Monday, February 22, 2010

Tears of the Desert

Some stories carry the power to grab attention and move people to action. Halima Bashir, in Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival in Darfur, entices the reader into the heart of her village life where family is everything, where eating alone is considered worse than death. We’re with her through her “cutting time” (female circumcision)—a wrenching, inerasable scene—and as she confronts many hurdles to get an education and later become a physician.

Darfur becomes engulfed in war. One day Dr. Bashir treats forty young schoolgirls who were gang- raped by the Janjaweed. Their injuries are so severe she must stitch them without anesthesia to prevent them from bleeding to death. After recounting the horrific incident to foreigners, she herself is beaten and raped. Bashir is a tough woman, but caught up in an unspeakably brutal situation.

For years I’ve heard about the mind-boggling statistics of death and destruction in Darfur. I even got modestly involved in efforts to put international pressure to stop the violence there through But still, reading her story moved me like nothing before. How can I read this, I asked myself, and not try to do something, do something to help the people there?

That is the power of story.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Themes that Resonate

I love books for their characters and story. But they truly carve a place in my heart when their themes resonate with me and make me think. That is what gives a novel depth. I am a lover of themes!

In particular I’m keen on themes that make me reflect not only on the world as it is, but on the way it could be. For example, The People of Sparks (2004- Jeanne DuPrau, Book 2 of the Ember series) is an endearing children’s novel of a girl and boy caught up in a deteriorating conflict between their people and the people of the city to which they have fled. The characters are memorable and the story is engaging. But its depth is achieved through exploring the themes of understanding, mistrust and hatred. The main characters Lina and Doon act in a dangerous situation with the simple but profound solution of helping rather than hating. Their actions completely transform the situation in Sparks.

Children reading the book witness a wonderful model for dealing with inflamed group emotions. “Helping rather than hating” is a theme that resonates deep in the heart.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

To Choose or Not to Choose?

For a long time I felt I had to choose—because of time constraints—between all my passions in life. Wasn’t I really diluting my time and energy by working for both peaceful and environmentally sustainable communities? But I could never choose one over the other. Both issues have existed in some form or another over my entire life, even as the specific groups I worked with have changed.

I also have two careers, writing (now) and teaching (before). I wished there was some way I could do it all. Or better yet, combine them all.

Now that is my current plan—to merge them all! I want to let the vision of peaceful and sustainable communities both ground and inspire my writing and teaching. I want my recognition of the power of story to enrich my volunteer work in the fields of peace-building and environmental activism.

Will it work? That is the question.