Just quick note to say that as of this week, you’ll find me in Minneapolis, in the shadow of the Mall of America. And while I’ll miss Madison’s Squirrel Diorama, its Brat Fest, working for Madison Magazine and a few other things about the Badger State, it also feels great to be a in new place full of lutefisk and lakes. (Not to mention some fine Somali, Laotian and Mexican food.)
From “What we Loved,” over at World Hum: I was passing through the Brussels airport this week when I saw a copy of Dave Eggers’ book What is the What? It’s the story of Valentino Achak Deng’s life in Sudan’s civil war and beyond. I’d been avoiding this book, partly because a friend told me it was boring. But on the recommendation of Doreen Baingana, who I met in Entebbe, I picked up a copy, started reading and haven’t stopped. I really didn’t want to like this book, because it seemed like one of those quasi-celebrity-vanity-charity projects that I hate. But I have to admit, I was wrong. It’s wonderful, transporting and brilliant.
I just got back from Uganda, a fantastic country with lots of energy and great people, where I was working on a story. Here are a few highlights:
Second best newspaper story: Economy Grows 9% (New Vision)
Best Book title: The Stains of Love…Sometimes Too Much Love Hurts.
Best Foods: malakwang, boo, chicken in sauce, matoke, beef in g-nut sauce.
Best Billboard: “Would you let this man be with your teenage daughter? Then why are you with his? Intergenerational sex stops with you.”
Most Euphoric Moment: Uganda’s third goal against Angola in world cup qualifying match.
Least Euphoric Moment: Pocket picked at same match.
Best Sign: See above. At same number you can also get “Brain Booster” “Hips Gain ” “Bum Gain” and other benefits, all with no side effects.
Other best newspaper story: Bush’s Secret Plan to Bonk Germany Chancellor Revealed. (The Onion-not the ironic one.)
Bryan Mealer wrote a fantastic book about the war in Congo called All Things Must Fight To Live: Stories of War and Deliverance in Congo. It talks about his reporting on the war, and the 1077-mile trip he took up the river. In another journey in the book, Mealer also rode an old train across the south on the country’s ailing railway system. It’s a great read about an important part of the world, and the worst conflict of our era–far worse than Iraq or Afghanistan. I did an interview with Mealer for World Hum.
Not far from the Mainland Hotel in Lagos, Nigeria, while I was working on getting to the bottom of the magical penis theft question, my taxi was stopped by some “police.” Not the kind who get cats out of trees and help old ladies across the street. Here’s what happened:
That afternoon, I got a taxi and headed back to my hotel. Traffic was heavy, and it took a long time for us to get off Lagos Island, but the driver finally headed over the bridge and we reached the mainland.
After we crossed the bridge, we came to an area full of buses and flanked by a cadre of machine gun-toting police standing around. They waved our car over to the side. A big man with no uniform and a deadly-cold look on his face stuck his head in my window: an Area Boy, working with the police.
“Where were you walking?” he asked. Apparently, he’d seen me several days before when I’d walked past this place on my way into town.
“What do you mean?” I asked
“I saw you walking here, this way.” He pointed the down the street from where we’d come.
“Where’s your passport.”
“I don’t have it.” I lied.
“Don’t have it? Okay. Out of the car.”
I got out of the car. People were staring. The police watched with interest.
“What’s in your bag,” he asked.
“Nothing,” I lied again. I had all my papers, some books and $200 I had just changed to Naira. There was no way I was going to open my bag for him.
“Let me see.”
“No,” I said. “Look, I can just walk back to my hotel.” I pointed down the road to where I could see the building
He stepped in front of me and pulled a gun out of his belt.
“Get in the car.”
He went back to talk to with the other Area Boys. While he was gone I reached in and shoved the money to the very bottom of the bag. Just then a policeman in a bulletproof vest came over.
“What’s in your bag?”
“Nothing,” I opened it and showed him. “Just books.
The policeman left, but I could see the Area Boy coming back. The taxi driver turned to me. “Just give him some little money.”
I pulled out 500 Naira.
“No! No! Not 500! Just 200.”
I put the N500 back and the driver quickly handed me N200. The Area Boy stuck his head back in my window.
“Let me see in your bag.”
This time I showed him the papers and books.
“Why didn’t you show me before?”
“I was just nervous,” I said,
I handed him the N200. He took it, and looked around suspiciously, as if no one knew what he was doing. Then stepped back from the car and waved us on.
“Now,” the driver said, turning to me. “Give me that 500.”
For those of you who missed it, a few weeks back there was a major outbreak of penis theft in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in which 13 people were arrested for the crime. It’s a place that, to my knowledge, one’s manhood had previously been perfectly safe. As I wrote about in my story on it, magical penis loss has occurred as far away as China, Thailand, Singapore and India. There was even an outbreak of “penis-melting Zionist robot combs” in the Sudan and a few isolated incidents among drug users in the West (“Whoa, dude!”) which don’t seem to spread. But Congo, as far as the research goes, is new territory. It even made The Daily Show.