18 August, 2009

What I'm Reading

Taking a break from the day to day to tell you what I've been reading. There are so many good books in Rwanda, and God has been bringing people into my path who have great recommendations for me. But here is a few of the ones that have caught my attention:

Mountains Beyond Mountains

The story of Paul Farmer, founder of PIH told by someone who has been his friend for years. It started with a random trip to Haiti while in med school that turned into a pursuit to helps those he saw around him. He started a hospital there, splitting his time between Harvard and Haiti. He was an idealistic youth, and caught up those around him with the fervent desire to do something. He is down to earth, practical, and yet, won't be told no or can't. It is a great book on a man who changed (and is continuing to do so) the face and workings of international medicine. Much of what he says can be applied to international development, or inner city ministry, or just caring for one another. One of the best books I've read all year, seriously.

A Thousand Hills

The story of Paul Kagame - president of Rwanda. From his poor beginnings in Rwanda, displacement to Uganda, rise in the RPF, becoming the leader of the force that drove the Interahawme out of Rwanda and ended the genocide in Rwanda, and now President and spearhead of the reconciliation movements in the country. Told from an honest perspective, the book does little to glorify Kagame and instead paints him as a person who, before he knew why, was being taught what he would need to lead Rwanda. Fate was with him multiple times but Kagame moved from one instance to the other as if it was the most natural thing for him to do. An excellent resource on Rwanda and its history - I would consider this to be a must read for anyone coming to the country or interested in knowing more about it.

In The Land of Invisible Women

Not the best book ever written, but it is a fascinating look into the reality for women in Saudi Arabia. When her U.S. visa was not renewed Qanta Ahmed found herself unsure what to do. So she accepted a job at a hospital in Saudi and returned "home." She writes about being a woman brought up in the States (and England) forced to adjust to the burkah, living a veiled life, not being able to go outside without a male relative. The culture of Saudi, as presented by Ahmed, is an odd contradiction, and one that few outside Saudi can understand. I appreciated her willingness to be open about her struggle to readjust and she speaks openly about life under a veil, how it is a male enforced code because at the end of the day they don't want to have to control their desires - so instead of holding men accountable they just hide the women away.

She writes on the secret police in Saudi, going to Mecca on a pilgrimage, having an internet/phone flirtation with another doctor at the hospital, and her struggle to find her place in Islam and the Quran (something she had never taken seriously until arriving home). Interesting even if it is not written well.

Facing The Congo

So this might be one of the weirdest midlife crisis I have ever heard of! Tired of his life in Russia, American Jeffrey Tayler decides to traverse the Congo river in a dugout canoe. With very little knowledge of the Congo Tayler sets out, realizing quickly that he is unprepared and unsure of what is waiting around the next corner. Facing corruption at every turn, bored military with nothing to do, local officials on a power trip he makes his way to the base of the river on a boat run by one of the most powerful men in Congo. With nothing but a letter from the Commander saying he is not to be harmed, and a local guide, Tayler starts his descent back, following the route Stanley took back in the 1800's.

This book is almost comical because of Tayler's stupidity. It has in it some of the same naivete that Christopher McCandless took into Alaska. But instead of forgoing the culture, Tayler finds a way to traverse it. Having been the Congo and living in East Africa the cultural differences Tayler faces in the canoe are humorous because they are East Africa. His guide refuses to paddle until he gets a certain kind of food, there are hidden agendas around every turn, Tayler is constantly offered the worse of the litter at the highest price. And, the most shocking thing is, Tayler avoid destruction and makes it down the river.

I find this book interesting because I wonder what Tayler gained. On a bit of a mission to find myself at the moment I have to ask why we feel the need to do something grandiose to realize what we had was not that bad. A different insight into the Congo, Tayler's book is an entertaining lazy Saturday read.