- “Josephine, who cooked every day for the Taylor soldiers who raped her,” and
- “a terrified Mary Warner [who] strapped her four-year-old son on her back and ran from place to place, finally pressed up against a gate outside the United Nations compound, desperately seeking shelter,” and
- Louise Yarsiah, who was leading a group of women in prayers for peace when Charles Taylor’s security chief showed up. Yeaten’s soldiers drew their guns, and Yarsiah’s women kept praying. Ultimately, the soldiers stood down.
Salaam, from Busia to Kampala, from Maceió to Recife), and Andrew’s vivid descriptions took me back to my own bus rides. I remember riding a matatu in rural western Kenya: When the bus got a flat tire, there was no jack, so the conductor asked all the male passengers to lift the minibus while he and the driver changed the tire. Evans writes: “To travel is to know the unfairness of the world, time and time again.” It’s true, and yet traveling by bus also — for a brief period — brings people from a wide range of social groups into contact. Evans spins that into a compelling, moving narrative. I wouldn’t miss this travel memoir.
…you’re voting on the next book, and you get into a debate over whether you should choose the winner based on first-past-the-post, instant-runoff, or the Borda count. All this despite Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem telling us that no tallying system will be perfect.
Did I say too many economists? I meant just the right number.
Some years ago, I was evaluating an education program in The Gambia (read the evaluation here), soon after the government had outlawed corporal punishment in schools. We included a question about it in the evaluation and learned that there was a gap between legislation and practice, which the government then sought to resolve.
Of course, controversy over corporal punishment in schools isn’t new, but I was surprised to see it debated in Noli me tangere, the 1887 novel by Filipino writer José Rizal. A frustrated schoolteacher recounts that after reading several books, his views changed:
Lashings, for example, which since time immemorial had been the province of schools and which before I had seen as the only effective way to make children learn (that is how they have accustomed us to believe), began to seem far removed from contributing to a child’s progress, completely useless. I became convinced that when one keeps the switch or the rod in view reasoning is impossible… I began to think that the best thing I could do for these children was to develop confidence, security, and self-esteem.
So he eliminates corporal punishment.
Little by little I held back the switch. I took the whips home and replaced them with emulation and belief in oneself.
Like any good experimenter, he evaluated short and medium run impacts.
In the beginning it seemed as though my method was impractical: a lot of them stopped studying altogether. But I pressed on, and I noticed that little by little their spirits rose. More students attended class, and more often. And when one day one was praised in front of everyone, the following day he learned twice as much.
But the local priest and the parents didn’t buy it and demanded he return to the traditional system.
I had to renounce a system that after a great deal of effort had begun to bear fruit.
Poor guy, but I imagine there are a number of reformers today who can feel his pain.
The quotes are from Harold Augenbraum’s translation of the book.
On a recent road trip, my wife and I read aloud Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s new book Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, a collection of advice to Adichie’s childhood friend on how to raise her young daughter as a feminist.
This is a small book — just 63 pages — but don’t confuse it with Adichie’s OTHER small book on feminism, the 2014 We Should All Be Feminists, which was based on a public talk of the same name. The first book is the what (be feminist!) and the second book is the how (15 suggestions!).
This is a readable, thought- and discussion-provoking collection. Each suggestion is followed by a few pages of discussion, which is where the richness lies. Suggestion #6, for example, is “Teach her to question language. Language is the repository of our prejudices, our beliefs, our assumptions.” But here’s how that plays out concretely in the discussion: “Teach her that if you criticize X in women but do not criticize X in men, then you do not have a problem with X, you have a problem with women. For X please insert words like ‘anger,’ ‘ambition,’ ‘loudness,'” etc.
Here’s another: Suggestion #4 is “Beware the danger of what I call Feminism Lite,” which is the idea of “conditional female equality,” which gives rise to ideas like “men are naturally superior but should be expected to ‘treat women well.’ No. No. No. There must be more than male benevolence as the basis for a woman’s well-being.” Yes! Yes! Yes!
I didn’t agree with every idea, but each was well argued such that I couldn’t dismiss it without careful consideration.
Obviously I could just quote the whole book. But I won’t. Go read it yourself. It won’t take you long, but you’ll be thinking about it long after, and — if you’re like me — encouraging others to do the same.
Fun fact: The book describes some sexist attitudes in order to combat them. Our 12-year-old son — listening to snatches from the backseat — commented that the book sounded pretty sexist to him. Correct on the passage but not on the book as a whole, son: Context!
Kwei Quartey writes mysteries that give a window into current Ghanaian social issues. Some authors with African ties — Quartey was born in Ghana and grew up between Ghana and the US — cringe at the assumption that they are writing “ethnographic texts dolled up as literary fiction,” as Taiye Selasi put it. Quartey — to the contrary — embraces that role in his crime novels: His first book with detective Darko Dawson of the Ghana Police Service explored polygamy and traditional religion, his second dealt with street kids, his third was set in the oil industry, and — in Dawson’s fourth outing — we come to the gold mining industry in Gold of Our Fathers.
Dawson is a highly capable detective. He’s not corrupt. He’s faithful to his wife. (He almost cheated in the last book, but he just couldn’t do it!) He occasionally smokes pot but he’s trying to kick the habit, with broad success. He’s so capable that at the beginning of this book, he is transferred far from the capital, Accra, to fill in for a deceased officer in Obuasi, a rural gold-mining district in central-southern Ghana. As soon as he arrives a Chinese immigrant miner is found murdered. Dawson is on the job!
My favorite Darko Dawson novel is the second, Children of the Street. This one, by contrast, felt like two novels in the one. The second half is captivating. The first half is paced very slowly (it took me weeks to work my way through) and has far too much language that sounds like “teaching Westerners about Ghana,” as in this exchange:
“How far, boss?” the sergeant asked, slang for “How goes it.”
or this one
Dawson: “I’m broke—can you mobile me a little cash?”
Dawson’s wife Christine: “Okay—I’ll send what I can by MTN Money.”
Presumably Dawson knows how he and his wife send money and she wouldn’t clarify. There are many other examples.
I’ve never been to Ghana, and maybe this won’t bother you if you haven’t either, but I prefer the unapologetically immersive style that lets readers catch up on local culture rather than bringing them along by the hand.
If you haven’t read Darko Dawson, start with the first or second book. This book is a great ride if you don’t mind waiting a while to get to it.