“With Our Own Hands” – Nairobi’s Shariffa Keshavjee Reflects on an Astonishingly Beautiful Book About the People, Food and Life in the Pamirs

“In this region no guest is a foreigner and every visitor is warmly welcomed and enjoys amazing hospitality. Food prepared from the heart is a labour of love…As I read and re-read the book, I feel that the earth itself compressed to make a safe haven for these very special people who truly live in harmony with mother earth. Similar to the way the animals live in the Ngorongoro Crater.” — Shariffa Keshavjee

“With Our Own Hands” by Frederik van Oudenhoven and Jamila Haider

Front cover

Front cover “With Our Own Hands,” 686 pages. Foreword by HRH The Prince of Wales.

REVIEWED BY SHARIFFA KESHAVJEE

I have not visited high mountain regions of the Pamirs bordering Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan and China, but these lands have always fascinated me .

I was fortunate to have laid hands on this beautiful and monumental book in Kenya. Reading and re-reading this tome connected me with the food and life in the Pamir mountains

It is special thrill to open a new book that contains many well annotated pictures. As I open a crisp fresh leaf of the book, I am delighted to see a familiar leaf, a man shielding himself with a rhubarb leaf. Yes, indeed, how hot and bright the sun must be must be up in the land locked mountains. I only knew rhubarb leaves as poisonous for gerbils!

Countries bordering the Pamirs are not that well known and this book is particularly welcome to expose the lands that straddle Pakistan, China, and Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan where the Karakoram Pass snakes its way into the snow. In this region no guest is a foreigner and every visitor is warmly welcomed and enjoys amazing hospitality. Food prepared from the heart is a labour of love.

Using a wild rhubarb leaf as his parasol, a traveller shields his face against the strong sun of the high Pamir Mountains in Afghanistan. Photo/Caption: With Our Own Hands

Using a wild rhubarb leaf as his parasol, a traveller shields his face against the strong sun of the high Pamir Mountains in Afghanistan. Photo/Caption: With Our Own Hands

Beyond the peaks of the Pamirs are the cold deserts of Central Asia, China and Afghanistan, all part of the old silk road — the route that was the rich centre of trade and culture. Now that air travel is the norm, technology and curiosity bring us closer to our brothers and sisters in the Pamirs.

It was a delight to read Prince Charles’ forward in ” With Our Own Hands.” He has said it all — the hard seminal work of documentation, preservation and most of all making this work available in English, Dari and Tajik.

I loved the wonderful pictures of the beautiful faces of the people in the Pamir region. I was delighted to have met them when I was in Paris, and to hear the songs and watch the graceful dances of the region.

Bedona mulberries. Some of the berries have pink or purple streaks. Photo:

Bedona mulberries. Some of the berries have pink or purple streaks. Photo: “With Our Own Hands.”

The features of the people are such a contrast; the soft features so delicate and fine in the young, the rugged ones in the not so young exposed to the elements. These people show resilience of spirit. Their close connection with the earth on a daily basis is a sense of joy. I can relate this somewhat to us here in Nairobi, where some people are beginning to grow their own vegetables, to avoid pesticides and genetically modified seeds. There is a movement in Kenya taking us back to more organic foods. For the people of the Pamirs, their seeds are sacrosanct, untarnished by greed.

I myself am particularly aware of how fast we are losing many foods that I used to eat, that my grandfather grew on his farm in Muhoroni, near Lake Victoria in the Rift Valley. Now I know why I feel a connection to the Pamirs.

Change is inevitable. My aunt used to make Bursoq, called gulgulia. All over the world similar sweet dishes are a treat — baklava, bursoq, gulab jamuns, the list goes on. How much we share how much in common we have.

In the Pamirs, we have young people, with their hopes and aspirations, their varied languages of English, Russian, Dari, Tajik, Urdu, and Pamiri. One foot steeped in tradition and one in the modern world , a perfect place to balance between the sacred and a world so mesmerised by the material one.

with-our-own-hands-apricots-photos-and-caption

In the changing human environment the people in the Pamirs are balanced between their tradition and outside influence. Perfect time to savour the idea that no visitor is a stranger here in the mountainous terrain. Guests are honoured and feted. They eat food that is in season, a culture lost to us with export of food and refrigeration. We know, however, that the food that is in season is good for us. It was a strong belief of my great-grandfather who worked in our farm in Muhoroni.

Special foods are also a sign of celebration. In Ismaili ginans, special foods are mentioned, “ghee thi nitarta bhojan banavie, una una rotla ne Markhan knavravie…” ‘

Prince Charles aptly says ‘ the march of globalisation ‘, has crushed our traditions under foot. This book is a testimony to the perilous present juxtaposed with the resilient knowledge of the past.

Authors Jamila Haider and Frederik van Oudenhoven.

Authors Jamila Haider and Frederik van Oudenhoven.

School Teachers with their own copy of With Our Own Hands

The authors ensured that each of the 1800 communities of the Pamirs received a copy of “With Our Own Hands.”

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The authors ensured that each of the 1800 communities of the Pamirs received a copy of “With Our Own Hands.” In this photo, schoolgirls in the Bartang valley are standing with a copy of the book. The authors have noted that they were received time and time again with the warmest hospitality one could ever imagine. Photo: Facebook page, PamirFoodandLife.

“With Our Own Hands” is a font of knowledge; I learnt so much about mulberries, which grow in my back yard but I did not know they could be dried. I now see them with different eyes. I learnt about the use of apricots, always a rare dish at our table. As siblings we would enjoy cracking the seed so delicately as to obtain a whole nut. We used out brass pestle and mortar.

Water is such a precious commodity that it has angels looking after it. The channels once established widen and give. The people then become so close to their water source. What a beautiful concept for those who turn on the faucet without any reverence.

In the book, I continue to enjoy the sun blessed rugged mountains of the Pamirs, and the beautiful faces of the people. The earth in its longing for human company. As we prepare to celebrate Navroz on March 21, know that we are together in hope, love and celebration. We too are part of the climate change — a colder winter here in Kenya, although our waters do not freeze as does the Panj River. Together our resilience and faith is stronger than the not so clement weather!

Back cover With Our Own Hands

Back cover “With Our Own Hands”

I love the cucumber story in the Wakhan Valley! We too, in Kenya eat the root of the Arrrow Root, (ARVI) and not the leaves. Now as we become multi-cultural, we eat the root and the leaves!!! We make our Qorma with green grams and eat it with chapatis. Yes, culinary art is ever changing and we enjoy foods from far and wide and origins of our foods become seamless. In Kenya the idea of juicing all green vegetables is quite in vogue to fight non-communicable diseases.

As I read and re-read the book, I feel that the earth itself compressed to make a safe haven for these very special people who truly live in harmony with mother earth. Similar to the way the animals live in the Ngorongoro Crater.

Thank you brothers and sisters of the Pamirs for preserving, and practicing your resilient knowledge which is is a repository of timeless knowledge. Thank you Frederick and Jamila for bringing the knowledge to us here in Africa where we too invoke Bismillah at the beginning of each event.

Copyright: Shariffa Keshavjee/Simerg.

Date posted: January 11, 2017.

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Note: Simerg had obtained limited quantities of “With Our Own Hands” from its Canadian distributors, UBC Press. We quickly sold out, and the book is now out of print. However, the book may be purchased from resellers at Amazon at US$80.00 and up! – ed.

Your Opportunity to Acquire a Highly Acclaimed Beautiful New Book About the People and Food of the Pamirs

Co-Author holding "With Our Own Hands"Frederik van Oudenhoven happily displaying the 688 page book “With Our Own Hands” that he co-authored with Jamila Haider. Photo: Facebook page, PamirFoodandLife

“Those of us reading this book several thousand miles away from the Pamir Mountains cannot fail to be moved by the celebration of human diversity and dignity. I hope this book will act as a spur to other such works, and to the preservation and celebration of other such ancient cultures, wherever they are in the world” — HRH The Prince of Wales in Foreword to “With Our Own Hands.”

“These mountains [the Pamirs] have had a strong influence on the culture and practices surrounding the Pamiri Ismaili faith. While 15 millions Ismaili Muslims live around the world, the Pamir mountains is the only region in the world where they form a majority of the population.” — Excerpt from “With Our Own Hands,” page 382.

A book that began as a simple 30 page recipe book to fulfill a promise to a grandmother has grown to a magnificent volume of almost 700 pages telling the cultural and agricultural history of the Afghan and Tajik Pamirs, one of the world’s least known and most isolated civilizations. Through the lens of local recipes, essays and stories, and accompanied by the work of three award-winning photographs, “With Our Own Hands” describes Pamiri food and its origins, people’s daily lives, their struggle and celebrations. Simerg carried a special feature on the making of the book (see link at end of this post). The highly acclaimed and award winning work by Frederik van Oudenhoven and Jamila Haider was beautifully featured on BBC a few weeks ago. Jamila Haider says that everyone who has seen the book, has asked how to get one.

12316071_440190226178538_2484686561241700908_nThe authors ensured that each of the 1800 communities of the Pamirs received a copy of “With Our Own Hands.” In this photo, schoolgirls in the Bartang valley are standing with a copy of the book. The authors have noted that they were received time and time again with the warmest hospitality one could ever imagine. Photo: Facebook page, PamirFoodandLife.

ACCOLADES FOR THE BOOK

“This…may be one of the most beautiful books I have ever read..!” — Frénk van der Linden.

“People touch the book and stroke it, and it is as if there is no distance between them and the pages…it’s very touching to see.” – Facebook comment

In size, rigor and thoughtfulness [this book] has become a touching piece of art.” — Geerdt Magiels, Vrije Universiteit Brussel

TO BUY “WITH OUR OWN HANDS”

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We take great delight in informing our readers that with great luck and timing, we have managed to obtain a few copies of “With Our Own Hands” that were in stock in North America. We are grateful to the book’s Canadian distributors, the UBCpress, for making 21 copies of the book available to us. The book is out of stock at Amazon.com, but numerous sellers are offering the book from US$120.00 and up. Simerg is offering the book to interested Canadian readers on a first-come first-served basis at Cdn$85.00 per copy plus taxes/shipping/insurance (which will vary across Canada). The book may be reserved/purchased as follow:

NOTE: We wish to inform our readers that the book is sold out. Request a copy by writing to simergbooks@aol.com, and we will notify you as soon as we have more information from the book’s distributors in North America about its availability in Canada.

Payment Methods:

Paypal: Simergbooks has been verified by Paypal. To purchase a copy of “With Our Own Hands”, please send a request to  simergbooks@aol.com and an invoice will be generated through Paypal provided we still have the book in stock. You can then pay via Paypal. In view of the limited quantities, payment should be received within 24 hours after the invoice.

Email Transfer: To purchase a copy via email fund transfer, please send a request to simergbooks@aol.com. Once we have confirmed to you via email that we have the book in stock, we will request you to send the payment via email transfer. In view of the limited quantities payment should be received within 24 hours after the invoice.

AN EXTRAORDINARY BOOK FOR YOUR HOME

This book will remain for a long time on your family’s shelf by virtue of its extraordinary quality and for its portrayal in a respectable manner of the food, culture and traditions of the beautiful people of the Pamirs.

Date posted: Sunday, August 7, 2016.
Last updated: Monday, August 22, 2016.

NOTE: We wish to inform our readers that the book is sold out. Request a copy by writing to simergbooks@aol.com, and we will notify you as soon as we have more information from the book’s distributors in North America about its availability in Canada.

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Related: With Our Own Hands – A Celebration of Food and Life in the Pamir Mountains of Afghanistan and Tajikistan

“With Our Own Hands” – An Intriguing Cookbook from the Pamirs by Frederik van Oudenhoven & Jamila Haider

“It doesn’t often happen that one needs to find superlatives to describe a book. For ‘With Our Own Hands’, an entirely unique book about the hard life and beautiful culture in the Pamir Mountains, it is inevitable. In size, rigor and thoughtfulness [this book] has  become a touching piece of art.” — Geerdt Magiels, Vrije Universiteit Brussel.

PLEASE CLICK The Story of a Beautiful and Intriguing Cookbook from the Pamirs

Co-Author holding "With Our Own Hands"Frederik van Oudenhoven with his multi-year effort “With Our Own Hands.”  Please click on image for story about the award-winning book.

“This…may be one of the most beautiful books I have ever read..!”– Frénk van der Linden….Read More

“You know…the design really is perfect – people touch the book and stroke it, and it is as if there is no distance between them and the pages. The book pulls them into their own world…it’s very touching to see.” — Facebook Friend….Read More

With a foreword by HRH The Prince of Wales, authors Frederik van Oudenhoven and Jamila Haider provide an intimate portrait of the Afghan and Tajik Pamiri people and the forbidding mountains that are their home. Through the lens of ancient recipes, stories and essays, and accompanied by the work of three award-winning photographers, the book tells about Pamiri food and agricultural traditions, people’s daily lives, their struggles and celebrations.

With Our Own Hands appears in a single three-language edition, with English, Dari and Tajik. The choice to make a book in which these three languages are combined was inspired by the authors’ commitment to return a copy to each of the 1800 communities, schools and libraries in the Pamirs. Read More