Deep in the Sahara
I was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN; a city that is now home to the largest Somali community in the United States. If you saw the Tom Hanks movie, Captain Phillips, you’ve seen four of its members, led by Oscar nominee, Barkhad Abdi. The massive influx of Somali refugees began about 20 years ago, and has been growing consistently ever since. As a young adult, I recall feeling great pity for the colorfully wrapped women, who walked, even in 10 inches of snow, with slip-on shoes and no coats. I felt sorry that they had to traverse the already difficult terrain in those “cumbersome” cloths.
Fast-forward to our new city, located not far from an Amish community. Last summer, my daughter (who was 6 at the time) and I encountered a large group of covered women, shopping at a local strip mall. Rather than staring openly, I encouraged my daughter to say “hello”. Well, once she received permission to speak, the floodgates were opened and I couldn’t stop her from chattering. The conversation quickly moved from, “What’s your name?” to the the inevitable, and slightly embarrassing question, “Why are you all wearing bonnets?” I was hoping that my daughter’s openness, innocence, and age would get her a “politeness pass” from the Amish woman, but her cool indifference quickly turned to offense, as she practically hissed, “It’s not a bonnet”. Not sure of the distinction between a bonnet and whatever the Amish women call their head coverings, we quickly excused ourselves; abandoning the idea of cultural enrichment for the day.
As our neighborhoods, schools, and shopping centers become increasingly diverse and, indeed, international, I become more and more appreciative of children’s books that normalize and explain “differences”. This month’s book is a beautiful narrative that I have found to be exceptionally helpful in this arena.
Deep in the Sahara is a 2013 picture book that transports its reader to Muslim West Africa. Through the eyes of young Lalla, we see the honor, beauty, and purpose of covering in a story that celebrates family, tradition, and coming of age:Gr 2-4-Mama cautions Lalla that a malafa is for more than beauty. Cut-paper collage illustrations feature boys in turbans, men hurrying to prayers, and women dressed in brightly colored swaths of cloth, enlivening the browns, greens, and adobe brick of the desert background. This upbeat picture book about a mother welcoming her daughter into their community of faith will engender a more positive attitude toward women who choose traditional dress in the modern world.
–School Library Journal
Illustrated by Iranian Hoda Hadadi, Deep in the Sahara has given my family (myself included) a much needed understanding and appreciation for the traditional malafa, and the women who choose to wear them. Furthermore, I now have a foundation to help explain the Amish covering that we encounter once in awhile, as well as the Jewish coverings that we see when we travel. Wow. As I was writing that last sentence, I was struck once again at how similar our “differences” really are. The idea that one book could create understanding for the coverings of Jews, Muslims, and the Amish is, really, quite amazing. If only we could focus on the areas in which we agree…
Well, that’s all for now. I hope you enjoy Deep in the Sahara. Let me know what you think! Until next time.
Peace & Blessings,