Reading Libya: The Bleeding of the Stone by Ibrahim Al-Koni

The desert is a true treasure

for him who seeks refuge

from men and the evil of men.

In it is contentment,

In it is death and all you seek.

-Sufi muwwal

I am a firm believer that if we let it, the landscape we live in can define us.
I’m a person of trees and grass and green. Born in a place that is all of those things, I’ve lived most of my life in the Eastern Deciduous forest zone, or in a subtropical landscape.

But there is very much a part of me that connects fully to the desert. I love the intensity, the wide open spaces; it’s a very different feeling than where I call home. When I get stressed, and all of the noise of the world is starting to drive me a little crazy, I’m always tempted to get in my car and drive until the green runs out. To get to a place where there’s nothing stopping the sun and wind.

Ubari oasis - with lakes in Erg Awbari (Idehan Ubari) in the Sahara desert region of the Wadi Al Hayaa District, of the Fezzan region in southwestern Libya.
Ubari oasis – with lakes in Erg Awbari (Idehan Ubari) in the Sahara desert region of the Wadi Al Hayaa District, of the Fezzan region in southwestern Libya (image by Luca Galuzzi http://www.galuzzi.it, via Wikimedia Commons)

And now I have this book to turn to when I need that feeling. The author, Ibrahim Al-Koni, is Tuareg and it’s crystal clear that he’s intimately in tune with his people’s deep desert roots. His love of that land absolutely bursts out of almost every line of this book; once I started it, I could not put it down.

It’s a tough read in terms of the messages he’s trying to convey; I wanted to scream “Stop it! Go away!” to some of the characters, but that’s offset by the beauty and depth of the story’s protagonist, and the landscape and animals that he loves and honors.

I’m thrilled to have read this book, and have two more of this author’s titles on order from the library. I’m never going to get through my To-Read pile of books, which is really a mountain anymore, but oh well. Just knowing there’s literature out in the world like this can be enough…

Sand dunes of Wan Caza in the Sahara desert region of Fezzan in Libya
Sand dunes of Wan Caza in the Sahara desert region of Fezzan in Libya (image by Luca Galuzzi – http://www.galuzzi.it, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

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Sweetness from Niger

Been intrigued by that $10 box of hibiscus tea that seems to be popping up everywhere lately? Just keep walking, to the nearest African or Latin market, and buy the real stuff. Known by many different names (sorrel, flor de Jamaica, roselle, arhul ka phool, and on and on), this little red flower is beloved just about everywhere.

In Niger, it’s called bissap, and is the basis of this super pleasing drink. You should make it. Right now.

Dried hibiscus flowers
Dried hibiscus flowers
(image by The Global Reader)

Bissap Juice

Adapted from a recipe at Seeking the Songhai

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups dark red, dried hibiscus flowers
    2 cups sugar*
    2 teaspoons of vanilla
    2 cups pineapple juice

Instructions

  1. In a large saucepan or dutch oven, bring 2 quarts of water to boiling.
    Remove from heat and add the hibiscus.
  2. Steep for at least 10 minutes.
  3. Separate the flowers and leaves from the water with a strainer.
  4. Add the sugar, vanilla, and pineapple juice. Let cool.
  5. Transfer to a pitcher, and serve over ice with few fresh mints leaves as a garnish.
Hibiscus leaves steeping
Hibiscus leaves steeping
(image by The Global Reader)

This also makes GREAT ice pops. I plan on having some bissap pops in my freezer at all times. I’m eating one right now, as a matter of fact.

  • Just pour into ice pop molds, or ice cube trays, freeze, and enjoy.

*Hibiscus is tart, which I really like. I personally found the above amount of sugar to be overly sweet. The next time I make this for drinking, I’ll use less. For the ice pops however, the sweetness level works really well as-is.

Bissap ice pop
Bissap ice pop
(image by The Global Reader)

Reading About South Africa: Disgrace

My first pick for South Africa is Disgrace, by J.M. Coetzee. This novel won The Booker Prize in 1999, and the author was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003.

WHAT IS THIS BOOK???

Infuriating. Challenging. Hauntingly full, and yet totally empty. Masterfully written, but very uncomfortable. There were a few times I wanted to throw it across the room.

I hated just about everyone in it,  but the protagonist was seriously the worst. Beyond loathsome. Was I meeting the author?  That lazily cruel voice of privilege, that grades people on the level of desire (women) or fear (men) they provoke…if you get the wrong kind of marks for the purpose you’re supposed to serve, well, bad luck for you.

Is this what the violence and cruelty of Apartheid did to the people who lived through and, in the case of the white characters in this book, benefited from?

Tough stuff all the way around.

View of Cape Town, from Robbin Island
View of Cape Town, from Robbin Island
(image by Matthias Kniese) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)