Kiffe, Kiffe Tomorrow by Faiza Guene

I have finally made some progress on my Around the World project, a project with a goal of reading a children’s book from each and every nation of the world. I may have cheated here, however, since the book is not really Algerian but rather Parisian, but since it’s my own project I get to make up the rules.

Kiffe, Kiffe Tomorrow is a book set in Paris, written by a Frenchwoman of Algerian descent whose parents were immigrants to France from Algeria. Ms. Guene writes in the voice of her protagonist, Doria, perhaps from experience: the back cover of my book says that Faiza Guene “grew up in the public housing projects of Pantin, outside Paris.” It’s voice that that’s almost unrelentingly pessimistic and depressed. Daria’s father has deserted them and gone back to Morocco to re-marry, since Daria, a girl, is the only child her mother has been able to give her father, a traditional Arabic Muslim who wants a son above all. Fifteen year old Daria feels unloved and unwanted and unmoored. Her mother is struggling with a bad job, illiteracy, and the loss of her husband. Daria herself struggles in school and tries to find some sort of dream or role model to hold onto, but mostly fails. Or the dreams and the people she looks up to fail her. Either way, it’s a bad life, and in some ways it gets worse as the book progresses. Daria flunks out of school and is sent to a vocational high school. Her real-life crush turns out to be a drug dealer who’s too old for her anyway, and she finds out that her TV-crush is gay. Her dreams are unrealistic and mostly unachievable. One day she’s going to become a film star, the next a politician. Then, she wants to marry a rich guy who will take her out of the poverty she lives in. Or she thinks she might win the lottery.

The ending is ambiguous. Daria might make it out of the projects—or she might not. The title of the book reflects this ambiguity. Kiffe, Kiffe comes from the Arabic term kif-kif, meaning same old, same old. But it’s combined in Daria’s made up phrasing with the French verb kiffer which means to really like something or someone. So, kiffe, kiffe tomorrow indicates that Daria’s life may be the same old rut of poverty and failed dreams, or it may happen (tomorrow) that she finds something or someone she really likes to rescue her from her fate.

I can’t imagine that anyone, even a teen from the slums who identifies with Daria and her unrelenting unhappiness and cynicism, would read this book for enjoyment. However, it does end with a little ray of hope, and the narrative painted a realistic picture of the attitude and the actions that a life of poverty can engender in a young teenager who is trying desperately to find some sort of meaning and vision for her life. I didn’t like Daria very much, but I understood a little of why she thought the way she did. Perhaps reading this book will help me have a little more empathy for the people I come across who are trying to grow up and to climb out of poverty.

I don’t think I learned much about Algeria, however, or about Algerian children’s literature. The book is set, as I said, in Paris, and although the author is of Algerian parentage, she chose to send Daria’s father back to Morocco, not Algeria. I suppose I learned a bit about North African immigrants living in France. Anybody know of any children’s books actually from Algeria?

Christmas in Morocco, c.1950

The Secret of the Fourth Candle by Patricia St. John.

Aisha looked awestruck at the candles and then back at the presents . . . She knew at last why the little girl lit one more candle every week. It was in honor of a Baby called Jesus who was coming next week, and then all the candles would burn and the whole room would be white and radiant and the Baby would laugh and crow. She had never heard of Jesus before, for she was a Muslim girl, but she felt sure He must be a very important Baby to have the candles lit especially for His coming. And all those presents, too! She supposed they were all for Him and she wondered what was inside them—lovely little garments perhaps, and toys and colored shoes. She wanted to see Him more than she had ever wanted to see anything else in the world.

Patricia St. John spent over twenty-five years in North Africa and the Middle East as a missionary teacher and nurse. She wrote several books for children, both fiction and nonfiction, as well as an autobiography that Jan Bloom recommends in her book, Who Then Should We Read? I would absolutely love to have a copy of Ms. St. John’s autobiography, AN Ordinary Woman’s Extraordinary Faith. However, I will content myself with the children’s novels and stories that I do have in my library, including The Secret of the Fourth Candle, a Christmas story about a Muslim girl who discovers the true, true meaning of Christmas.

Other books by Patricia St. John in my library:

The Secret at Pheasant Cottage
Rainbow Garden
Star of Light
Tanglewoods’ Secret
Three Go Searching
Treasures of the Snow

Angry Wind by Jeffrey Tayler

Angry Wind: Through Muslim Black Africa by Truck, Bus, Boat, and Camel by Jeffrey Tayler. Recommended by Nancy Pearl in Book Lust To Go. Book #1 in my North Africa Reading Challenge.

In this book journalist Jeffrey Tayler writes about his travels through the Sahel, “the transition zone in Africa between the Sahara Desert to the north and tropical forests to the south, the geographic region of semi-arid lands bordering the southern edge of the Sahara Desert in Africa.” His journey began in Chad and took him through northern Nigeria, Niger, Mali, Morocco, and Senegal. So some of the countries Mr. Tayler writes about are a part of my designated North Africa region.

Beginning with Chad, in 2002 Mr. Tayler, a typical, young, liberal, religionless writer makes his way through the countries of the Sahel. Most of people are Muslim and black. Christians are a tolerated minority or a persecuted minority. Black Muslims are the leaders in government and in business in tis part of the world, and yet most of the leaders that Mr. Tayler meets are somewhat dismissive and even ashamed of their African heritage and want to claim Arab ancestry and lineage. Racism is alive and well in the Sahel, and very dark-skinned men tell Mr. Tayler that their families are of Arab extraction, not African. I found that interesting . . . and sad.

Mr. Tayler is something of a linguist, fluent in several languages including Arabic and French. His linguistic ability was quite helpful in getting him accepted in the villages and cities of the Sahel. Many Muslims accepted him and called him “brother” because he spoke Arabic, even though he told them plainly that he was not a Muslim. Others respected him because he spoke French, the language of European colonialism in Chad and Mali and Senegal.

His English was not so useful, and I found the misunderstanding and outright lies that were prevalent in the region concerning the United States to be quite disheartening. This trip took place soon after 9/11, and yet the people that Mr. Tayler talked with were somewhat anti-American and especially anti-George W. Bush. Then again, maybe Tayler found what he was looking for. He has a conversation with a government official in Chad, and the official says,”Your president, this Bush fils, he came to power by force. . . . I mean he manipulated the electoral process using his money. . . . Bush and his men see gold before their eyes, and that’s what’s driving them to attack Iraq.”

Mr. Tayler has no answer. “I didn’t know what to say. I would not defend elections in which only 24 percent of Americans had voted for their president, who in the end was put in office by a Supreme Court that split along party lines, just as civil war had divided Chad into Muslim and Christian factions.” Really? Our elections, specifically the Bush/Gore election, are comparable to the corruption and manipulation that goes on in most of Africa, in those countries where they actually hold elections at all? And our Republicans and Democrats are comparable to the Muslim/Christian split that has precipitated violence across the Sahel region for years? When’s the last time you heard about a Democrat/Republican shooting war? And has anyone set fire to the local Democrat headquarters in your town lately? Mr. Tayler could have put up a better defense of our democratic system had he wanted to do so.

I found out lots of other interesting tidbits about the region along the southern border of the Sahara:

Ethnic tensions: “Hausa, along with Fulani, dominate northern Nigeria and much of Niger, too. Fulani consider themselves, thanks to their history of jihadist Warring, high caste and above Hausa; and a Fulani-based elite rules northern Nigeria.” “We don’t let our girls marry the Hausa, because they’re not really Chadians.”

Jeffrey Tayler finds the few Christian converts that he meets in Chad to be downtrodden, “vanquished people.” He thinks that rather than missionaries preaching the gospel of Christ, there should be missionaries promoting “enlightenment philosophy” as the cure for ethnic and religious wars in sub-Saharan Africa. I personally find his faith in Voltaire, Rousseau, science and evolution, touchingly sanguine. If he thinks that Muslims will quit killing Christians and vice-versa if we just teach them all to appreciate the principles of the French Revolution, he hasn’t studied the French Revolution.

Ezekiel, a Christian in Muslim northern Nigeria: “If anything happened to an American here, the whole town would flee back to their villages, fearing the bombing that would come from your government. After all, the U.S. is the world’s policeman.”
Unfortunately, I’m not a fan of “the world’s policeman” role that we have acquired, either. Can we do something to get a reputation, not as policemen, not as bullies, not as rich exploiters, but just as friends and helpful benefactors? How?

Mali: “For four decades now, France, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the United States have subsidized Mali’s misere–and they show no signs of stopping. Foreign aid makes up a quarter of the country’s GDP and totals roughly $500 million annually. What have aid workers accomplished here over the past forty years? There is no satisfactory answer.”
When I read evaluations like this one, I am inclined toward the Ron Paul doctrine of foreign aid (even though much of what Mr. Paul advocates seems to me to be dangerously naive and simplistic).

“Congressman Ron Paul opposes foreign aid to all countries on constitutional, practical, and moral grounds. On a moral ground, Congressman Paul opposes foreign aid as it takes money from poor people in rich countries and gives it to rich people in foreign countries. From a practical standpoint, Congressman Paul notes that the amount of foreign that actually reaches those who need it is dramatically reduced after the numerous levels of bureaucracy within each government is paid for the distribution and any corrupt politician then takes their cut.

I could write lots more about this book and the thoughts and ideas it sparked in my mind as I read, but since I’m not writing my own book, I’ll leave you with my recommendation. It’s a good and insightful read, in spite of my difference in worldview with the author.

Twelve+ Recommended Books for the North Africa Challenge

I’m not saying these are the best books to read for the North Africa Challenge. I may read several this year that are even better than these. However, I can recommend these because I’ve already read them and enjoyed them.

Picture Books:
The Sabbath Lion: A Jewish Folktale from Algeria retold by Howard Schwartz and Barbara Rush. I thought this story of a young Jewish boy, Yosef, who honors the Sabbath day even at the risk of his life had a great lesson and plot. The prose in this retelling is adequate, but nothing special. A little flowery language to go along with the deeply spiritual tale would have been welcome. And I had a bit of a problem with the “Sabbath Queen” who supposedly rescues Yosef from the jaws of death. However, the story reminded me of Aslan and of the fourth commandment and of the mercy and faithfulness of God. So, not a bad little book. (I’d change “Queen of the Sabbath” to “God Almighty” if I read the story out loud because I can do stuff like that when I’m reading out loud if I want to.)

The Day of Ahmed’s Secret by Florence Heide Parry. (Egypt) Ahmed lives in busy, bustling Cairo, and he has a secret. As he delivers cooking fuel to his customers, he anticipates sharing his secret with his family. Published in 1995, the book doesn’t seem outdated to me, but then again I’ve never been to Cairo.

The Egyptian Cinderella by Shirley Climo and Ruth Heller. Rhodopis is a slave girl from Greece whose only possession is a pair of of rosy-gold slippers. When a bird/god steals one of her slippers, she is heart-broken, but soon her stolen slipper will lead to fame and good fortune for Rhodopis. The writing in this Cinderella variation is quite good, and the illustrations are colorful and Egyptian-style.

Bill and Pete Go Down the Nile by Tomie de Paola. “It’s a new school year, and Bill and Pete are back in a new adventure. Their teacher, Ms. Ibis, is taking all the little crocodiles (and their toothbrushes) on a class trip to the Royal Museum. But who’s that trying to steal the Sacred Eye of Isis? Can it be the Bad Guy? Can Bill and Pete save the day once more?”

I have quite a few more picture books set in Northern Africa that I will be reading and reviewing in the coming year, but those four are the only ones I’ve already sampled.

Children’s Fiction:
Star of Light by Patricia St. John. Ms. St. John was a missionary nurse in Morocco for 27 years, and her novel about Hamid and his blind little sister Kinza reflects her knowledge of North African culture and peoples. This story is good for read aloud time.

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park. (Sudan) Semicolon review here.

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate. (Sudan) Semicolon review here.

There are also a lot of children’s books set in ancient Egypt, not quite what I’m looking for in this reading challenge, but you may want to pick one of these: A Place in the Sun by Jill Rubalcaba, Shadow Hawk by Andre Norton, The Golden Goblet by Eloise McGraw, Mara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise McGraw,

Adult Fiction:
Acts of Faith by Philip Caputo. (Sudan) Semicolon review here and here.

Nonfiction:
Wind, Sand, and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Semicolon review here.

The Bible or the Axe by William O. Levi. (South Sudan) “Subtitled ‘one man’s escape from persecution in the Sudan’, this autobiography reads like a novel.” Semicolon review here.

Men of Salt: Crossing the Sahara on the Caravan of White Gold by Michael Benanav. Semicolon review here.

Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail by Malika Oufkir and Michele Fitoussi. (Morocco) Semicolon review here.

The Spy Wore Silk by Aline, Countess of Romanones.(Morocco) “An undercover agent tells how she followed future CIA chief William Casey through the back streets of Marrakech to the palaces of Casablanca on a mission to prevent the assassination of Morocco’s king.” I read this book a long time ago, and I remember it as a good read. But I can’t tell you much more than the blurb does.

Sign up for the North Africa Reading Challenge here.
Find more suggested books to read about North Africa here.