Hands Around The Library Author's Blog

Blog posts from Karen Leggett Abouraya and Susan L. Roth, the authors of The Hands Around The Library - Protecting Egypt's Treasured Books.

The Author's Blog

Hey, librarians! Hey, teachers! Hey, children's book creators including writers, illustrators, publishers! Hey, children's literature lovers! Listen!

Now that school is back in session, let’s not think just about reading but also about sharing our interest in fine children’s literature with each other. With the added ease of the Internet and Skype, and for some of us, the lazy-making ease of English being today's lingua franca, international communication - but indeed all communication - should be essential as well as possible for those with shared interests.

Our political world is so complicated these days. Our governments keep agendas of their own, often separate from those of the people they govern. Even the citizens of warring states usually do not share the angry politics of their rulers. The regular people of the world want nothing but peace. They want to feed and shelter their families. They want to educate their children. They want to work at what they love to do. They want friendship. Not much more.

One genuine friendship equals two impossible enemies! How can we help to multiply this equation?

If the individuals of our own small group of book lovers and educators each make the effort to reach across the mountains and seas we each will be doing something to help this important effort. Not only that, the links that we can all make can prove to be invaluable to us as individuals as well, both professionally and personally. Friends, social interactions, are essential for happiness. Friends with shared interests and understandings can be inspirational. Meaningful professional collaborations are among the finest joys of life.

It has been both a personal and professional delight to me to enjoy local as well as international personal connections through my work. I have nurtured and treasured these valuable relationships over the years. As described in several previous blog communications on this same site, recent links with Egyptian colleagues, provide living beautiful examples of how simple, genuine contacts can grow naturally and honestly into meaningful, creative, important friendships and collaborations.


Left: Susan meets Hyeok Oh, publisher of e-educational books that teach English to Korean children.

Right: Susan shares lunch with Metere Laustsen in Copenhagen. Marete works with schools and other organizations to promote multi-cultural children's literature. They are now working on a new project together. 




Shaymaa Saad, former children's librarian at Bibliotheca Alexandrina and consultant for Hands Around the Library

These and other, similar relationships can be deep, strong and lasting. They defy political agendas and flourish on their foundations based upon common intellectual pursuits, joint creativity, mutual respect and appreciation. For me, this is one of the happiest, most rewarding aspects of my professional and personal life as well.

Libraries and writing groups (like the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators - SCBWI) are set up to help like-minded people reach out to each other, near and far. But with very little effort, thanks to libraries and the Internet, one also can make independent contacts. We suggest that you make the effort to do this---stretch out your hand to a potential colleague the next time you travel---even the next time you leave your house! It isn't mandatory to encircle the globe to make a new friend who shares your interest in children's literature, although that can be great fun---sometimes a new friend and potential colleague can be living right next door!

If you would like some help, advice or encouragement in this endeavor, send a note to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we'll give you easy directions for how you, too, can begin to make a new, meaningful connection...from around the corner or maybe even to the moon!



Hands Around the Library brought them together -  
Shaymaa Saad, Bibliotheca Alexandrina translator Dina el Mahdy, Hands supporter extraordinaire Tharwat Abouraya

Hits: 1348

Posted by on in The Author's Blog

We are adding an extra blog for the holiday, by my Egyptian friend Aida Mady, who is eager to share Egyptian culture and cooking through her new business, Cooking and Beyond, based in Alexandria Virginia. Aida is a graduate of Empowered Women International's Entrepreneurship Program.

We are in the final week of Ramadan...



Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and the most important month for Muslims, the majority religion in Egypt. In this month Allah (God) revealed the Qur'an to Prophet Mohammed. During the entire month of Ramadan, Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, smoking, and sexual relations, from dawn till sunset. It is the most holy month of the year, during which Muslims perform more prayers, read more Qur’an, give more sadaqah (voluntary charity), and worship more than any other time of the year.

For Egyptians, Ramadan is the year’s most special occasion. It is more like a month-long festival. Streets are decorated for the whole month and have continuous rush hours till very early in the morning.

The two main meals of the day are the iftar, in which the fast is broken at sunset. The second meal is the suhuur, which is usually delayed as much as possible till just before dawn. In between iftar and suhuur, Muslims could eat as they wish.

Before sunset, the entire country quiets down and gets busy with iftar. Dates are usually the first food to break the fast, according to tradition followed by Prophet Mohammed. You can find people minutes before the maghreb (sunset) prayer, walking the streets and handing out dates and water to those who haven’t made it home yet.

Although Ramadan is a month of fasting for Muslims, it is usually when Egyptians pay a lot of attention to food in variety and richness. That is because iftar is a family affair, often with entire extended families meeting at the table.

Traditional dishes are served, including traditional desserts, some almost exclusive to Ramadan. Those include baklawah (baklava), kunafah, basbousa, qatayef , and rice pudding.

Baklawah is a rich, sweet pastry made with layers of phyllo pastry brushed with butter, filled with chopped nuts, cut and sweetened with syrup, often flavored with vanilla, rose water or orange-blossom water. Its origins date back to the Ottoman Empire and possibly before that.

Kunafah is a sweet dish made up of thin strips of spaghetti-like pastry, syrup and cream. The pastry is heated with butter, then spread with cream, and topped with more pastry. Thick sugar syrup with a few drops of vanilla or orange-blossom water is poured on the pastry during the final minutes of cooking. Crushed green pistachios are sprinkled on top. Kunafah’s origins go back to Turkey.


Basbousa  is made with semolina, butter, sugar, yogurt and soaked in syrup.b2ap3_thumbnail_Basboosa.jpg
Qatayef is a dessert commonly served during Ramadan. Qatayef is the general name of the dessert as a whole, but more specifically, the batter. The result of the batter being poured onto a round hot plate appears similar to pancakes, except only one side is cooked, filled with cream or mixed nuts, raisins, and cinnamon. It is then deep-fried and served with syrup. Qatayef is of Fatimid origin.

Famous beverages related to Ramadan are kharruub (carob), dom (doum), karkadeh (hibiscus), tamr hindi (tamarind), qamar eldin (apricot juice), and khoshaf (not really a drink, but a compote of dried fruits and nuts).

The suhuur meal almost always consists of a dish of ful (fava beans) because they take long to digest and therefore keep one feeling full during the fast. The fava beans can be prepared with olive oil, corn oil, butter, fried or boiled eggs, tomato sauce, garlic, tahini, lemon juice, cumin, and chickpeas.


Ful - made with fava beans

What makes this month different in Egypt?

A long time ago, Egyptians adopted certain social habits during Ramadan that are not directly related to religion. Here are a few:

Mawa’id al-Rahman

During Ramadan, people who are well-off offer charity banquets called mawa’id al-rahman which are basically rows of tables and chairs placed in the streets, sometimes under a tent, that cater full meals for free for the poor, passers-by, or workers who couldn't make it home on time for “iftar”. It represents another longstanding Ramadan tradition in Egypt. It is said that the tradition goes back to one of Egypt’s early Muslim rulers, Al-Layth Ibn Saad, known for his wealth and piety. According to another story, Ahmad Ibn-Tulun, Egypt’s 10th century ruler, began the tradition when he invited some VIPs to a banquet on the first day of Ramadan. When they arrived, however, they found that their host had also invited the city’s poor to eat with them. Ibn-Tulun was so pleased with the event that he repeated the practice every day for the remainder of the fasting month. During the 11th and 12th centuries, several of Egypt’s Fatimid rulers kept the tradition alive. Egypt’s first Fatimid ruler, Caliph Al-Moezz, for example, is said to have sponsored Ramadan banquets big enough to feed 100,000 people.


One of the most famous aspects of Ramadan is definitely the fanous (Ramadan lanterns). The traditional fanous is shaped from tin, wire rings and colored glass, and lit by a candle.

There are many different stories about how the fanous became a Ramadan tradition. One says that during the time of the Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim Bi-Amr Allah, women were only allowed to go outside their homes during Ramadan, and they were preceded by a little boy carrying a copper lantern so that men in the streets would move away. Years later, the lanterns continued to be popular and children would carry them in the streets every Ramadan. Another story says that the tradition originated when the Fatimid Caliph Al-Muizz Lideenillah was greeted by people holding lanterns to celebrate his ruling, which was during Ramadan.

Since then, the fanous has always been an integral part of Ramadan in Egypt. They are used to light mosques and streets throughout Cairo, along with shopping malls, places of business, building entrances, restaurants, and people's homes. Fanous (plural fawanees) comes in all shapes and sizes and colors, with red being a favorite.


The mesaharaati is another Egyptian Ramadan tradition. This is the person who wakes people up to have their suhuur. He walks down the streets, banging on a small drum, singing or simply shouting, making sure everyone wakes up for suhuur. This profession no longer exists nowadays, except in the more rural areas of Egypt.


Another old Ramadan tradition is marking sunset with the firing of a cannon (madfaa’). The tradition is said to have begun in 1460, when Mamluk Sultan al-Zaher Seif al-Din Zenki Khashqodom received a cannon as a gift from a German acquaintance. Testing the cannon, the Sultan’s soldiers fired it at sunset exactly by coincidence. People believed that this was the Sultan’s way of alerting them that it’s time to break the fast. It was then suggested that the cannon be fired every day throughout the month to mark the beginning and end of the daily fast.

Another story says that it is actually Mohammad Ali – the 19th century founder of Egypt’s royal family who started this tradition. It says that the cannon used to be fired from Cairo’s famous Citadel – with live ammunition – until 1859. But when the city’s nearby areas became inhabited, they began using blank rounds instead.

Now that mosques are widespread across Cairo, the cannon firing is no longer needed to mark sunset and sunrise. The mosques’ azan (the call for prayers) both at sunset (al-maghreb) and dawn (al-fajr) could be heard all over Cairo. Also, now with modern technology you can simply hear the azan on radio, TV, or even your phone.

This joyful month ends with the greatest celebration of all, the festival of breaking of the fast Eid al-Fitr, which will happen about August 7 or 8, depending on when the first sliver of moon is seen in the night sky.

Find lots Egyptian culture and cooking at www.cookingandbeyond.com!


Research by: Rasha El-Gohary Egypt

Ramadan lanterns by Simon Phipp/Creative Commons



Hits: 1946

Posted by on in The Author's Blog

The Bibliotheca Alexandrina celebrated in Hands Around the Library is breathtaking and awe-inspiring, in both its architecture and its social reach. But there are other libraries and reading programs highlighted on our website whose accomplishments are just as dramatic despite much humbler surroundings. From multiple floors of globally-clinked computers to a single room of cherished books in a small village, people are determined to expand their opportunities to learn.

Ng’ombe Township Reading Center in Lusaka, Zambia, was established in 2006 through the efforts of several organizations and people in the USA who wanted to make a difference, including Jeannie Niebel, a retired elementary school teacher in Maryland, whose son was a U.S. Foreign Service Officer in Zambia. Jeannie befriended Mary, nanny to her son’s children, and visited her in Zambia in 2004.

”Never had I seen such poverty. Most of the mud bricked homes had no electricity, running water or books. Many children were not in school because they had no money for school fees. Jobs were very scarce. At the same time I was inspired by the Zambians’ work ethic and their joy in the little things in life.”


Back in Maryland, Jeannie started an educational sponsorship program so that Americans could provide school fees for children in Ng’ombe Township.  She helped Mary open a reading center in the town, which now contains more than 2,000 books and is open to all who enter.  Students arrive at the center after school for tutoring. There are story hours for young children. Adults use this center as well.

Good Shepherd School opened its doors at the reading center in January of 2012, standing out from other schools in the area because of the number and quality of books available to students, many of them donated by American schools and families recruited by Jeannie.



It was a challenge for the school to send student thank you letters to sponsors overseas, according to headmaster Muchona Mangatila on the school’s Facebook page.  Mailed letters often did not arrive. Now the school has several donated computers, but “when we receive an email for a particular sponsored child, we have to carry the email on a flash disk and print it for the child at the University of Zambia about three kilometers away.”



The Good Shepherd Zambia Project recently attained NGO status due in large part to Muchona’s outstanding dedication and leadership. The project’s mission is to restore and cultivate a reading culture:

MISSION STATEMENT – To restore a reading culture and promote an establishment where all age groups shall acquire some level of education in Zambia. 
VISION – the vision is to try and alleviate the high levels of illiteracy through the provision of learning facilities and kits for the various learning age groups.

1. To cultivate a reading culture, this has been overshadowed with beer drinking and movies.
2. To provide quality learning facilities and materials to the under- privileged in our society.
3. To introduce to books as many children as possible regardless of their status and teach them the importance of reading.
4. Endeavor to promote gender balance
5. To bridge the gap between privileged and under-privileged by helping the under-privileged school going through sponsorship and otherwise. 


Sixty students attend the school, a third of them free of charge because their parents simply do not have the money for tuition.  Every month the school is short of money. But it is never short of pride.

Muchona narrated and filmed the video below about the village, the reading center and the school – all part of a complex that includes his home. You will see his wife, Leah, and see his infant son Andrew, named after Jeannie’s father. “It is traditional to ask someone else to name the baby,” explains Jeanne. “Muchona asked me to name the baby. What an honor!”

The school also formed a dance troupe to promote messages of safe motherhood, protection and treatment of HIV/AIDS and the importance of education for girls. “Usually cultural dances attract a lot of people and when we have a good number,” says Muchona, “the dancers would do a dance and then share the information we have for a particular day.”  Now Muchona is now seeking donations to open Internet Café: “We believe that information is power and the people of Ng’ombe deserve to be part of the global village.”

Video of Ng’ombe Township, Zambia, and the Good Shepherd School and Reading Center

The need is still great - financial donations to send books and school supplies to Zambia. Those who are interested in learning more about this project may contact Jeannie Niebel at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..




Hits: 1648

This blog shares the opinion of the Egyptian Ambassador to the United States Mohamed Tawfik and the American Egyptian Strategic Alliance about the current events in Egypt. Please feel free to add your comments.


Letter from the American Egyptian Strategic Alliance to President Barack Obama

Dear Mr. President,

As is evidenced by the actions of January 25, 2011 and June 30, 2013, it is crystal clear that the Egyptian people want a better country, real democracy, genuine improvement of their economy, stronger democratic political institutions, better daily living conditions, a restored sense of security and most of all, hope in their future. Millions across Egypt recently came out to say that President Morsi and his government have failed miserably in providing any of the above.

To retake the reigns of their January 25th revolution and correct its course, the Egyptian people took to the streets again on June 30th in the largest demonstration the world has seen to date. Egyptians filled the streets throughout Egypt asking President Mohamed Morsi and his administration to step down. President Morsi did not comply with the people's demands, thus the Egyptian army facilitated a handover of power to save the country from collapsing into chaos and violence.

The military intervention in this case should not be categorized as a coup-d'état. In fact, it was a combined decision between political and religious forces in Egypt. The head of the constitutional court was immediately sworn in to be the interim president until early presidential elections are held. The Egyptian Army declared that it is not interested in playing a role in politics, but rather that it was acting according to its mandate of protecting Egyptian national security.

Mr. President, we at AESA believe the U.S. has a vital role to play in maintaining its credibility with the Egyptian people. We recommend the following five key steps:

1) Call for the start of a reconciliation dialogue among all Egyptians 

2) Support Egypt's transition to democracy by clearly supporting the transition roadmap announced on July 3rd by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's and civilian and religious leaders.

3) Publicly declare that the July 3 actions were not a coup. The Egyptian military, based on the request of the Egyptian people, acted swiftly to ensure the protection of internal sovereignty of Egypt and its citizens. As the Egyptian Ambassador to the U.S., Mohamed Tawfik, declared on July 3rd: this is not a coup; it is a popular uprising that was met with support by the Egyptian Army who are protecting the aspirations of the Egyptian people and their revolution.

4) Announce an economic assistance package to the caretaker government that shows the Egyptian people that the U.S. government supports the emerging Egyptian democracy. 

5) Hold the military and the caretaker government accountable for delivering on the Jan 25th revolution aspirations based on the promises they made in the July 3rd statement.

Mr. President, immediate action by the U.S. will help America protect our credibility with the Egyptian people and stem tensions and violence from spreading throughout Egypt. It will also help protect the vital strategic Egyptian-American relationship, which is in the best interest of U.S. national security.

Mr. President, on behalf of AESA, we humbly request that you support the Egyptian people and their strong desires today.

Kais Menoufy, President
American Egyptian Strategic Alliance 1100 Connecticut Avenue, NW Suite 1250
Washington D.C. 20036


Hits: 1541

Zeinab Mansour, Mimi Hassanein and Amin Mahmoud, on behalf of the American Egyptian Strategic Alliance (AESA), the Woman’s National Democratic Club and the Egyptian-American Rule of Law Association (EARLA), hosted a panel discussion on the Status of Women in Egypt in Washington, D.C. The panel was moderated by Asiya Daud, professor of international relations and Middle East politics at American University. This report was originally written for the newsletter of the American Egyptian Strategic Alliance.


This weighty topic fully engaged a gathering at the Woman’s National Democratic Club in Washington, D.C. earlier this year.  Panelist Dalia Fahmy, assistant professor of political science at Long Island University in Brooklyn, NY, is concerned that the Arab Spring may turn into the Arab Winter if women activists are treated as suspects trying to undermine democracy.


Fahmy and Sahar Aziz, associate professor at Texas Wesleyan University School of Law, both noted that earlier laws on the status of women in Egypt unofficially bore the names of presidential wives: the Jihan Sadat laws granted women rights related to divorce and child custody; the Suzanne Mubarak laws reserved a minimum number of parliamentary seats for women and protected young girls from early marriage. All of these laws have now been repealed. Aziz fears that the politicians today may be manipulating hatred for the old regime to reduce women’s rights.

Aziz is concerned that the new constitution includes no anti-discrimination provisions specific to women and no floor of forbidden mistreatment of women. But she argued that women should focus on changing public opinion in Egypt rather than rewriting laws. “Laws are not enforced and can be manipulated,” she suggested, “Women’s rights must be part of the culture.”

One ray of hope is the Coptic OrphansValuable Girl Project. The organization’s communications director Hanan Baky said education is the best predictor of a woman’s degree of engagement in the community.  She cited a 2009 report that showed a 45 percent illiteracy rate among adult women in Egypt.  Since it started in 2002, the Valuable Girl Project has provided one-on-one mentoring for 4,000 girls in Egypt, pairing high school and college students as academic mentors to girls in elementary school.

In her overview of women’s rights, Kathryn Braeman, an administrative law judge and board member for the American Association of University Women (AAUW), noted that men and women had the same economic and legal rights in ancient Egypt. Now, she said progress toward women’s rights must be seen as a marathon, not a sprint, involving vision, risk-taking, passion, persistence, team-building, networking and advocacy.

Hits: 2113