Saturday, September 8, 2012

In My Father's Country by Saima Wahab

Once again, prompted to get a book based on an interview on The Daily Show ( Jon Stewart hasn't steered me wrong yet.

Saima was just a little girl in Afghanistan when the Russians were invading. She survived a bomb dropping on the room where she was sleeping, being hit by a bus, and being a woman in Afghanistan. Based on the book, she's an anomaly. Her dad was very progressive, so much so he had a radio show to encourage others to rebel. He was taken by the KGB and never returned. From there, the family went to the grandfather's village. The grandfather, or Baba, was another progressive soul who refused to treat the granddaughters in the fashion that other Afghan women were treated. The kids were sent on to America (Portland, OR) to live with uncles when they were young.

Saima obviously has a forceful personality, by her own admission, but she puts it to good use. Wanting to re-discover her father's country for herself, she signs up for a deployment with the US Army to be an interpreter. She then moves on to another job, still deployed in Afghanistan, still helping bridge the gap between the American soldiers and the Afghan people.

The way women are treated is heartbreaking. But it's encouraging that not all parents, not all families, treat the women this way. Saima had a great family that knew she was destined for greater things (When a son is born, fathers go out into the street to shoot guns. When Saima was born, her father went out and shot his gun. He thought she was going to do more than many sons.).

I got some interesting insight into a culture I just don't understand and also more empathy for the soldiers deployed over in a foreign land.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost

Plucked from, this was a book? Let's call it a travel book. Non-fiction, this details Troost and his girlfriend, Sylvia's desire to just do something, get away and escape reality. Only in their 20s, going to a war-torn, desolate area for humanity work sounded good to them. Cue Tarawa.

I will admit I have never heard of Tarawa, let alone be able to point to it on the map. It's on the equator, which means it's HOT! (as Troost mentions many times) and it's a small little island that barely has a functioning plane, a runway where children and pigs play, no electricity, no running water and no discernible way to get rid of waste.

It's clearly not the island paradise Troost and Sylvia were expecting. But they stayed for 2 years while Sylvia worked to educate and help the natives. This is truly a book of misadventures as the city folk get used to life on a remote island (where dog-eat-dog has a whole new meaning and fish is your meal for every meal for years). There were many many laugh out loud moments and just as many moments where I found I was just smiling, which probably confused other drivers who passed me.

Yes, it's a travel book, but you get schooled in Tarawa history. I felt a little abashed that I didn't even know battles had been fought there, with many lives lost. Troost wasn't condescending but obviously felt that Americans should know this history, and he's right.

I would recommend listening to this book because the narrator, Simon Vance, did a wonderful job.

Aside: the title is a bit misleading although the history of the island is discussed and there are cannibals involved and apparently a close island to Tarawa is known for oral so misleading?