Archive for the Africa Category

After Chibok

Posted in Africa, Clips on February 3, 2017 by frankbures

feb-coverThis month in The Rotarian, I have a story about Margee Ensign, who went to northeastern Nigeria to run the American University of Nigeria, but who became deeply involved in local efforts to deal with a refugee crisis bigger than Europe’s. The Adamawa Peace Initiative desperately needs funds, which can be  donated here: AUNF.  The story, Education on the Front Lines, can be found here:

In her office at the American University of Nigeria, in the dusty northeastern town of Yola, Margee Ensign heard the news: Some 170 miles to the north, nearly 300 girls at a boarding school had been roused from sleep and kidnapped at gunpoint by the terrorist group Boko Haram.

Ensign, the president of the fledgling university, was already struggling with the fallout from Boko Haram’s attacks in Nigeria’s north, which had sent a flood of refugees into Yola. Together with community leaders, including her fellow Rotarians, she had worked to run feeding programs to keep the refugees – whose number eventually swelled to 400,000 – alive.

bokointroRotarians working with the Adamawa Peace Initiative help run the Feed and Read program, which provides a hot meal along with lessons in English and math, and the Peace through Sports program.

After the news of the kidnapping broke in April 2014, a woman who worked for the university asked to see Ensign. She sat down in the president’s office and told Ensign that her sister had been one of 58 girls who had escaped that night by jumping out of Boko Haram’s trucks and running into the bush.

Ensign quickly began contacting those girls’ families to offer them a place at the university, which also houses a high school. In the end, 27 girls decided to come, and on 30 August – four months after the raid – Ensign prepared to head into the heart of the conflict to pick up the girls.

“We were going into dangerous territory,” says Lionel Rawlins, the university’s security chief. “We were going into Boko Haram’s backyard to snatch the girls. The morning before we left, we went to the police and said, ‘Are we ready?’ And they said, ‘We’re not going. It’s too dangerous up there.’ So I went back and told Margee we were on our own. We looked at each other, and I knew exactly what she was thinking. She said, ‘If you’re up to it, I’m up to it. Let’s go get the girls.’”

Read the rest here.

boko-yola

Photographs by Andrew Esiebo

Running Circles Around Us

Posted in Africa, Clips, Culture, Running, Science on August 29, 2016 by frankbures

Crawley1From Scientific American

When the starting gun fires at the Olympic track in Rio de Janeiro, there is little doubt who will be in the lead. In the Men’s 1,500 Meters Asbel Kiprop will be up front. In the women’s 5,000 meters Almaz Ayana will run away, and she may also take the 10,000 Meters. In the marathon Helah Kiprop will push the women whereas Eliud Kipchoge will be the one to watch among the men. In the Men’s 800 Meters, David Rudisha will likely hold his title and maybe break his own world record.

In other words most of these races will be dominated by runners from, or with roots in, east Africa—namely Kenya and Ethiopia, with a few Eritreans and maybe a Ugandan also standing out. Mo Farah, currently at the top of the ranking for 10,000 meters, was born in Somalia and raised in the U.K., and now trains in the U.S. Bernard Lagat, who just won the U.S. 5,000-meter Olympic qualifier (at age 41) is Kenyan-American.

East African runners have dominated for the two decades since Kenyans started winning in the mid-1990s, followed by Ethiopians shortly thereafter. This has lead to great soul searching on the part of former distance powers like the U.S. and U.K. Yet reasons for that Crawley3dominance remain hotly debated, and science has had little definitive to say about it.

The reigning theory in the West is that runners from east Africa have some evolutionary advantage over runners from other backgrounds.

Read the rest here.

Eating Alone Together

Posted in Africa, America, Culture, Travel on July 29, 2016 by frankbures

the-rotarian-column-dinnerFrom The Rotarian:

There is a new ritual in American life. It goes like this: Whenever you invite someone to dinner, you must inquire about any special dietary needs. Because today, it seems that nearly everyone has drawn a line around foods that cannot pass their lips.

This could be because of allergies, moral qualms, lifestyle choices, health issues, or simple preference. The person might be a vegetarian who eats fish, a carnivore who hates carbs, a glutton who avoids gluten, or a time bomb waiting to be set off by a nut. (Asking ahead makes for a more pleasant evening than calling an ambulance.)

Hospitalization aside, one reason for this shift has been the moralization of food. Our dining choices have become identity choices, a way of saying, “This is the kind of person I am,” or “This is the kind of world I want to live in.”

This is a luxury of our age. The hunters, villagers, and small bands of Homo sapiens in times past would have thought it extremely strange, and possibly hostile, to assert one’s preferences in this manner.

Read the rest here.

The Lobster Coffin of Ghana

Posted in Africa, America, Art, Arts in Africa, Travel on July 25, 2016 by frankbures

MIA LobsterRecently I was asked to write a short piece about something in the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s Africa collection. Most of the pieces are old, carved wood artifacts that border on archeological. Then there is the lobster coffin:

The first dead person I ever saw in daylight was a young boy lying next to a road in Tanzania. It was early morning and we were driving south on the country’s main highway when I saw the crows fly up out of a ditch. I craned my neck to see what they’d been eating. He was lying face down, arm stretched over his head, shirt pulled up under his armpits. The driver saw it and hit the brakes.

“Was it a dog?” someone asked.

“It was a person!” the driver said. He turned to me. “Did you see it?”

I nodded.

Stopped in the middle of the road, we decided to tell the next policeman we saw and drove on. But by the time we saw a policeman we were hundreds of miles away from the boy and there was no point. We passed him by and never spoke of it again.

Read the rest here.

On Rimbaud’s Trail

Posted in Africa, Books, Geography of Madness, Travel, Uncategorized, Writers on July 19, 2016 by frankbures

From Longitude Books:

One of the places I remember most clearly (and fondly) is Obock, Djibouti, a town on the edge of the Red Sea where I traveled several years ago for a story for Nowhere Magazine. Obock is hot and miserable and there is nothing to do. At night thousands of migrants stream through the area on their way from Ethiopia and Somalia to the Middle East where they hope to find work. When I got there I found that the hotel the tourism office in the capital recommended had closed long ago. On my first day I was harassed by the local police for being there.

What I remember best, though, was how refreshing it was to be so uncatered to, so far from everything. It didn’t matter to anyone (except a few curious folks) whether I was there or not. This must have been something like was the French poet Arthur Rimbaud felt when he first arrived there in the mid-1880s to escape his former life and become an arms dealer: It was like the whole world could slip away.

Read the rest hereIMGP3480.JPG.

Runner, (Re)Interrupted

Posted in Africa, America, Clips, Running on March 12, 2016 by frankbures

spread-runner-interruptedA few years ago I traveled to Anchorage, Alaska to spend time with Marko Cheseto, a Kenyan runner who lost his feet to frostbite. Now that story, Runner, Interrupted, has been chosen as one of the Runner’s World “Selects” to help celebrate 50 years of great stories. For the occasion, I did some follow-up report on where Marko is now: Currently he is focused on qualifying for the 2016 Paralympic Games in the 200- and 400-meter events (the latter is currently the longest event available for double amputees).

At the Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa, last April, he competed against double amputees, single amputees, and a blind athlete in the 200 meters, and while he finished last, he ran a PR of 24.36. Last October, he was scheduled to travel to Qatar with the Kenyan Paralympic team to run the qualifying rounds for the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, but the Kenyan government pulled the team’s funding at the last minute, and the trip was cancelled. Cheseto has since set up a GoFundMe page in an effort to secure training and travel funds for Rio.

interrupted-past-lifeFor now, he’s training around his full-time job as sports coordinator for the Boys and Girls Club of Alaska—and his growing family. In 2014, Cheseto married an Alaskan woman who also attended the University of Alaska; the couple now has a 10-month-old daughter. That same year, Cheseto’s younger brother Henry joined the University of Alaska cross country team. As a freshman, Henry led the team to five first-place finishes and, in 2015, finished third at NCAA Division II Nationals. Cheseto is also working on a book about his life with writer Andy Hall, author of Denali’s Howl: The Deadliest Climbing Disaster on America’s Wildest Peak.

You can read the story here and you can help Marko get to Rio here.

A Few of my Favorite Books, 2015

Posted in Africa, America, Art, Books on December 23, 2015 by frankbures

KitchensAs usual, reports of the death of printed books have been greatly exaggerated. There were lots of incredible works published this year (on paper and otherwise), too many for anyone to read, let alone know about. I spent a good chunk of the year reading post-apocalyptic fiction, for reasons that will be clear in the near future. A few standouts from that bunch (not all published this year) are Ben Percy’s The Dead Lands, Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, Hugh Howey’s Wool, and Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars, which sort of took my breath away. Back in the the present day, the best novel I read Two Hoursthis year was one that I never would have picked up, but for some trusted recommendations: J. Ryan Stradal’s Kitchens of the Great Midwest. It was brilliant and generous and moving in all the best ways. In the factual world, I loved Ed Caesar’s Two Hours, about Kenyan runners, the likes of which I have been wanting to see for a long time. In it he delves into not just the technical side of East Africa’s running boom, but also the rich, complicated, compelling stories behind the runners themselves.