very difficult to work with, so only one of the pupusas was pretty enough for a picture. But they were tasty and very filling.


GlobalGiving.com listed four projects in El Salavador. For my donation, I chose a project by the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation, which is seeking to plant 100,000 fruit trees in El Salvador. As the project description explains, “Deforestation and soil erosion in El Salvador has had serious environmental, social, and economic impacts, and is something that affects mostly the rural population with nearly one million Salvadorans living in poverty and over 50% of El Salvador unsuitable for food cultivation.” It is the foundation’s hope that by planting these fruit trees, they will be able to “prevent erosion, create wildlife habitat, contribute to global cooling, provide nutritious food and improve air quality.” More information about the fruit tree planting project is available at https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/elsalvador/.