As 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 this 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.
The Tuareg remake of Purple Rain. More here.
The girls were alone. Their families were dead, or gone, or lost in the broken landscape of southern Sudan. They had nowhere to turn, and no one to turn to. Some lived in the market, others in the cemetery.
When Cathy Groenendijk saw them, she couldn’t help herself. She offered them tea, then some food, then a place to sleep in her guesthouse.
“In the morning, we would sit together and talk about what had happened the night before,” Groenendijk remembers. “And what I heard I could not believe. I could not believe it.”
Recommended: Think you know Africa? Take our geography quiz.
One girl’s father had died, and after the funeral, she never saw her mother again. She was living on the streets with some other kids when four men started chasing them. The other girls were faster. She fell behind and was caught and raped by all four men. Groenendijk knew a doctor who repaired the physical damage, saving her life.
Another three girls, ages eight, six, and one, lived with their mother, but they all slept in the open. Groenendijk helped them build a tarped shelter, but the hot sun ate it away. One night, a man snuck in and tried to assault one of the girls. After that, Groenendijk let them sleep on her veranda.
Wonderful video from Reported.ly:
From The Rotarian:
A few years ago, I was passing through the northern Nigerian city of Kano when I stopped at a roadside stall for some tea. The proprietor asked me where I was from. I told him.
“I want to go to America!” he told me, smiling. “We are just suffering here in Nigeria. If I go to America, I will not come back to Nigeria again.”
“Not even to see your mother?” I asked.
He laughed. “I will send her some money.”
I thanked him and drank my tea. After I left, I wondered if he was serious or just talking.
As I traveled through the region, I met several people headed north, on their way to Europe. It was a difficult and dangerous journey that tens of thousands of people set out on each year, many of them never reaching their destination. I often marveled at the confidence a person must have to embark on a trip like that, to leave everything behind, to be certain of somehow making it.
Like most people, I’d always assumed these travelers were the most poverty-stricken, the most hopeless. But now I can see that this isn’t the case – at least not entirely. Often, the people who leave their villages are the brightest and most ambitious ones, the ones with the biggest dreams. As one poet from Cameroun wrote after arriving in Spain, “No money in the pockets/But hope in the heart.” Hope, as much as anything else, drives them.
Hope may be our most important asset as a species. Hope is the thing that drew us out of our caves and around the world. Hope is what gets us out of bed in the morning. Hope lets us imagine our lives as more than they are. Yet when we talk about hope, we usually mean the vague feeling that things will get better. But that is not hope.
From The Rotarian:
Mara Egherman, a college librarian, was sitting at her desk when she saw an email pop up: Ryan Ahmad, a Muslim exchange student in Iowa from the Philippines, needed a place to stay. There had been trouble at his school, and he’d been beaten up by a fellow exchange student.
Egherman flashed back to her 16-year-old self, alone in a foreign country. “I knew I had to take this kid in,” she says. As a high school student, Egherman had applied for an exchange program in South Africa. But after arriving in Johannesburg in 1982, she discovered that her host family had racial notions that dovetailed with those of the apartheid regime. Egherman was forbidden from speaking to the help. The family considered Nelson Mandela (then still in prison) a terrorist. And they kept a cache of weapons in a closet for protection. For a teenager from the Midwest, this was disorienting – and eye-opening. Egherman saw people being treated in ways she’d never imagined.
Yet at school, she made lifelong friends, one of whom invited her home for the last few months of her exchange. Egherman’s new family couldn’t have been more different, with three sisters and lots of laughter. Because that friend reached out to Egherman, her exchange experience was a positive one. She came home a changed person, with an enhanced ability to imagine the lives of people in other places. That was the whole reason she’d signed up to go abroad.
After seven years on Facebook and Twitter, it’s increasingly clear that they fill a need without satisfying it, and that time is too short and there’s too much to do.