War and Deliverance in Congo

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.


Nigerian Checkpoint: The Pacification of Area Boy

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.

“Just around.”

“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.”

Penis Theft in DRC

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.

Holy Foreskin, Batman!

In a post over at World Hum, Jim Benning kindly pointed out a few other penis-related projects. David Farley, a great travel writer out of New York, is hard at work on a book about the strange case of the holy foreskin in Italy, a relic that is exactly what it sounds like. He wrote a great piece about it for Slate. Meanwhile, Tony Perrotett has been looking into the history of Napolean’s Privates. Seems like a trend.

Ngugi, Starbucks and speaking of tongues: An Interview

I was sitting across the table from Ngugi wa Thiongo in a crowded cafeteria when his son, Mukoma came up with his father’s cup of coffee. Ngugi looked at the cup, then at Mukoma.

“Is this Starbucks?” he asked.

“Ah…no,” said Mukoma, who seemed surprised. “It said ‘Peruvian medium roast.'”

“I want Starbucks.” Ngugi said. “I want the real thing!” Then he turned to me, as if to explain, and said, “I like Starbucks.”

He took a sip, shrugged, and decided Peruvian medium roast was okay. We got on with our interview, in which the author of Wizard of the Crow and Decolonising the Mind talks about the audience in Africa, what you owe your language, and the Damocles sword on the imagination. You can read it in the current issue of The Africa Report, or download a copy here.

Too Much Information

Sometime around 1993, I read an amazing essay by David Quammen. It was called “Thinking about Earthworms” and in it, Quammen talks about something that’s always in the back of my mind, something that has gotten, if anything, worse. I finally got a chance to write about this in a piece for the new Poets & Writers called Way, Way Too Much Information. Quammen’s essay isn’t available online, but you can get it either in Out of the Noosphere: The Best of Outside Magazine (a fantastic collection) or in Quammen’s own Flight of the Iguana.