We Four in Egypt

Now back in the US!

Three paths

There’s always plenty of time to reflect over the holidays here in Egypt. Which is usually a good thing. Here are the options in the months and years ahead.

1. Stay here for at least another full year (leaving no earlier than summer 2010). This would likely include taking a fantastic trip to East Africa this summer. It’d have Giggle in his great school for another year, and it’d get Bug through preschool. The downside: another full year of this air. Another full year in a place we don’t love (a problem of the privileged, I know). Another year where I wonder if my job skills are growing obsolete. Another year I risk getting stuck here, professionally.

2. Look for a job back in the States. Be closer to family. Live someplace we love–or at least a place we understand. Someplace where people won’t stop us to ask if we are a family and then insist we can’t be because of the differences in our skin (sadly, this was not an isolated event). The downside: the end of the adventure.

3. Take the adventure another step and look for a job in eastern or southern Africa. Live someplace were we can travel even more easily to places we love. Be someplace where the boys blend in. The downside: a career shift for me that might be harder to bounce back from if I don’t love it.

Path number one is also the path of least resistance, and probably where we’re headed.

What would you do?


4 January 2009 Posted by | africa, expat scene, our life in egypt, race | 6 Comments

A real way to help refugees

We’ve met a lot of refugees here in Egypt who are desperately hoping for a better life. These aren’t people from Egypt, but from East Africa, who have gotten stuck here as they work their way through the very complicated UN refugee system. Egypt is not a great place for these folks.

Our very good friend Mike has posted an idea to change.org as part of a larger campaign to find the best ideas for the new Obama administration. Mike, who is an expert on international refugee law, has a great proposal to help refugees get to the United States, including through individual sponsorship by Americans (which is already done in Canada and Australia). Mike wrote the following:

Our proposal to revitalize US refugee policy started several weeks later than others in the Ideas for Change program, but it has been moving up. We’re in third place now in the “humanitarian relief” category, and we are just 70 votes out of first place. But in just 10 days, we need to make the cut for the final round of voting.

Many of you have already voted, but some are still waiting. Now is the time. There is an opening to make a change for US foreign policy and for refugees around the world, but it won’t last for long.

Just follow these steps:
1) Join Change.org at https://www.change.org/admin/sign_up
2) Vote by going to: http://www.change.org/ideas/view/usa_refugee_corps_-_export_hope_and_revitalize_our_national_moral_standing You should see your vote register and the number of votes go up! If you don’t see that happen, try voting again.

If you have already voted, then please – please – find some colleagues or friends, and tell them about this idea. Ask them to vote. 70 votes is not very many. We can win this election, and give ourselves a major boost in the lobbying we will need to do in Washington.

And, finally, make this proposal your own. Add your input on the change.org website. There has already been a good discussion, and a lot of good ideas, and as this proposal is developed over time we will be incorporating them. And the more people discuss and debate it, the stronger this campaign.

Thank you. Mike

Please take a minute from your busy holiday season to vote to support refugees. Thanks!

22 December 2008 Posted by | africa, in the news | 1 Comment

Mating by Norman Rush

(Here’s my fifth and final review for the Africa Reading Challenge, though I’ll continue to blog good books as I read them.)

“In Africa, you want more, I think.”

And so begins Mating, a novel that deserves more praise than I can eloquently offer. I read this book last spring in Dahab, and it absorbed me completely. It’s an excellent book, an amazing love story that is never sappy, but always intelligent and often funny.

Mating was published in 1992, when I was an undergrad. I remember seeing the paperback around the campus bookstore in College Town, and I never bothered to read it, but I always had the sense I should read it. A good friend at the time–a young man I adored–told me that the protagonist reminded him of me. Still I never read it.

After all that time waiting, it still didn’t disappoint. (And, actually, the comparison to the protagonist, a feminist who goes after love with everything she’s got, and is a wee bit self-absorbed, was really quite lovely to recall as I reflected upon my old friend and my old self. Old self? I’m still a feminist and I blog, which many consider a reflection of being self-absorbed. But let’s leave this discussion for, say, oh, never.)

The first-person narrative about this young woman, who chases her anthropologist love through the Botswana bush, is incredibly compelling and entertaining.

I enjoyed this book even more because I knew so little about it. So I’m going to end my review here. You can dig up some more information on Amazon, undoubtedly. Or, take my advice: find Mating and read it.

24 October 2008 Posted by | africa, books | 3 Comments

Everything Good Will Come by Sefi Atta

Nigerian writer Sefi Atta penned the novel Everything Good Will Come, which focuses on two women friends from childhood to adulthood. It’s a coming-of-age story of sorts, and intended to show different paths available to women in today’s Nigeria.

I didn’t adore this book with all my heart, but it’s a good read, especially if you are a feminist who likes to read novels about women in different parts of the world. I did enjoy learning more about Nigeria, which seems to have an incredibly rich literary scene, but if you are going to read only one novel from a Nigerian writer, let it instead be Half of a Yellow Sun.

This makes four books I’ve blogged about for the Africa Reading Challenge, adding to the following:

Plus I’ve already read Mating by Norman Rush and just need to blog it. Coming soon!

23 October 2008 Posted by | africa, books | Comments Off on Everything Good Will Come by Sefi Atta

Beyond the Horizon by Amma Darko

What a treat to stumble upon this lovely novella.

The story itself isn’t lovely, but involves a young and naive Ghanian woman whose husband abuses and exploits her. The novella begins at the story’s end, in Germany, with the protagonist reflecting on her transition from village girl to city wife to German prostitute. It offers insight into life in Ghana as well as the African immigrant experience in Europe.

Moreover, Beyond the Horizon is an incredibly compelling tale of a woman trapped first by naivety, and then by circumstances.

This book has me eager to read other works by author Amma Darko. If you are interested at all in African women fiction writers, I recommend it.

Note: a lot of students find their way to this blog entry because they have been assigned to read this blog. I am not going to help you do your assignment, nor am I going to sell you a paper. Please read the book (it’s short and very good) and do your own work.

12 September 2008 Posted by | africa, books | 10 Comments

Mukiwa by Peter Godwin

My summer reading (of which there was little, unfortunately) centered on Peter Godwin’s memoir Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa. I resisted this book because I’m far more interested in black people in Africa, and, frankly, I have my own prejudices about white Africans. I didn’t want to read an account of some idyllic, naive white childhood. But I was finally motivated to read it because it was on my shelf and because of the Africa Reading Challenge.

I’m pleased to report that my (completely uninformed) pre-judgment on this book was totally wrong. Instead, as Godwin recounts his childhood and young adulthood in then-Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, he also chronicles the end of white rule in this southern African country. It’s a fascinating story.

Godwin’s parents raised three children in then-Rhodesia, where they worked as a factory manager (dad) and doctor (mom). The first part of Godwin’s memoir comprises his mostly happy childhood in the rural countryside, when black Africans were family servants and factory workers. Even then, however, black African fighers were beginning to attack white settlers, and a sense of unease pervaded the white community.

The next part of the book focuses on Godwin’s post-secondary school obligatory national service with the militarized police. He served as a soldier, fighting alongside white and black soldiers and fighting rebel black soldiers, even though he and his family supported the rebels’ goal of black majority rule.

After leaving the police, Godwin left the country to attend Cambridge, and the final part of the book recounts his return to Zimbabwe briefly as a lawyer, defending his former enemies, and eventually as a journalist, uncovering atrocities committed by the army under Mugabe’s black government, for which he was expelled from Zimbabwe.

Godwin’s catharsis, near the book’s close, about his family’s role, and the whites’ role, as settlers in then-Rhodesia, is perhaps worth the entire read. I was fascinated to learn how the white Rhodesians viewed their grandparents as pioneers and themselves as settlers, as entitled to their farms as Americans consider ourselves to be entitled to our homes in the US. White Africans don’t have a monopoly on displacing and killing native peoples.

Books are my portal into learning about new countries and cultures. Godwin’s excellent memoir Mukiwa opened the door to Zimbabwe for me.

13 August 2008 Posted by | africa, books | 1 Comment

Waiting for an Angel by Helon Habila

The Africa Reading Challenge asks folks to read five books about Africa or by African authors in 2008 and then review each book in a blog post. I’m good at the reading part, and I like the blogging part, but I’m a miserable reviewer. So you’ve been warned.

I found Helon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel on some list of great African literature somewhere linked from the original Africa Reading Challenge blog post. If for only this book, I am glad to be focusing my reading on Africa.

Waiting for an Angel is a short book, closer to a novella, really, or linked short stories. It focuses on a group of young people during a coup in Nigeria. Habila’s writing is quite lyrical. I’d say it reads like a poem, except poems aren’t always easy to follow. How about it reads like a flowing stream? Or maybe more like a whitewater river: always downstream, but big nasty rocks along the way (in the form of some really tragic happenings).

Okay, no more river metaphors from me. I’m trying to say this was a great book about very sad things. The end.

16 June 2008 Posted by | africa, books | 2 Comments

Africa Reading Challenge update

When I started the Africa Reading Challenge, this was my draft list of books to read:

  • Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria)
  • Held at a Distance: A Rediscovery of Ethiopia by Rebecca G. Haile (Ethiopia)
  • The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz (Egypt)
  • Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela (South Africa)
  • Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood by Alexandra Fuller (Rhodesia/Zimbabwe)
  • Butterfly Burning by Yvonne Vera (Zimbabwe)
  • Measuring Time or Waiting for an Angel by Helon Habila (Nigeria)

Ha! I laugh at myself. There’s no way I’m reading that much Mahfouz. Here’s my current list, with two down and three to go:

  • Mating by Norman Rush (Botswana) done!
  • Waiting for an Angel by Helon Habila (Nigeria) done!
  • Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria) on my shelf
  • Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela (South Africa) to be obtained
  • Another book TBD (I have lots of my shelf but I’m not sure yet which I’ll end up reading)

So, that’s the update.

14 June 2008 Posted by | africa, books | 5 Comments

Reading Sudan

About three years ago, I started combing book lists for books about Ethiopia. My search expanded geographically, and I read a lot of stuff about Sudan, probably because there’s so much great writing coming out of Sudan–which is probably because of all the terrible things happening there.

In an earlier post, i recommended What Is the What by Dave Eggers. Of the four Lost Boys narratives I’ve read, this is the best, because a talented writer and editor, Eggers, took Valentino Deng’s powerful story and combined it with his own writing talents. When I read What Is the What, I was already familiar with the basic plotline of Deng’s story, which is similar to other Lost Boys’ works, but the story still captured my attention completely. None of these stories are easy reading–a friend of mine had a hard time with What Is the What because it’s really such terrible thing that happened to these young kids–but they are incredibly compelling.

If you’d like to read more accounts of young refugees from Sudan, here are some other great books:

God Grew Tired of Us: A Memoir by John Bul Dau
They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky: The True Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan by Benson Deng, Alphonsion Deng, and Benjamin Ajak

I’ve also read some more current Sudanese memoirs. Some people don’t know that slavery still exists in the world, including in modern day Sudan. The word is getting out, in part because of the writing and speaking of the following two authors, whose books I recommend:

Slave: My True Story by Mende Nazer
Escape from Slavery: The True Story of My Ten Years in Captivity and My Journey to Freedom in American by Francis Bok

It’s incredible the injustices these two endured including, in Nazer’s case, being enslaved in London after the family who kept her moved there.

All of these books relate directly to the tragedies happening daily in Sudan, so reading them is a good way to learn also about the current situation there.

So, that brings you all up to date, pretty much, on some great books I read before I started the Africa Reading Challenge. There is more to come. Let’s hope it’s soon.

12 June 2008 Posted by | africa, books | 3 Comments

Africa in the New York Times

Two articles from today’s online New York Times caught my attention.

First, some new research suggests that the transition of northern Africa from Savannah to Sahara was gradual and over about 6000 years.

Next, alarmingly, the Times reports that regional war and the global increase in food prices portend a major famine in the Horn of Africa.

17 May 2008 Posted by | africa, in the news | Comments Off on Africa in the New York Times