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Few things so blank the mind as this question. Ummm…. I dunno? Here’s some of what I’ve read recently.

The Art of Forgetting: Loved this one. It’s a novel about a long-term friendship, and those of us lucky enough to have people who’ve been actively involved in our lives for a very long time know that we’ve gone through some pretty hairy situations (ok now I’m totally sidetracked. Why do we use “hairy” as an idiom for something bad or nasty? See my previous post). The novel starts when one friend gets hit by a cab and sustains a head injury that changes her personality, but like I said, it’s really a novel about friendship.

Turn Right at Maccu Pichu: Loved this one too. I linked to my review at 5MFB.

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives: This was a fascinating look at a polygamous Nigerian family. Although the main story-line follows the 4th wife, the youngest and best-educated, and her seeming infertility, the novel goes back and forth between different points of view, and we learn the stories of each wife and why she married Baba Segi. At times humourous, at others heart-breaking, it’s a well-written and enjoyable book.

The Good Muslim: I linked to my review. I loved this book for many reasons, but one was because you end up seeing the complex reasons people make the choices they do. It’s not a simple black-and-white world out there, and we’re affected by what we experience.

This Burns My Heart: This book is mostly a lesson in how not to marry the wrong guy! But it’s also a look at life in South Korea in the years following the Korean War and the division of the country into North and South. The main character, Soo-Ja, is a rich girl who lacks nothing but the freedom to choose to go and study in Seoul, and she marries a man against her parents’ wishes, believing he’ll allow her that freedom. This is a bit of a spoiler but it happens fairly early on, so I’m telling you anyway. Soo-ja is flawed, believable, and in the end admirable. At least I assume so—I haven’t quite finished it. But I like her. She’s got grit and she’s not a whiner.

The Four Kitchens: Linked to my review. This is a fun combo memoir/cookbook about a young chef who travels the world. I know! Food and travel—two of my favs.

Her Sister’s Shadow: Also linking to my review. It’s a giveaway too, and you still have time to enter. Go! Now! Then come back cuz I’m not done.

In my endless stack of TBR, which are not on my nightstand at all but in a large ungainly pile in the living room:
State of Wonder

In Malice, Quite Close

Telling Lies

Finding Aster: Our Ethiopian Adoption Story

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand (I’ve been wanting to read this one for ages and just borrowed it from a friend.)

…and many, many more!

Well that ought to keep me busy! What have you been reading lately? Anything good?

As a blonde, I must admit to sometimes being lazy when it comes to certain grooming habits practiced more faithfully by my darker-haired friends. In a word, eyebrows. I never pluck them. They are scarcely visible as it is; why go through the pain? In spite of this, for the last few years I have been considering having them done. I eye other people’s, notice attractive shapes. Should I?

I was over at Mona’s the other day, helping her study for her upcoming final in an ESL class she’s taking at the local community college. The talk turned to her plans to open a restaurant and her life in Iraq, and she told me how she was also considering opening a salon. “I love to do hair, and henna, and eyebrows,” she told me, grabbed a spool of white thread and began somehow looping it back and forth. She offered to do my eyebrows. I muttered something about how it had been a while (I didn’t want to tell her it’s probably been about 20 years) and let her at it.

She sat me down in a kitchen chair, had me hold the skin taut. I closed my eyes. Mona was very fast and proficient and 5 minutes later, my eyebrows were cleaner than they’d been in years.

The threading is very strange and difficult to describe; I have had to search on youtube as words have failed me. It sort of whispers against my skin. The woman in the video says it doesn’t hurt—I wouldn’t go that far, but it doesn’t hurt very much.

Mona asked me how often I have to do my upper lip. I shrugged, raised my newly-shaped eyebrows. I have no hair on my upper lip, just a fuzz only discernible in strong light. Mona tells me she has to do hers at least twice a month. I don’t even shave my legs that often, I admit to her.

I glance at her forearms. Sure enough, they are hairless. I remember Mauritanian women offering to help me remove my own arm hair with their own special concoction—coke left in the sun until it’s a syrupy, sticky paste, smeared on the skin and then ripped off! Just the thought of doing this makes me curl into fetal position, whimpering. I share this thought with Mona, who laughs at me and tells me she does the same thing. Sigh.

Although Arab women seem to want to be as hairless as possible, the opposite is true for the men. Donn was once out with a friend and they spotted a man with a huge Saddam-Hussein mustache getting out of a Mercedes. “Women love a mustache like that,” the friend told Donn. “And you know what else they love? Hairy backs. Women really go for that!” “Are you sure?” said Donn, but his friend reassured him. “I think maybe American women are different,” said Donn, but the friend was not convinced.

And last week, Donn learned a new Arab proverb. “A man without a mustache is like an egg without salt.”

I must admit that I am fascinated with my new eyebrows. I am constantly quirking them at myself in mirrors. And, as soon as Ramadan is over, we’re going back for a henna party!

A year ago last week, we moved back to the US. I don’t think it’s any secret that I wasn’t happy about it, but it was one of those tough, unavoidable things. I had no idea how things would work out, that a year later my life would be nearly as Arab as it was in Morocco. I had no idea that this summer would find me busy but happy, doing work that I love.
It’s Ramadan now, the Muslim month of fasting. I read an article in Time titled “10 Things You Didn’t Know About Ramadan” but they were wrong—I knew them all. I told someone that this was my first Ramadan in America but obviously that’s not accurate. What I meant was that it’s the first time that Ramadan has impacted my life in America.
Ramadan is tough on non-Muslims in Muslim-majority countries. Restaurants aren’t open. It may or may not be technically illegal for a non-citizen to eat or drink in public, but either way you aren’t going to win any friends if you choose to do so, and will most likely get harassed. Taxi drivers are grumpy. Your friends are exhausted from fasting and cooking all day and staying up and feasting all night, and by about the third week, everyone is bleary-eyed and not at their best.
Obviously, it’s easier for us non-Muslims here. The rhythm of our daily life isn’t interrupted at all. But, I wondered, would it be harder for Muslims? For one, the support of knowing that everyone in your society is fasting, not to mention the pressure of it being expected and almost forced on you, would make compliance easier. Also, we’re farther north here, and it’s summer and the days are longer. There’s no call to prayer to announce the second that you can raise a glass of cool water to your lips.
So I asked my friends. No, it’s not harder, they assured me. Well, maybe a little bit. They print out lists of times to eat, each night a little earlier. (One of the things I knew about Ramadan is that it moves throughout the year. This year it ends Sept. 1, but our first year in Mauritania, it ended a few days before Christmas) They go on with their lives. “The Eid (feast at the end) was hard last year,” a young friend confides. “We are used to having to get up very early so we have time to see everyone all day. Here, we just sit home and no one comes.”
In spite of not fasting ourselves, we have managed to get invited to several F’Tour meals, as well as hosting some ourselves. This is the meal that breaks the fast, served at sunset. For those fasting, first you drink water and eat dates. Then you eat soup. Then you pray. Then you eat an enormous meal, full of lots of special foods made only at this time. If you are not fasting, you still get to do this.
When I had Suzi and her family for F’Tour last week, I made harira, the Ramadan soup of Morocco. In Morocco, you can take a pot to a restaurant at sunset and they will fill it with soup that you can take home to your family. It’s made with a bit of lamb, and chick-peas and tomato and parsley and cilantro and lemon juice, and it is very very good. I made my own version and I was very happy with how it turned out. Suzi and her family were, too. “It’s Arabic!” exclaimed her husband in surprise.
Tonight we are going to their house for F’Tour. I’m hoping for Ramadan desserts—crescent horns filled with almond paste and covered in sesame seeds, dates stuffed with walnuts, and much more.
I visited a family the other day who is fasting. They insisted on setting plates of cookies and glasses of juice before Donn and I. No, no, we said, but they persisted. We smiled and said thank you, but then we didn’t take any of it. We just felt awkward. At the end, the man praised us. “It’s nice to not eat or drink in front of someone who is fasting,” he told us.
And are they all keeping the long daily fast, without societal support and societal pressure? Well… I’m certainly not going to judge them! Some are, some aren’t. The excuses are pretty funny though.

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