Best Books of 2016!

Like I do every year, I signed up for Goodreads’ 2016 Reading Challenge and failed miserably. My plan was to read 52 books and just yesterday, as I read the final chapter of Paulina Chiziane‘s Niketche – a novel  in Portuguese language novel about polygamy in Mozambique – I closed the page on my 39th book of the year. Thirteen books behind, I could feel guilty, but why? I discovered audible and listened to 3.5 books (not counted), saved so many life minutes that I would have spent listening to garbage music or actually reading Mindy Kaling’s horrible book. I would say that’s a victory. And so, I will only feel, but so guilty before I share with you my annual book review…

First, I have to say that my reading heavily focused on the two areas – productivity and my PhD. So, while both may seem boring as hell to you, they were fascinating to me and really pushed me to my professional limits. Second, you can imagine why this year is extremely difficult for me to judge – naming favorites across vastly different genres is really hard to do. Third, I apologize in advance because many of the books I read are not readily available. Last, if anybody is particularly interested in reading in Portuguese, I suggest you get very familiar with wook.pt and their global shipping rates.

So, let the fun begin…

My top five are as follows:

978-0-8223-4191-8_pr.jpgLiving with Bad Surroundings by Sverker Finnstrom

You can read the book if you want to know what it’s about, but I particuarly enjoyed it for its excellent writing. As a PhD student struggling to contextualize and explain how everyday violence affects individuals and their life choices, I plan to fully mimic Finnstrom’s writing techniques and adapt them to my own study.

African Workers and Colonial Racism by Jeanne Marie Penvenne51ZX1QEahZL._SX316_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

As I wrote in my amazon.com review: “I found this study to be utterly fascinating and eerily relevant to the contemporary labor constraints in the capital of Mozambique. Anyone looking for a serious text about Mozambican economic and social realities should read this closely. It is not about the countries beaches and it doesn’t wax prophetic about the Portuguese colonial system, which I’m sure damages some people’s idyllic view of Mozambique as a country and Portugal as a racially proximate colonial master. But, with Portuguese colonialism lasting well into the 1970s, anyone living, studying or working in the country could well benefit from reading this text and understanding how it affects present day realities.”

514B-YWWBmL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgOur Black Year by Maggie Anderson

While every year I have tried to become a more mindful consumer, this book taught me how hard that can be. For those of us who live in food deserts, it’s hard. For those looking to support small businesses it’s hard. But, this family’s quest to try to exclusively patronize Black owned businesses while living in a predominantly Black neighborhood really showed me that the economics of poverty and patronage in the U.S. context are more complicated than I thought. I, for one, am taking a second to check the owners and competitors of businesses and products that I buy regularly. Entrepreneurship is to be praised and supported. Now, many years after this book was written, it’s even easier to support – no excuses. Your funds fund corporate ideologies and empires, the choice is always yours, consumer.

This Present Darkness by Stephen Ellis* 41y5BdSQ5sL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

This book was written by a dead man. Really! He died while doing the research, but the study was so valuable and fascinating that his team continued his work. The study focuses on Nigeria’s black market scams and underworld. If you know anything about my interests, you know that mob movies and illegal activity are my schtick, so this story strikes a chord in my intellectual and entertainment soul. You’ve got to read it!

Essentialism by Greg McKeown514M9KlQKQL._AC_US218_.jpg

I have become a productivity addict and while listening to Asian Efficiency’s Productivity Podcast, I heard Mr. McKeown speak. Basically, he takes a 100 years after your death approach to prioritizing what you should do daily. By his definition, you can throw away half the stuff on your current to do list and never look back. It’s very freeing to pay attention to your legacy rather than your inbox, but it’s also a lot of responsibility. Once you figure out what you want your contribution to humanity to be, there’s really no looking back.

The bottom dwellers:

The Smartest Investment Book You’ll Ever Read by Daniel R. Solin

The 7 Secrets of the Prolific by Hillary Retig

The Americanization of Goans by Ladis da Silva

Actually, all of these books suck, so I won’t waste more time on them than is necessary. They all have great premises and are about really riveting subjects, but they are poorly executed in my opinion. So, read them if you must, but don’t say you weren’t warned.

I look forward to a 2017 without a goodreads challenge, but still with a lengthy reading list…

I welcome your suggestions. Leave ‘em in the comments.

A B C s…

abc-award-1Be forewarned. This is cheesy. And it’s about 3 years old.  I stole this from a blogger [“The Curvy Spine”] who recently liked a post I did & is a fellow Jersey girl… and apparently, she got tagged by another blogger [“Nissi Knows”]… and I have nothing better to do on a weekend night, but relive my teenage years when Yahoo! chat rooms dominated my life and, on occasion, I’d get an email questionnaire that made me reflect about adulthood to come. Told you this would be cheesy!

The deal is that I’ve got to go through the alphabet talking about myself and biggin’ up other bloggers. This is, I can do…

If your blog is placed here, consider yourself awarded the ABC award. You can accept by copying the theme and passing this practice on.

Africa, my new continent of residence.

Bossip.com is my secret online tabloid vice. Maybe not so secret…

Canada is the first destination to which I took my eldest Godson for his annual birthday trip. It was my way of forcing him to get a passport and get on a plane.

Delhi is where I met my husband.

Elephants have been my favorite animal for a very long time.

Frankfurt is the city that my husband and I last visited together.

Geneva is the one place my grandma ever wanted to visit. We went over Christmas/New Years 2005-2006. I vowed never to take a winter vacation to a cold weather destination ever again.

Harlem is the only place in America where I would ever want to raise children. So much for that pipe dream now. Thanks, gentrification!

Isaacman is the author of the book I’m reading right now.

James Baldwin is one of my favorite writers and one of my historical muses.

Kinani means dance in Shangana & it’s come up as a possible baby name.

London is the only city I’ve wanted to live in that I haven’t yet lived in. Live long… it could happen.

Maboneng is my favorite neighborhood in Johannesburg and, hopefully, it’ll be home in 2017.

New York City is the only place on earth I feel at home, at peace, and inspired – at the same time.

Olympus is the brand of voice recorders I just bought. I bought 3 at one time and I’m so proud of myself for it. Who needs to rip the house apart trying to find the one voice recorder I have 10 minutes before I’ve scheduled an interview? Well, not this girl. Not anymore!

Photography has been in my family for generations. If I actually publish the travel photo book I’ve had in my head for the past few years, I would officially make the third generation of photographers on my dad’s side.

Quran is the religious holy book of Muslims (like yours truly). I have only read it once and I’m long overdue for a re-read.

Reading is my favorite activity, which is shared by fellow blogger Kinna: http://kinnareads.com

Strawberry shortcakes are my traditional birthday cakes. My mom has ensured that every birthday that we share together, there is a strawberry shortcake to celebrate the new year. American style too, none of that British with a biscuit fakery.

The Bitchin’ Dietitian is a blog i follow regularly, though I have to admit I’m a couch potato who has reconnected with my affinity for butter and salt. But, I do love to read it as if I have self-discipline and/or access to ingredients!

University of the Witwatersrand is where I’m studying to get a PhD. Proud Witsie over here!

Violence eradication is the purpose of this blog that I follow: http://understandingviolence.org 

Wife. The newest of my many hats. Dare I say, the title is starting to grow on me.

Xenophobia is a term that I’d never heard of until about a year ago. I’ve learned a lot more about it this past year traversing South east Africa.

Yebo! means yes in Zulu.

Zanzibar is the latest trip plan I’ve made to come together with my ‘Mixed Masala Marriage’ crew. We came started earlier this year in Dubai because we’re all in intercultural marriages and trying to find balance. Next year, Zanzibar!

The End.

Things I am going to go ham *sammich* on when I get home!

People say that when you travel, you miss the weirdest things – JIF peanut butter, Kleenex travel packs, and seat belts in cars. I have got to concur fully, but I’m privileged to have the vast majority of America’s creature comforts, including working seat belts in my car. Nevertheless, there is always something worth missing about home and I’ve just built up enough homesickness to explode. Without further ado here is the list of things I miss most from home. I bet you can’t guess the order of importance!

I love you written on the sidewalk in chalk --- Image by © Tomas Rodriguez/Corbis

Image by © Tomas Rodriguez/Corbis

Sidewalks – So underrated and so essential to quality of life, sidewalks not only keep people from walking (where? you guessed it) in the middle of the road, but they also reduce my likelihood of striking an innocent person while driving to the supermarket. Phew! I can appreciate that and I can’t wait to take that daily burden off my plate. I also plan to take long walks on top of said side walks and to cross the street using cross walks (or as South Africans say ”zebra crossings”) that lead to new side walks. I have never missed cement so much in my life!

Tap water – I can’t wait to put my whole head under the faucet in my sink and drink without fear of cholera. Oh you hoity toity suburbanites will say, oh but there’s lead and there are pharmaceuticals and unfiltered fecal matter in tap water. Eff you nay sayers! If I could show you the green water that runs near my house and the trash infested sewer system that dumps right into the Maputo bay where fishermen eagerly catch seafood to later serve to unsuspecting tourists… then you’d understand that the grass (and the water) is, in fact, greener on my side of the world.

ethiopia-food-guide-XL

migrationology.com

Ethiopian food – Culinary variety is something I’d taken for granted until I moved to India and couldn’t find anything for under $50 a plate that was served sans turmeric. Now, I’m in the heart of southern Africa, where food is fresh but deliciously predictable. Mediterranean is supposed to be a variation on Portuguese fare, but it all tastes the same – full of olive oil, garlic, onion and tomato and hot sauce, if you’re feeling adventurous. Eff that! I am going to eat so much injera I burst and anything made without garlic and onions will be the dish for recurring breakfasts and I may overrate restaurants on zomato.com as a result of my palate’s pure enthusiasm for stimulation.

img_1431

Thieboudienne – benstew.wordpress.com

Haitian *Poisson frit, black rice, and green plantain* AND Senegalese *thieboudienne* food – Anyone who knows me knows that my post colonial studies have taught me a very important lesson. African people colonized by the French make the best fish dishes on earth. I don’t know why this is the case, but it’s true and I dare anyone to contest this fact with proof on a plate. Let me say that I’m not particularly fond of French food. I find it even more underwhelming than Portuguese food, but you can bet that I’ve never tried a Martinican, Haitian, Malian, Senegalese, Ivorian …I could go on… fish based dish that I didn’t like (i don’t eat other animals so I limit my praise to this narrow sliver of the culinary world). So, I plan to eat these dishes up like cookie monster before childhood obesity campaigns gave him veggies. Caution: I may need a bib.

Bookstores with chairs and a cafe – I go to South Africa and all I can think is… I wish I could sit down right here and read this book over an over priced coffee with soy milk and then put the book back before the store closes. In Mozambique, I think… I wish there was a bookstore with interesting books for leisure reading – a bestseller not by Paulo Coelho or Mia Couto would be nice. This means I order from amazon and sit at my dining room table, wishing I was in B&N at Union Square. I’m going to get hella cozy on the floor when I reach home and the only thing I’m paying for are the extra shots of espresso!

Mom’s Organic Market – They say that every cloud has its silver lining and of my 3 years stuck in DC this (among Bikram yoga, a size 4 waist, being close to my bestie Elyse, and lots of free entry to the VIP section of clubs) tops the list of positives. Mom’s beats Yes! Organic market, though Yes! has some vegan cookies that I can’t find anywhere else. I skip Whole Paycheck, I mean Whole Foods, because the prices and the self-righteous customers make me look bad. Mom’s is like a home away from home and I love discovering new things that won’t poison my body with toxins. Oh, and they give away free samples!

Shitty Day (and Night) Time Television – I am going to O.D. on Mob Wives, every Housewife series on Bravo except NJ, True Detective, Game of Thrones, Jerry Springer, Maury, anything on O! and TLC, House Hunters, Homeland, Basketball Wives, Love & Hip Hop, Empire, Power, season 6-8 of Madmen, and pretty much anything that doesn’t have a Kardashian in it!

62-KeyLimePie_1-menusKey Lime pie at Bubba Gump Shrimp – Graham Cracker crust. Period.

Face time with my Fam & Friends – I am eternally grateful to the makers of Skype, Vonage, facebook, gchat, and cellphones, but there’s nothing quite like a hug. I can’t wait to have my family and friends close enough to see their faces when I piss them off. It’s a really precious thing to know that no matter how close or how far apart we are, we can always be ourselves – face to face. No hiding behind screens or spotty phone lines. I can’t wait to poke my niece’s singular dimple and sleep in my mom’s bed! Priceless!

Ate breve U.S.A!

Websites We Love!

Unknown-4Not all websites are created equal. I talked to some people yesterday who told me that they spent weeks trying to get a passport in India, because the website only functioned for appointment scheduling from 5:59pm to 6:00pm. I am not making this up. Having a whack ass website can really kill interest in a product or service, and – frankly – having a great website can convince a consumer that poo-poo paste is foie gras. This is the nature of web-appeal, defined as the Babyface approach to internet usage (P.S. You can’t really snap your fingers with gloves on. P.P.S. *watch the video*).

Easy to use, giving loads of bang for their – mainly free – buck, here are five websites that have me wow-ed:

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Everybody knows I’m a http://www.mint.com slave, but now I’ve become just as addicted to award wallet. Every credit card, store, hotel, airline has some kind of reward program and, really, who can keep up? But these entities pray that you never keep up, so that the benefits expire and dissolve into thin air. You, my friend, have no reason to be a victim of reward expiration ever again. There is a rub though – the major airlines do not allow http://www.awardwallet.com to link to their sites, so you have to manually load your point balance and periodically update it. It’s a little bit of pain for a lot of free gain. It’s simple to add programs. And once you get everything loaded you’re more likely to keep track of your earnings rather than lament all the miles and hotel stays laying in wait in your spam.

Unknown-3Akanksha is a great a charity and social-service program based in the Mumbai-Pune area. Using a charitable teaching platform, college students or grads can volunteer to teach students in any particular field. Further, the organization raises funds though art projects and sales, corporate giving, charitable donation, and paid summer workshops. The stores to buy student produced merchandise are apparently just in the Mumbai area, but hopefully they’ll expand to other places and an online store (fingers crossed). Either way, the site is well-organized, easy to navigate, and clear to understand – a huge boon to donor confidence.

UnknownThis site is no hidden gem – it’s already been out there for a long, long time. Actually, it was about five years ago when I discovered it and thought “Urban Outfitters, the Salvation Army, and ebay had a web baby!” This site is a clearing house for hand-made and antique items. Selling is as cheap and easy as on ebay. And if you’re a buyer, you can practically find anything you could ever dream of. This year alone I bought custom rubber stamps, a Taj Mahal wall decal, and a bearded baby cap. And I’ve been eyeing a cast iron oven roaster pan. Who said being a hippie consumer was over rated?

flavorpill-logoI have to admit that I’m not in love with the email newsletters from http://www.flavorpill.com. That may have something to do with the fact that I signed up for four cities at once, and right now I don’t live in any of them (I bet you can’t guess which four!). Let’s just say it’s information overload about cool events I can’t go to. But, if http://www.meetup.com and Yelp are sites you already frequent, flavorpill.com is in the natural progression of your city search. They always have interesting event listings and off kilter articles about books and culture. Word to the wise, http://www.flavorpill.com’s culture blog is flavorwire.com. And http://www.flavorwire.com is where I learned that I’ve read two of the 15 books they say you should NOT read in your 20s. I already read one in high school and have another on my shelf right now – just ripe for the reading. Thirty is, in fact, NOT the new twenty.

Unknown-2To bring out the inner linguist in you, I suggest you bookmark the BBC’s world news language service. I’ve never found a more useful website for getting your bi-lingual on! The BBC offers their world coverage in many different languages (and variations of languages). Now the trick is that you should have at least a basic understanding of the newly acquired language, as well as some basic knowledge of current events in the country/region being covered. Hence, you actually should read some articles in English before listening to (or reading) story in the language of your choice. So after your Rosetta Stone courses are done, give the BBC a whirl to see just how much you’ve retained!

Don’t take my word for it. Try these sites for yourself and tell me what you think. I’m not getting paid (or gaining rewards points) for getting you to test them out. But, if you like ’em I gain bragging rights and e-street cred – what more could a blogger ask for?

Resident Outsider

I would not consider myself a Delhi expert. There are people who have lived their whole lives here who would not dare say with a straight face that they ‘know’ Delhi. It is cities upon cities, villages reinvented as towns, farmers come urbanites all compounded on top of themselves. Suffice it to say that Delhi is dense. And quite frankly, it is a category of dense I’ve never experienced in any of my previous travels.

So, it is particularly interesting when I get to host other travelers, and I get to play tour guide to the foreign stars. They want the Taj Mahal and tikka, they must see Lodhi Gardens and Lutyens; and while I do my darnedest to make it happen, what I don’t always have the time to do is give them the gems of my day to day. Perhaps not the most glamorous or adventurous sights and sounds, these are the places I find myself feeling particularly guilty that I didn’t tell them all about. Now, my favorite places aren’t secrets by any means. Locals and expats have discovered them and frequent some with vigor – but they don’t appear in too many guide books that pride themselves on over glamorizing the Indian experience. As a tip, never trust a book that presents Old Delhi as magical (instead of a bustling haven for pickpockets and claustrophobia) and Qawwali as a calming religious experience (instead of a hot, outdoor graveyard packed to the brim with Delhi’s prayerful and pauper population).

I suffer from the great gentrifier’s conundrum – trying to strike the balance between sharing info about what’s new to me, without building a buzz large enough to draw the types of crowds that will destroy all the splendor. Suspending all that, with great reluctance and great enthusiasm, I’ll give you the top 10 Delhi sites that I wish each of my guests got to see (but never told any other tourist about):

1 – The Rose Cafe in Saket – As you approach the Garden of Five Senses, there is a one floor building, painted rose pink on the right side of the road. It’s a very pregnant pink. It makes you think there’s got to be something sweet inside. Oh, how the Rose Cafe doesn’t disappoint with tasty beverages & bites, served amidst pleasant, French country-house style decor. What a sweet respite from the dirt road outside.

2 – The ruins at Hauz Khas Village – I always thought that at the end of the road, there wasn’t much beyond the gates after Yeti. Alas, I couldn’t have been more wrong(er). There are so many little inlets and passageways in the ruins that border the lake. No one can seem to place the complex in a clear historical timeline, but perhaps it was a madrassa campus. Regardless, it’s a cool place to pass the day, except when the weather is hot – of course.

3 – My yard – It ain’t much to look at by normal standards, but in my neighborhood yards are not normal. My little patch of green, furnished with an apricot tree, potted roses, mint vines, and bougainvillea all around, is a sight for sore eyes. The tandori pit doesn’t hurt either.

4 – The pub at the British High Commission – Diplomats comprise a popular percentage of the expats in this city. So, naturally, Embassies hold a particular allure. The Brits’ pub isn’t special as far as pubs go, but Delhi’s bars aren’t known for cigar chairs and Strongbow. Maybe the pub’s endangered status is intentional, but I’m happy that one still lives on.

5 – The reservoir in Nizammudin – Step well, reservoir, swimming pool, same thing. Built by Hazrat Nizammudin 700 years ago, the structure houses a spring that is enclosed on all sides by sacred spaces and residential homes. While the enclave’s residents can now, more than ever before, drink the water (though I still wouldn’t) – they also take baths and make pilgrimages in it too. Through the geometric cut outs in the walls, I prefer to observe boys doing backflips off the steps into the brownish, greenish pool below.

6 – ‘The cave’ in Sarojini Nagar Market – Unlike Khan market or South Ex, Sarojini market is pretty pedestrian. Mixed in between the shoe string lady on the opposite side of the street from the mobile phone recharge booth and the mid-range sari shops is a little inlet known as ‘the cave.’ I’m not even sure that it is a structure, per se, but a clump of clothing vendors who have laid down and pinned up tarps to make a mini market to hawk their goods. Dresses for 400 rupees, shirts for 2? It’s an experience…

7 – Museums in Gurgaon: This one is a cheat. I know Gurgaon isn’t part of Delhi, but once you get here you’ll realize just how much it actually is. There is more to Gurgaon than high rises and multinationals – and no, I don’t mean malls all named DLF.  There are lots of museums and art galleries out there just waiting to be explored. Where else to house these collections except in converted farm land or on sprawling farm house properties? Have your pick: Sanskriti Kendra Museum, Museum of Folk and Tribal Art, The Devi Art Foundation… and more.

8 – Normal people’s houses – It is hard to understand what ‘normal’ really means here in Delhi. But, visiting different people’s houses gives you a sense of the complexities of the term. Whether it’s a one bedroom flat it Mayur Vihar or a 5 house complex in Saket, you will only get to know Delhi-ites by being welcomed into their homes – where they spend time with the people they love.

9 – Lado Sarai – What a quirky little ‘hood this one is. I hope it’s the under-discovered, under-popularized Hauz Khas Village that people don’t ever go to – except maybe you and me. With its high end and niche brands in the Crescent Mall, and it’s design houses and odd shops, I’m cornering this part of town as my new playground.

10 – The India International Centre – I’m often rendered awe-struck by the kinds of programming this place has. Who knew it had an annex? Whether it’s book launches or movies, educational talks or cultural displays, I find myself going to the IIC about once a month to unhinge my inner academic and learn even more about India’s charm.