Gratitude In Low Voices

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The Book of the Week is “Gratitude In Low Voices, A Memoir” by Dawit Gebremichael Habte, published in 2017. According to the book (which appeared to be credible although it lacked an extensive list of detailed sources, and an index), through the decades of the twentieth century, Eritrea suffered the usual traumas of a former colony (of Italy from 1890 to 1941) that was fighting for independence:

  • exploitation of its assets and resources (including dry docks, factories, railway cars by the British, and oil by the British and the Americans in the 1940’s);
  • oppression of its people (by Ethiopia in the 1950’s and 1960’s, via a UN resolution that was violated after a decade);
  • a military draft (by the Ethiopian government in 1983);
  • famine (in 1984);
  • ideology and language of the oppressors forced on students in the schools (by Ethiopians, funded by the Soviets in the mid-1980’s); and
  • arrests of and atrocities committed against, Eritrean people who uttered one word in any form, critical of Ethiopia (beginning in the mid-1980’s).

In 1973 or 1974, the author was born into a typical lifestyle for his time and place. He herded sheep and goats at an early age. By then, the Eritrean independence movement was gaining ground in the form of two armed groups resisting Ethiopian oppression: Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) and Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF). His father joined the former group, and desirous to have his son educated, in the early 1980’s, sent him to school in Asmara.

Through his formative years, the author received an eclectic education. At about nine years old, he became apprenticed to a carpenter. Afraid the generous pay would corrupt him, his mother sent him to study the Bible at Saint George Orthodox Church. There, he learned Tigrinya, the language of his native people. His father went to Saudi Arabia to work, and sent money home. Eventually, his family became refugees from the violence and left Asmara but stayed in Eritrea.

Read the book to learn what transpired when the author wished to gain access to the resources in a library in his neighborhood and later, when he paid a people-smuggler to help him flee for Kenya; and his and Eritrea’s fate.

Sunflower in the Snow

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The Book of the Week is “Sunflower in the Snow, Tales From A Wartime Childhood” by Rachel Patron, published in 2020.

The author was born in January 1936 in Bialystock (in Poland). Her family’s textile-dyeing factory was requisitioned by the Soviets when they occupied their portion of Poland in autumn 1939. The family moved in with extended relatives elsewhere in Poland. In spring 1940, they moved back to Bialystock to their prewar house. But the NKVD requisitioned that, too.

Good news: The family wasn’t sent to a concentration camp. Bad news: The family was sent to Siberia in summer 1941, where they almost froze and starved to death, anyway. Their way of life was turned upside-down, due to all kinds of political, economic, religious and linguistic changes wrought by the War; to name just a few:

  • After the Germans broke up with the Soviets, the former sought to arrest all Communists and Socialists. The author’s father and much older brother were taken away by the Commissar’s thugs to serve as slave labor, and in the Red Army, respectively.
  • There was bartering in black markets.
  • The atheist Soviets canceled Christmas.
  • The author’s family spoke Yiddish among themselves because the Soviets did not speak it, but they spoke Russian to local officials.

When she was an adolescent, after various long interruptions of her formal education due to the government’s closing of schools for ideological reasons, the author was told she was a Socialist Zionist. This entailed:

  • atheism, which meant the author didn’t have to observe a kosher diet; and
  • the Law of Return– automatic citizenship for all Jews around the world after Israel declared its independence in May 1948.

Read the book to learn: more details of the author’s experiences, traumas specific to her family, and what became of them.

Open Skies – BONUS POST

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The Bonus Book of the Week is “Open Skies, My Life as Afghanistan’s First Female Pilot” by Niloofar Rahmani with Adam Sikes, published in 2021.

Born in December 1991 in Afghanistan, the author deserves major bragging rights. For, she possessed the courage to serve as a liberated female role model (given her culture) by risking her own life and her family members’ lives in serving her beloved homeland. She joined the air force in December 2010. According to the book (which appeared to be credible although it lacked Notes, Sources, References, or Bibliography and an index) this was at a time when the Americans and NATO were running the show.

The Taliban and other devout Muslims were less than thrilled that she was the first Afghan female ever to learn to fly a fixed-wing aircraft. Pursuant to the Koran, a female’s priorities were: submissive girlhood, wifehood, motherhood, and womanhood (and usually, the first three were forced on females simultaneously), and taking care of a household; only then, might she work outside the home if her oldest living male relative allowed her to.

The author spent her early childhood in a refugee camp in Pakistan. Anomalously, but fortunately for her, both of her parents believed in educating her and her siblings (mostly sisters), and encouraging them to pursue the career of their choice. The family eventually moved to Kabul. Unsurprisingly, the author’s career choice provoked angry reactions from the male-dominated air force and males in her country. The most fanatical ones began to smear, spy on, and threaten her and her family.

Nevertheless, the author’s parents martyred themselves in so many ways for their children’s futures. Her father continued to encourage the author to keep flying, even when her family was under siege and suffering many hardships due to her focusing on her dream job.

A barbaric incident that occurred in March 2015 was just one indicator that in Afghanistan, the tide was turning toward the dark side yet again: a huge flash-mob of outraged, radical Muslim men tortured and killed a devout Muslim woman wrongly accused of burning the Koran.

The victim was set upon because a mullah (a credible, influential religious leader) was her accuser. Just a few of the vicious untruths spread about her were that she was a prostitute, a blasphemer of Islam, and was an agitator sent by the Americans (perceived as the evil occupiers). The author herself was subjected to roughly equivalent, ugly utterances.

Read the book to learn how the author cheated death in this wordy, redundant yet suspenseful volume.

The Girls in the Wild Fig Tree / The Last Nomad

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The first Book of the Week is “The Girls in the Wild Fig Tree, How I Fought to Save Myself, My Sister, and Thousands of Girls Worldwide” by Nice Leng’ete, published in 2021.

According to the book (which appeared to be credible although it lacked Notes, Sources, References, or Bibliography and an index), the following is still an all-too-common scenario in a poor village in Kenya: “… it is unlikely she will finish her education [meaning– graduating what would be equivalent to grammar school in the United States]. Her father married her [off when she was] young to get a dowry. Her husband wants her home to work and raise the children.” She is fifteen years old and already has two babies.

The author’s passion is to replace the tradition of female genital mutilation (FGM) practiced by certain Kenyan tribes, with Alternative Rites of Passage. For, the culturally entrenched FGM is one major reason females in her society have been so sheltered, limited and resigned to their fate for so long.

The author grew up in a Maasai village in Kenya, near the Tanzanian border. When she was about five years old, her mother took her to witness a FGM ceremony in her community. Maasai culture dictated that when girls showed signs of puberty, they underwent the ceremony. “The cut” (of the clitoris) was extremely painful, and the presence of complications such as infection or hemorrhage could lead to chronic medical problems or even death. There were no drugs administered.

But the cut, even in the absence of physical complications, signaled the next steps of arranged marriage, childbearing and servitude for the rest of a girl’s life, usually beginning in her early teen years. Even when a girl’s mother wanted to honor her daughter’s wish to finish school and have a different lifestyle, she had no power to persuade her husband or any other male relatives to allow that to happen. The males ruled the roost.

Read the book to learn how the author escaped her almost certain dismal fate, and how she is helping other females to do the same, without their having to endure all the traumas she did.

The second Book of the Week is “The Last Nomad, Coming of Age in the Somali Desert, by Shugri Said Salh, published in 2021.

According to the book (which appeared to be credible although it lacked Notes, Sources, References, or Bibliography and an index), the author’s Muslim family was somewhat anomalous, in that her father was a multi-lingual scholar who believed in education for both genders, and her grandmother was an authoritative figure. The author was born around 1974. Her culture also still practiced female genital mutilation.

The sprawling family’s tribe was nomadic– they herded camels and goats, and seasonally migrated around the desert in Somalia, looking for water. Their religion allowed polygamy among the men. The author’s father’s biological children numbered 23 among 7 wives, 5 of whom he divorced; the author’s mother gave birth to 10 children before she passed away of malaria when the the author was six years old.

In 1988, Somalia’s government and tribes devolved into civil war. “Killing, looting, destruction, and chaos was now our norm.” The people had a complicated system of relationships in which they took care of their own family and tribe, and if their brains were poisoned by war, they became hostile to all others.

The author’s sister possessed a key survival skill– thorough knowledge of her family’s lineage so that, when questioned, she knew which tribal name to utter to quell sociopathic, armed-and-dangerous child-soldiers in the streets. When the family finally fled Mogadishu in 1991, their black-market connections allowed them to obtain provisions that kept them alive– fuel for a truck, food and ammunition. However, they braved many other life-threatening dangers, including atrocities (committed by people), harm from lions, poisonous snakes and baboons, disease and dehydration; not to mention lice and scabies.

The author and several relatives were able to cross the border and stay in Kenya temporarily. Even so, law enforcement officers in Nairobi were corrupt– arresting refugees and hitting them up for bribes just before they knew the refugees were due to legally leave the country.

Read the book to learn much, much more about the author’s checkered story.

Fighting Back – BONUS POST

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The Bonus Book of the Week is “Fighting Back, a Memoir of Jewish Resistance in WWII” by Harold Werner, published in 1992. This slim volume contained a detailed, suspenseful account of one man’s survival story.

Born the oldest of six siblings in 1918 in eastern Poland, the author was a Jew typical for his generation. He spoke Yiddish and Polish. He spent his childhood in Gorzkow, a small farming village where his fellow religionists at an early age took up a trade such as tailoring, blacksmithing, shoemaking, or carpentering. They bartered with the non-Jews, who were farmers. The villagers spent their leisure time playing soccer or ping-pong, attending movies, or opera, or boating.

Poland declared independence in 1918, after the Americans and French helped them defeat the Bolsheviks. As is well known, after the death of the dictator Joseph Pildsudski in May 1935, the reigning right-wing National Democratic party, also known as Endecia or Endek, especially scapegoated and violently oppressed Poland’s Jews.

When the Germans attacked Poland in September 1939, they indiscriminately bombed residential buildings in Warsaw; in one of which was the author’s knitting machines– with which he had previously more or less, made a living, making winter sweaters. The following month, he, some of his family, and other people he knew, fled Warsaw on foot eastward to then-Russian-occupied territory.

The author thus began a years-long ordeal, suffering extreme physical hardship– alternately hiding from and, with his fellow Resistance fighters– sabotaging the war efforts of the Nazis in Poland and eastern Ukraine. He joined a group of partisans called Army Ludowa.

Even when the Polish Jews who had survived the war by evacuating or hiding thought their lives were no longer threatened, they still had nothing to live for. The author lamented, “…Jews had no homes to return to and no families to go back to … our mission was to fight, take revenge, destroy the enemy.” The ones who had stayed at the war’s beginning were killed in bombings or shootings in their expropriated homes, or in deportations to the death camp called Sobibor or killed in the Wlodawa ghetto.

All through history, Poles had always had a reputation for anti-Semitism. But the war had stirred up a frenzy of hatred that the Jews of the Polish Resistance felt against the sociopathic, sadistic Nazis and their collaborators– which included German and Polish security and law officers and tattling villagers.

Read the book to learn of how the author lived before his life was turned upside-down, the acts of kindness certain people displayed, the hatreds of others, and the numerous times he cheated death during his wartime experiences.

Speaking of a frenzy of hatred, here’s a question for the 2024 presidential candidates. As is well known, the campaign forecast is: extremely cloudy with 100% chance of shock and outrage.

DO YOU REALLY WANT TO RULE THE WORLD?

sung to the tune of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” (the studio version) with apologies to Tears For Fears.

Welcome to some strife.
Your party’s got your back.
Even while you Tweet, morons and nut-cases track your every action, you won’t get no satisfaction.
Do you really want to rule the world?

It’s your time to shine,
but you must STAY the course,
feeding the grapeVINE.

If you CAN, preserve our freedoms and our pleasures,
without bullying or extreme measures,
we will LET you rule the world.

There’s no place where the SMEARS
won’t find you.
Dodging scandals while the media comes sniffing around.
When they do, your lawyers will be right behind you.

So sad that money rules you.
Social-media approval fools you.
Do you really want to rule the world?

We can’t stand this national division.
Charisma will gain you White House admission.
Do you really want to rule the world?

ACTUALLY dispense with the lies and the greed, please.
We’re fed up with the hypocrisy and sleaze.
Do you really want to rule the world?

We need freedoms and our pleasures,
without bullying or extreme measures.
Do you really want to rule the world?

Those We Throw Away Are Diamonds

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The Book of the Week is “Those We Throw Away Are Diamonds, A Refugee’s Search for Home” by Mondiant Dogon with Jenna Krajeski, published in 2021.

Born in February 1992, the author began his childhood on a cattle ranch in Bikenke, a village in Rwanda. His family was of the Bagogwe tribe, a subcategory of Tutsi. His ancestors had migrated between Rwanda and Zaire (aka Congo; the author was unclear as to which current country– “Democratic Republic of Congo” or “Republic of the Congo”– he and his family lived in and when; so the area will hereinafter be referred to as Congo.).

In the mid-1990’s, the genocide in Rwanda forced the family to flee their Congo home mostly on foot with little more than the clothes on their backs. They had previously lived harmoniously side-by-side with their Hutu neighbors in the Congo. But contagious hatred reared its ugly head. The family hid in a cave, at a school, in the woods and other places prior to trying to stay alive at less dangerous places (i.e., refugee camps).

By spring 1996, the family had finally made its way to a refugee camp in Rwanda, where the Red Cross provided humanitarian assistance. The author and others lived in a tent city on grounds formed by the eruption of the volcano, Nyiragongo. A refugee was shot by a sniper, so the UN moved them to another camp, guarded by the Rwandan Patriotic Army. That did not end well either, as child-soldiers in the terrorist group called Interahamwe killed hundreds of Tutsis with machetes.

In the next several years, the refugees were moved from one camp to another, as life-threatening dangers (mostly from human violence) presented themselves around every corner. They nearly starved to death many, many times, and suffered from malnutrition all the time.

Nevertheless, the author, at eight years old, was finally able to start first grade at school. According to the book (which appeared to be credible although it lacked Notes, Sources, References, or Bibliography and an index), there were no: chalkboard, desks, pens and books. He passionately took to learning, anyway. At recess time, he and his friends also played soccer with a makeshift ball– made with whatever material was at hand. The refugees continued to eat only tiny portions of beans and corn every two or three days.

In 2001, Kabila, the new dictator of the Democratic Republic of Congo, wanted to give the (false) impression that peace had been restored in his country, so he had officials from Kivu go to the region’s refugee camps, including those in Rwanda, and propagandize that refugees could come home and live as they had prior to the unrest.

However, unaware of the full extent of Congo’s then-civil war, the author, his brother and father endured a stressful, multi-day journey via on foot and bus to see whether conditions were sufficiently safe for their family to return to their pre-war property. They were unable to reach their home, but in a village many miles away, the father found work from a Hutu employer who showed no tribal hatreds. For a change. The author resumed attending school and achieved fluency in Swahili, giving him a survival skill when he was confronted by haters. Bullets flew around outside the school from all different rebel groups in Kivu.

Read the book to learn: of the numerous times the author cheated death; the many hardships he suffered; and how he parlayed his passion for school into various positive developments, including receiving recognition from a philanthropist who helped him rise above discrimination against his refugee status.

Americanized / The Dilbert Future – BONUS POST

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The first Bonus Book of the Week is “Americanized, Rebel Without A Green Card” by Sara Saedi, originally published in 2018.

According to this slim volume (which appeared credible although it lacked Notes, Sources, References, or Bibliography and an index), the author’s family had a difficult time getting permission to live permanently in the United States, after fleeing the Iranian Revolution in the early 1980’s.

The author, born in 1980, provided a host of details on her family’s immigration ordeal, and her own life’s trials and tribulations (mostly First-World problems). Incidentally, she unwittingly wrote a line that would have subjected her to cancel-culture [In 1992]:

“…I’d personally reached peak frustration levels at our country’s complex and seemingly arbitrary immigration laws. I wanted to get on the first flight to Washington, DC, and storm the Capitol, but I didn’t, because any form of criminal activity would get me deported.”

Read the book to learn more.

The second Bonus Book of the Week is “The Dilbert Future, Thriving on Stupidity in the 21st Century” by Scott Adams, published in 1997.

The author discussed his predictions, obviously at the book’s writing. One of them was particularly accurate:

“As dense as they [the children] might be, they will eventually notice that adults have spent all the money, spread disease, and turned the planet into a smoky, filthy ball of death. We’re raising an entire generation of dumb, pissed-off kids who know where the handguns are kept.”

(!!!)

Read the book to learn more of the author’s insights.

Out of the Gobi

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The Book of the Week is “Out of the Gobi, My Story of China and America” by Weijian Shan, published in 2019. This volume richly detailed the hardships faced by ordinary Chinese people from the 1950’s onward.

Born in 1953, the author spent most of his childhood in Beijing. As is well known, the Communist dictator Mao Tse-tung finally achieved nationwide dominance over the Nationalist (allegedly democratic, but still horribly corrupt) Chiang Kai-shek at the dawn of the 1950’s. (For additional info on how Communism is different from Socialism and Capitalism, see the bottom portion of this blog’s post, “The Last Idealist”). Mao proceeded to do grave damage to his country, causing the deaths of millions from starvation and financial disaster (among other causes).

Beginning in 1965, Mao declared there would be a new world order in his country, in the form of a Cultural Revolution. One of many goings-on during this period was burning, destruction or confiscation of all books except for those by the authors Marx (Karl, not Groucho), Engels, Lenin and Stalin.

The evil West’s bourgeois lifestyle was violently stamped out by Mao’s private police force, the Red Guard (which consisted of mostly young, armed and dangerous radical hooligans– sociopathic sadists), which brainwashed schoolkids of all ages, up to university level, to make Revolution. They destroyed the statue of the Venus de Milo, and denounced the Russian classical novels. A couple of years later, chaos reigned, but Mao was still in control.

In autumn 1966, at thirteen years old, the author was brainwashed by the youth movement to go on a fact-finding mission in the countryside. The government did away with entrance examinations, and in fact, all formal schooling. For about three weeks, the author and his peers traveled around by trains, buses and on foot to personally witness the Revolution. At one point, they went on a hike in the mountains, retracing the steps of the Red Army. Their travel expenses were paid for, but the conditions were quite primitive.

Into 1967, upon orders handed down by Mao, the youths protested against Capitalism in a way roughly equivalent to “Occupy Wall Street” but they got bored. They were neither studying nor working. For, a few years prior, the dictator had successfully thrown the country into disarray, forcing the closure of not only all schools, but bookstores, libraries, parks, movie theaters and houses of worship.

Thousands of people disappeared, were abducted from their homes– to be jailed, tortured, killed, for so much as speaking, writing or acting in the least way, critical of the government. In the environment of fear and force, they were under pressure to tattle on others before they themselves were punished.

Schools in the author’s area finally did reopen in autumn 1968, but education was still lacking. The author’s “Worker-Peasant-Soldier Middle School” (grades nine and ten– after what would be American grammar school) had no textbooks but students were drilled only on Mao’s propaganda.

In the summer of 1969, Mao realized it was time to change tack by sending young people to the countryside, as they had been making trouble in the cities long enough. He kept them busy by inspiring them to do hard manual labor, and study revolutionary thought. The kids truly tried their hardest– they were blindly obedient to the cause of defending their motherland against Soviet aggression. In autumn 1969, the whole nation went crazy constructing air-raid shelters and tunnels.

The author was sent to the Gobi desert in Inner Mongolia. Again, conditions were extremely primitive. He and his fellows got military training. However, due to a weapons shortage, another platoon was chosen to receive (outdated, Soviet-made) submachine guns. None of the company leaders had any experience in battle, but they inspired passion in their subordinates, anyway. Under the blazing summer sun, there were vicious mosquitoes. It was freezing in winter.

The author described his physical and psychological suffering of the next several years, as his group strove to complete a series of months or years-long agricultural and infrastructure projects that actually produced a net negative effect on food production and quality of life.

In 1979, the United States resumed formal diplomatic relations with China. People in China queued up for hours and hours for all kinds of consumer goods. The author, by then a recent university graduate, reveled in his new lap of luxury– he had time to read for hours and hours, had enough to eat, and got a hot shower once a week.

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional information on: the author’s experiences in China from the 1950’s into the 1980’s (which involved a slew of health hazards) including but was far from limited to:

  • all his hard manual labor and psychological trauma;
  • his short stint as a medical “doctor” in 1971;
  • how he enjoyed the benefits of a student exchange program in the 1980’s; and
  • his troubles with the INS (hint– “… a mistake in the new letter: the date by which we had to leave the country was left blank… the INS had somehow lost our file…”).

This substantial volume reveals why, politically, economically, culturally and socially, and in quality of life– overall, China is still many decades behind America (never mind the propagandists who claim that China is allegedly becoming an economic powerhouse and will someday overtake the U.S.).