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Authors: Camilla Gibb

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

Sweetness in the Belly (28 page)

BOOK: Sweetness in the Belly
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have a housewarming present for you,” Robin says once Amina and Yusuf and the children have left.

“Oh, you shouldn’t have. You’ve done so much for me already.”

He takes the towel from my soapy hands and replaces it with a pair of boots.

“Wellingtons!” I laugh. I bend over to put them on. “Oh,” I hesitate, just about to put my foot into the second one. “But they don’t match.”

“They will in your garden,” he says. “ ‘How very peculiar,’ your neighbors will say. ‘How very English.’ ”

And how very sweet that he remembers even the tiniest details of my faraway past, that he pulls them near, cherishes them, treats them as if they are precious objects, worthy of a home on the mantel above the fireplace, lined up to be admired, honored, shared.

a bit of background, a lot of thanks

his is a work of fiction inspired by research, relationships and, above all, imagination. As such, I have taken enormous liberties with the histories and geographies of the places and people depicted in this book—most boldly, perhaps, conferring saintly status onto Islam’s first muezzin, Bilal al Habash.

That said, I have attempted to maintain some historical accuracy by roughly following the events that led up to the 1974 revolution and beyond, during the years of the Dergue. For this chronology I have relied upon and am indebted to Ryszard Kapuściński’s portrait of Haile Selassie,
The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat;
Bahru Zewde’s
A History of Modern Ethiopia;
the Africa Watch report
Evil Days: 30 Years of War and Famine in Ethiopia
prepared by Alex de Waal; and Jonathan Dimbleby’s film
Ethiopia: The Unknown Famine.

The following works have also been invaluable: Sir Richard Burton’s
First Footsteps in East Africa: A Journey to Harar; The Shorter Encyclopedia of Islam
compiled by H.A.R. Gibb and J. H. Kramers; and Yusuf Ali’s Arabic/ English version of the Qur’an.

owe a decade and a half of thanks. For first introducing me to the “idea” of Ethiopia and Oromo issues fifteen years ago I owe thanks to my dear friend Agitu Ruda. For introducing the possibility of research in Ethiopia in 1992, when I was starting graduate studies in social anthropology at Oxford, I owe thanks to Dr. Bahru Zewde, former director of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies at Addis Ababa University. Thanks to Dr. Adhana Haile Adhana for his friendship in England and Ethiopia, and to him, Federawit and their children—Haile, Hayget, Biruke and Salam—for opening their home in Addis to me and sharing everything they had. Thanks to Neil and Tigist Chadder for their friendship and generosity—taking me in so warmly and showing me a very different side of Addis.

Thanks to Ahmed Zekaria for his extraordinary generosity not only in sharing his ethnographic work on the city of Harar, but in introducing me to his relatives, with whom I lived in Harar during 1994 and 1995. Thanks to Haji Mohammed Adem and Abai Nafisa and their children—and Haji Mohammed Adem and Fatima Sitti and their children—for being family to me in Harar.

I am indebted to Mohammed Jami Guleid for assisting me with my research in Harar, to my closest friends in the city—Ekram, Hashim, Abdulaziz, Alemayehu, Biruke, Nouria and Sara—and the acquaintances far too numerous to mention who taught me everything from how to self-diagnose giardiasis to how to buy a decent goat.

For encouragement and guidance during the academic work that inspired this book, I owe thanks most of all to Professor Wendy James, my doctoral supervisor. Thanks also to my postdoctoral supervisor, Professor Janice Boddy at the University of Toronto.

I am indebted to the following bodies who helped fund my research: the Harold Hyam Wingate Foundation, the Royal Anthropological Institute, Magdalen College and the Graduate Studies Office of Oxford University (for doctoral work), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the University of Toronto (for postdoctoral research).

I want to thank members of the Harari Community Association in Toronto who welcomed me at their events and into their homes. For some of my recent research on the Oromo I owe thanks to Professor Mohammed Hassen of Georgia State University, Dr. Trevor Trueman of the Oromo Support Group, Lydia Namarra and Taha Ali Abdi of the Oromo Relief Association in London, Tesfaye Deressa Kumsa in Toronto and Bonsa Waltajjii in London.

For answers to questions regarding hospitals in London I owe thanks to Patrick Fennessy and Deirdre Graham. Thanks to Richard Gibbs of the Croydon Council and Steve Roud of the Croydon Library for answering my queries about Ethiopian settlement in the area and to Lydia Namarra for reorienting me toward Lambeth. Thanks to my grandfather Sir Edward Fennessy for his concern. Thanks to Tammy Gibb and Fraser Tannock for help with London’s geography and to Ruth Petrie for giving me some sense of Brixton in the seventies and eighties. Thanks to Bedri Ahmed for answering my queries about Harari terms. And for reacquainting me with the Middle East in the last couple of years, thanks to Maureen Conway and Ken Campbell.

or support in the writing of this novel, I wish to acknowledge the Toronto Arts Council, the Ontario Arts Council, the Canada Council, the Banff Centre for the Arts and the MacDowell Colony.

Thanks to Anne McDermid for representing me and my work. Thanks to my incredible editors Martha Kanya-Forstner and Maya Mavjee, who brought out in me the book that was meant to be written and to Shaun Oakey for the astute editorial advice that pushed it to completion. Thanks to Anne McDermid, Annie Sommers, Sheila Fennessy, Heather Conway and Christopher Kelly for comments on various drafts, and Kelly Dignan, Suzanne Brandreth and Ravi Mirchandani for their involvement at an early stage in the book’s development. Thanks to Louise Dennys for her generosity and ongoing support and to Scott Sellers, Scott Richardson and Lara Hinchberger at Random House of Canada, Jane Warren at Anne McDermid and Associates and Jane Fleming at Penguin Press for their involvement.

Finally, thanks to my immediate family—Sheila, Stan, and, above all, Heather.


For the record, Aw (Father) Abadir ’Umr al-Rida is the patron saint of Harar, but his importance is felt only locally. Perhaps the most influential saint in the Muslim world, one whose influence is felt throughout the Middle East and reaches across North Africa in a way similar to that which I imply for Bilal al Habash here, is Abdul Qadir Jailan.

BOOK: Sweetness in the Belly
4.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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