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Ghana and King Peggy

Imagine that, one night, you’re woken from a sound sleep by your phone ringing. You sleepily answer the phone, wanting to know what’s so important that they’re waking you up in the middle of the night. Then the person on the other end of the phone tells you congrats – you are now the king of a far off, distant land. And no, they’re not joking.

Sound like a fairy tale? Perhaps – but that’s exactly what happened to Peggielene Bartels one night after a long day of work as a UN secretary. Meet King Peggy!

After that jarring phone call, Peggy, an American citizen, flies to her old home in Ghana for her inauguration as the new King of Otuam, a small fishing village. Peggy had only ever visited relatives in Otuam, but was born and raised in the large city of Cape Coast, before immigrating to the United States. Peggy is determined to take her new role as King seriously – and won’t put up with any crap from the village elders.

I personally LOVE this book. Everything she does once she becomes king is basically what everyone says they would do if they were put in charge: stomp out corruption, stand up for the little guy, and work tirelessly to better the lives of everyone that depends on you. The world needs more Peggy Bartels. Otuam is a lucky, lucky village to be able to call her their King.

Somalia and Secrets

It’s been a while since my last post, but I’m still here!

Today we have: Secrets by Nuruddin Farah!

OK, so spoiler alert, this was a WEIRD book. Within the first 100 pages we had bestiality, voyeurism, and under-age sex. And it got weirder from there. In fact, there’s quite a bit of sex in this book. And really, none of it is pleasant 0.o No Fifty Shades of Grey here!

The book follows a young man named Kalaman. He is being relentlessly pursued by a woman that he grew up with named Sholoongo, who has returned from America to inform him that she wants him to get her pregnant. Which is kind of an awkward statement to make, especially to someone whom you literally haven’t seen in years.

Kalaman refuses, but he can’t seem to get rid of Sholoongo, despite his best efforts. He turns to his grandfather for help, but as he journeys back to his home village, he begins to uncover secrets that his family has tried to keep hidden from him his entire life.

Kalaman’s mother, in particular, has kept many secrets from him. She is introduced to us as a cold, angry woman. At first glance, it seems like she can’t be happy with anyone or anything, but by the end of the book the reader as a COMPLETELY different perspective of her. I won’t spoil anything, but it’s quite artful the way Farah can make his readers completely change their minds about this character.

My favorite quote from the book is near the end: “Motherhood…is the off-and-on light in the darkness of night, a firefly in joyous dizziness and rejoicing, now here, now there, and everywhere.”

Doesn’t that make you want to go hug your mom? Ugh. Beautiful!

What have you read from Somalia?

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Malawi and The Boy who Harnessed the Wind

Just in time for Thanksgiving, I give you…a book about a famine! You know, just to make you feel a little extra thankful this year.

Meet William Kamkwamba , probably one of the coolest people you’ll ever hear about. In his book The boy who harnessed the wind, he talks about growing up in Malawi during a famine and building a windmill to bring electricity to his family’s rural home at the age of 14 (14, you guys).

This is an awesome book for anyone interested in science, or ingenuity, or just a feel-good (true) story of someone overcoming (a lot) of difficult circumstances.

So basically, our young hero is just a kid, the son of a farming family, who enjoys going to school and hanging out with friends. Then suddenly, a famine strikes. His descriptions of the famine are pretty terrifying, guys. He talks about watching his friends and family slowly shrivel up into skeletons, then watching their limbs swell from starvation. His sisters get into fistfights at dinner because there’s not enough food, and people wandered the countryside looking for day work for food.

His family barely survives – but they survive. Their relief can be summed up by the family’s gratitude at the next harvest:
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But then, there’s only enough money left to feed the family and buy more seed for next year – and not enough to send William back to school. So what does he do? He goes to the library! Duh!

So he goes the library, finds a few books on sciencey things, and gets an idea to build himself a windmill so that his family’s house can have electricity. AND IT WORKS. He builds a windmill, which manages to generate enough electricity to power a few lightbulbs around their house, which is enough that his family can stay up late and work on other projects – like reading or sewing. Keep in mind – he was 14 years old when he built a working windmill that generated enough electricity to power his house. 14.

Eventually, William gets discovered by TEDGlobal, and the rest is history. You can follow his other adventures on his blog.

What have you read from Malawi?

The Democratic Republic of Congo and Tram 83

So, if I had to sum up the Democratic Republic of Congo in one word, it would be Conflict.

Before reading this book, I would highly encourage you to read this brief timeline of the country. It still make you much less confused as you read the book, trust me.

So: the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila!

To give you an idea of how good this book is, it has already been longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize for 2016, and was the winner of the 2015 Etisalat Prize for Literature.

This is a super dark novel that, despite its depressing atmosphere, overflows with life – albeit sometimes with forceful desperation. For example, underage prostitutes, dubbed “baby chicks,” are quite common in the novel, as prostitution is often the only way these girls can hope to survive. Despite their dour circumstances, these girls continue to push onward with life; to survive, even through means that most would find degrading and unthinkable.

The novel centers around a nightclub called “Tram 83,” where people from all walks of life can be found: musicians, drug dealers, prostitutes/waitresses, soldiers, miners, businessmen, students, etc. It is here that most of the action takes place, centered around two characters: Lucien, an unemployed historian, and Requiem, whose exact business is unclear, but it is definitely shady. Although Lucien and Requiem are old friends, their differing interests cause conflict between them, which continues to grow as the novel goes on.

When I think of the sheer struggle for survival that everyone in this book faces, I think of stories of lone travelers, injured but still alive, miles from civilization, who somehow still find the will to claw hand-over-hand to find help.

Something kind of like this:

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I think ^that about sums it up. Definitely something that I will re-read at some point!

Are there any books that you have read that remind you of a similar struggle for survival? Let me know in the comments!

Senegal and So Long a Letter

I haven’t posted about a book set in Africa for a while, so let’s fix that! I present to you: So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ.

Set in Senegal, this short book (only 90 pages, including the notes in the back) is written in the form of a letter from one woman, Ramatoulaye, to another, Aissatou. Ramatoulaye’s husband has recently taken a second wife, and while that is accepted in Islam – which they both practice – it is still a betrayal both of her trust and of the life they had built together.

From the first chapter, we learn that not only did Ramatoulaye’s husband take a (younger) second wife, but he also died shortly thereafter. So not only has Ramatoulaye been betrayed, but there is no way for her to ever vent her frustrations and hurt to her husband, or to hope for reconciliation with him in any way.

Sooooo, this letter from Ramatoulaye to Aissatou is pretty serious. She really needs to vent, basically.

This really is an excellent book, and I highly recommend it. It’s short enough you could finish it in one day. It was originally published in French in 1980, and then translated to English by Modupé Bodé-Thomas in 1981.

I don’t want to say too much more about the book, because it’s so short I’m afraid I’d ruin it for you guys! So I think I’ll go ahead and stop here.

What have you read from Senegal?

Uganda and Groundnut Soup

I have a confession to make.

I didn’t actually like this recipe! 😦 😦 😦

I feel terrible! The picture LOOKS delicious! In my book for Uganda, The Abyssinian Chronicles, it sound amazing!

But I just didn’t like it 😦

So, the recipe is called Ugandan Groundnut Soup, and is apparently a staple of this African region. The REASON I didn’t like it, I think, is because the ingredient list calls for both “stewing beef” and “smooth peanut butter.” Plus veggies.

Now. I love peanut butter. And I love beef. And I also happen to love veggies. But a combination of all three?! Not for me!!!

(If you have eaten this soup and love it I am so sorry. I am so glad you like it. Unfortunately, I did not).

After making a couple different African recipes, my husband and I have discovered that apparently a lot of African dishes are quite thick. And it kind of throws us a bit. It’s definitely not something we were expecting.

I will say I thought this was better fresh than as leftovers. If that helps.

But please, don’t take my word for it. Try it for yourself!!!

 

Liberia and Mighty be our Powers

How sisterhood, prayer, and sex changed a nation at war: a memoir.

Now who wouldn’t read a book with that subtitle?! Introducing, for the proud country of Liberia, Mighty be our Powers by Leymah Gbowee.

Side note: wondering why the Liberian flag looks eerily similar to the US flag? That’s because Liberia was founded in part by the American Colonization Society, who didn’t like having so many freed American slaves running around. So they sent them back to Africa. I wish I was joking. The Liberian constitution is modeled on the US’s constitution, and the two countries have had very strong diplomatic ties through the 1990’s, when the country experienced two civil wars nearly back-to-back.

Which brings us to Leymah! Leymah is a truly inspiring woman. Trapped in an abusive relationship, she fights to free herself and her children from a controlling and violent husband. She graduates college with a degree in social work, and then, in the midst of a civil war, starts a grassroots movement with her fellow Liberian women to end the war and usher in peace.

Guys, it worked.

This amazing group of women got together, got organized, and stopped a ruthless dictator (one Charles Taylor) from completely running their country into the ground. They literally sent him packing. It doesn’t get more heroic than that!

What I love most about these women (besides their amazing success) is that they were both Christian and Muslim. One of my favorite parts of the book is when they are sitting in a market protesting, and they would start off the day with both Muslim and Christian prayers:

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want…

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds…”

I wish more people could pray together like this.

Have you ever read anything from Liberia? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @ProjLibrarian !

Uganda and the Abyssinian Chronicles

I want to start my post today by saying how saddened and disturbed I am by the recent shootings in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis. That police are shooting and killing citizens of ANY color is both despicable and disturbing. The police are supposed to protect us, and I have to say, having watched the videos from both shootings, I don’t feel very protected right now. I feel sad and scared for my friends of color. And also sad and scared for the good police officers that I know are out there, and are probably going to be put in more danger because of stupid things like this. There’s got to be a way to end this cycle of violence.

To kind of tie in with my feelings, I thought the first book I would talk about today would be Abyssinian Chronicles by Moses Isegawa.

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This book is from Uganda, a country with a brutal modern history of war and violence that includes a military coup d’etat, a rebel army, a mass exodus, and Abyssinian Chronicles takes place during this turbulent time in Ugandan history, following a young boy named Mugezi, who grows up during this unstable time.

(Uganda, for those of you who suck at geography like me, is here:)

uganda

To make matters worse, Mugezi’s home life is just as terrible as life outside his home. His mother is self-righteous and physically and emotionally abusive, while his father is weak and self-serving. Mugezi survives through a mixture of Attitude, luck, and sheer will, eventually making his way to Amsterdam.

This is one of those books that I would describe as an “epic read,” not in the sense that it’s INSANELY AWESOME, but because it feels very much like a journey. The story begins in a tiny village where Mugezi’s parents grew up, and then travels to the capital city of Kampala, and then finally to Amsterdam. To read this book is to go on a journey through, and then out of, Uganda. In cataloging, we call that a bildungsroman!

Overall, I really liked the book (and that cover is GORGEOUS!). I will say I really disliked adult Mugezi, and I’m still trying to make up my mind as to whether Isegawa intentionally made him unlikable or not. To be fair, there really isn’t a single likable person in this book, besides the child Mugezi and Mugezi’s grandfather and great-aunt.

Moses Isegawa has written other books as well, although I can’t personally recommend any of them. If you’re interested, that link above goes to his profile on Goodreads. Abyssinian Chronicles was his first book, and it remains his most popular.

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