Monday, 16 January 2017

Individual versus dogma - Harraga

Harraga by Boualem Sansal

Harraga by Boualem Sansal
One of the best books I've read recently. Harraga means 'those who burn', in this context it's someone who attempts to illegally immigrate to another country/regime.

 The book was written in French, by the Algerian writer Boualem Sansal, and translated into English by Frank Wynne. The book is set mostly in the house (and the mind!) of Lamia. Her house is very unusual, being huge, many generations old, and full of history and mystery.

Lamia, a professional female (doctor working in a local hospital) in a male dominated Muslim world, lives in self-imposed exile - partly due to her history, but largely in an attempt to preserve her independent mind. Much of the story is Lamia's inner dialogue, which slowly reveals the characters around her, and her illusions and projections about them.

Her orderly and rather boring life is thrown into chaos by the arrival of a sixteen year old pregnant, extrovert girl with little sense of self-preservation: Cherifa.

They become very fond of each, and are both too stubborn to say so. When, after several brief exits from the house, Cherifa really does leave for good, Lamia is thrown into disarray.

She can't recreate her previous life; she can't stop worrying about Cherifa and trying to find her; her health and mood is all over the place.

Extraordinary characters gradually emerge, and penetrate Lamia's world, largely through the chaos created by Cherifa's antics. Harraga by Boualem Sansal

Despite the climate of Islamism, many characters emerge as just that - characters. The sense of fear, which requires everyone to either conform or conceal their individuality, is horrific. Cherifa seems oblivious to the climate in which she live, and this endangers her life.

I won't tell you what happens, because I want you to read the book!

I hope it displays vividly how arbitrary are the stories people tell themselves (if you are saying "NO I DON'T!" - this is part of your story :) ).

 The internal dialogue has it's uses, but it is hardly ultimate truth carved in stone. How easily we can delude ourselves, and how free speech, open discussion and a wee bit of insight would be so much better than fearfully turning ideas into dogma, whether they be religious, the consumer nightmare propagated by corporate media or the self-serving norms reinforced by clan, extended family, what the loudest mouth down the pub says, ...

Some literary critics have rubbished the book because it is all seen through the eyes of one person. I think it works, in fact in a repressive society where most people have to keep their thoughts to themselves, it is an inspired and meaningful means of putting the reader into the character's shoes.

More generally, it is an examination of the fictions that anyone can harbour, inherit or even cherish until they are 'blessed' (yes, God, Allah, the collective unconscious, fate, the Buddha-nature, or Richard Dawkins' reductionist materialism do work in mysterious ways) with a whirlwind like Cherifa.

Wonderful characters that emerge include Bluebeard: a mysterious neighbour who was almost entirely Lamia's projected fears); Scheherazade: a student that Cherifa 'finds' to temporarily rescue her; and an eccentric man who is named after his bus (having found his character through his own occupation, outside the production lines of state control and corporations).

The contrast between the world of individuals and the cloning process attempted by those in power is vivid and alarming.

Highly recommended ...


books, fear, fiction, meaningful, psychology, freedom, religion 

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

healthy diet and poverty

Unplugged from food corporations

I've heard some alarming tales from friends who work with people trapped in poverty and debt. The worst cases, due to the tax and benefits nightmare orchestrated by successive governments, are all people working full-time. Usually, they are working so many hours that they find it difficult to make the best decisions about what to eat.

Understandably, when exhausted and broke, they feel the need for a treat. Doing your food shopping (fast food!) in this state of mind is not a good idea.

Food poverty UK

Very often, the worst enemy of such poor people is corporations. The food corporations, food 'manufacturers', marketers, advertising/media giants.

Our newly elected majority government in the UK claims to be aware of poverty and health problems, but is currently celebrating their responsibility to the people by trying to relax the ban on hunting foxes with packs of uncontrolled dogs.

Clearly, if we want things to improve, we'll have to do it ourselves.

One of the difficulties with 'general advice' is that everyone's circumstances are different. There is no 'general case'. Probably the only factors shared by all are cash poverty and exhaustion. So let's choose the worst imaginable case and see how it can be improved.

Worst Case

Very low income.
No cooker, just a microwave.
Trapped in a poor district of a city where all local stores only sell 'convenience' food (heavily subsidised, advertised; huge profit margin)
no private transport.

A Solution

With a microwave cooker it is easy to cook a variety of quality meals, provided you have a microwave-friendly vessel with a LID. Typically pyrex.


The best bargain for your health and wallet is oats. It has soluble fibre and a useful amount of unsaturated fat. If you like muesli, add dried (or fresh) fruit, seeds and nuts. If you like porridge, it makes in about two minutes in the bowl.

The food industry likes to disguise small portions of 'quality' food in cheap, bulky packaging.

Examples include

1. pork pies; which often contain more wheat flour, lard and water than pork.
2. pizza. This is little more than cheese on toast with an inflated price.
3. sandwiches. These are often near the checkout, with 'chocolate' and sugary treats. Just once, buy one and take it apart. Typically, the main constituent is 2 slices of cheap bread.
4. The worst example isn't food at all. It's an aluminium can of fizzy tap water with CO2, flavouring and sweetener. Currently the adverts for this confidence trick show overweight couch potatoes mysteriously transformed into manic teenagers leaping about to loud music as soon as they open the bottle. If you are a couch potato, be warned. It doesn't work!

5 Fish and chips ...

healthy food diet


fish and/or fish fingers with chips (from frozen).

These cook well in a microwave on the plate, ready to eat. The fish (from frozen) might need an extra minute. If you have a freezer or freezer compartment in your fridge, then add peas for the vitamins.

Currently in my local supermarket 560 grams of frozen white fish fillets are £1.70 - containing typically 6 portions. The average chip shop has this amount of fish disguised as something huge with loads of cheap batter.
If you like batter, either make some or try the supermarkets own-label fish fingers. (£0.60 for ten).

Fish and fish fingers and chips and peas costs less than £1.

Frozen chips (96% potato, 4% sunflower oil) are NOT fattening unless you fry them in oil.


Fresh carrots, greens (or frozen broccoli), peas, potato or rice, lean meat or fish. The variations are are endless. It takes about 10 minutes, though some meals taste better if microwaved slowly.


apple, banana, orange juice. These don't advertise, and they are good bargains for health.

If you love chocolate, make your own from 100% cocoa with sweetener and/or dried fruit and nuts.

Sugar is the enemy, not cocoa, though one can overdo it.

Most important of all: don't watch adverts. Failing that, don't believe them.

Don't go shopping when you are hungry (either food hunger or emotional hunger). The displays are designed to take advantage of you.

Do take a shopping list.

If the corporations have taken control of your neighbourhood and you don't have transport:
1. Search online for bulk buys (oats, wheat flour, etc.).
2. Talk to neighbours to develop a community solution: bulk buying, shared transport ...

To assess/compare bargains, read the ingredients and the analysis. It is no coincidence that pies, pasties, cakes on display in ovens, blowing their aroma at you do not have such information on the packaging.

You will probably benefit from a list of meals that you discover work for you. It is very easy to forget after a hard day/week/month when you stagger into your home.

This is just an example of value for money and adequate nutrition. Food can be very interesting and varied without spending a fortune, and can become a pleasure rather than a chore.

 No matter how hard it seems, you are not alone ...

nutrition education for best diet on a budget


freedom, advertising, corporations, diet, education, fast food, health, matrix, poverty, video, wellbeing, documentary