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Authors: Camilla Gibb

Tags: #General, #Fiction, #Fiction - General, #London (England), #Women, #British, #Political, #Hārer (Ethiopia)

Sweetness in the Belly

BOOK: Sweetness in the Belly
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Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page


part one - london, england

scar tissue

alive and kicking


part two - harar, ethiopia


call to prayer

a single wellington boot

purity and danger

the doctor


the education of girls


in the blue glow

introducing custard

big fashion

part three - london, england

encounters with the jinn

a bitter habit

eid el fitr

phantom limbs


part four - harar, ethiopia

the emperor

the inner sanctum

the book of lies

kissing in english

obstacles in the path of righteousness

terms of endearment

part five - london, england




chalk outlines

restricted access

part six - harar, ethiopia

a crack in the holy armor

the shrunken heads of enemy invaders

calling all saints


a mother’s job

to hold a girl

eyes peek over the wall

a beach, a bridge

part seven - london, england

butchering the stems

learning chess

part eight - harar, ethiopia


feast and famine

september 12, 1974

part nine - london, england

a story of famine and refugees

some measure of happiness

a final aria and a manila wave

east, west and farther west

a bit of background, a lot of thanks


Mouthing the Words The Petty Details of So-and-So’s Life

Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A. •
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario,
Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) • Penguin Books Ltd,
80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England • Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2,
Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd) • Penguin Books Australia Ltd, 250 Camberwell
Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd)
Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi - 110 017,
India • Penguin Group (NZ), Cnr Airborne and Rosedale Roads, Albany, Auckland 1310,
New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd) • Penguin Books (South Africa)
(Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices:
80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

Copyright © Camilla Gibb, 2005

All rights reserved

Publisher’s Note
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s
imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business
establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


Gibb, Camilla.

Sweetness in the belly / Camilla Gibb.

p. cm.

eISBN : 978-1-101-11829-0

1. British—Ethiopia—Fiction. 2. Hårer (Ethiopia)—Fiction. 3. London (England)—Fiction. 4. Women—England—Fiction. I. Title.

PR9199.4.G53S94 2006

813’.6-dc22 2005053451

Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrightable materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

For Abdi, Biscutti, Agitu and the ge waldach—the children of Harar


harar, ethiopia

he sun makes its orange way east from Arabia, over a Red Sea, across volcanic fields and desert and over the black hills to the qat- and coffee-shrubbed land of the fertile valley that surrounds our walled city. Night departs on the heels of the hyenas: they hear the sun’s approach as a hostile ringing, perceptible only to their ears, and it drives them back, bloody lipped and panic stricken, to their caves.

In darkness they have feasted on the city’s broken streets: devouring lame dogs in alleyways and licking eggshells and entrails off the ground. The people of the city cannot afford to waste their food, nor can they neglect to feed the hyenas either. To let them go hungry is to forfeit their role as people on this wild earth, and strain the already tenuous ties that bind God’s creatures.

A hundred years ago, when the city’s gates were still closed at night—the key lodged firmly under the sleeping head of a neurotic emir—the hyenas were the only outsiders permitted access after dark. They would crawl through the drainage portals in the city’s clay walls. But the gates are splayed open now, have been for decades, a symbol of history’s turn against this Muslim outpost, a city of saints and scholars founded by Arabs who brought Islam to Abyssinia in the ninth century, the former capital of an emirate that once ruled for hundreds of miles.

For all the fear they inspire, though, if a hyena must die, one hopes it might do so on one’s doorstep. Pluck its eyebrows, fashion a bracelet, and you are guaranteed protection from buda, the evil eye. Endure the inconvenience of having to step over a hideous corpse baking in the African sun all day, but be assured that by the following morning, thanks to hyenas’ lack of inhibitions regarding cannibalism, the street will once again be licked clean.

As every day begins, the anguished cries of these feral children grow dim against a rising crescendo of birds quibbling in the pomegranate and lime trees of the city’s courtyards. And then the muezzins call: beckoning the city’s sleeping populace with a shower of praise for an almighty God. There are ninety-nine of them within the walls of this tiny city—ninety-nine muezzins for ninety-nine mosques. It takes the culmination of the staggered, near-simultaneous beginnings of a hundred less one to create the particular sound that is heard as godliness in Harar.

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

“Oh, you ca’n’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”


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