September 2013 Reading List: Back to School Edition

Monday, September 30, 2013

'Rithmetic: This month, some Syrian rebels got high-tech in their efforts to target regime forces. (Photo source)
Summer's over, and it's back to the grind. As a result, I read less this month than most—and wasted several valuable minutes of reading (and many brain cells) suffering through Vladimir Putin's craptastic letter to the American people. (No link—I'm sparing you.) Nonetheless, I came across a few pieces worth sharing:

The Weirdest Things About America (Aniruddh Chaturvedi, Business Insider)
In the Tocquevillian tradition, a young Indian shares his thoughts on two years in America. I find such perspectives refreshing; they help me to recognize—and reflect on—the peculiar things about my homeland that I otherwise forget are so peculiar.

By Fire (Tahar Ben Jelloun, The New Yorker)
The genesis of celebrated Tunisian fruitseller Mohamed Bouazizi's desperation, in a fictional first-person account, as told by one of North Africa's modern literary giants.

‘It’s nice and all, but please quit telling me to be safe.’ (Austin Tice, Washington Post)
An American war reporter finally writes home to explain why he traveled to Syria, why he's staying, and why he doesn't care whether you approve or not.

Mission Congo: How Pat Robertson Raised Millions on the Back of a Non-Existent Aid Project (Chris McGreal, The Guardian)
Kudos to the filmmakers who have exposed this most despicable of scandals.

The Lost Boy of Restoration Island (Kent Russell, The New Republic)
For reasons I can't explain, I've spent a good part of the month pondering this piece, a dispatch from the outskirts of Australia. It's a vivid visit to the home of a castaway pushed—for what become obvious reasons—to the ends of the earth.

Saving Humanitarian Intervention From Itself (Blair Glencorse and Charles Landow, Foreign Policy)
Rethinking the 'Responsibility to Protect', and considering an enlightened alternative.

Brooklyn Bodega, Syrian Soul (Gary Sullivan, Roads & Kingdoms)
Tracing the remnants of "Little Syria" in the Big Apple.

China Finds Resistance to Oil Deals in Africa (Adam Nossiter, The New York Times)
A fascinating trend that, if it picks up, could have big implications for African nations' economic development and foreign relations.

Nairobi Westgate Mall Terror Attack, And The Folly Of ‘Otherness’ – What Al-Shabaab Revealed About Us (Charles Onyango-Obbo, naked chiefs)
A Ugandan journalist in Nairobi critiques narratives around the Westgate Mall attack.

The Secret Language Of Cairo's Jewelry Merchants (Jacky Hugi, Al Monitor)
It's no surprise that these merchants are using a secret code to keep customers in the dark, but who would have guessed that it would be ancient Hebrew?

New Passport | Passeport Nouveau | Nuevo Pasaporte

Friday, September 13, 2013


After filling up my first passport six years ago, I've had a nice run with my second. Ragged blue booklet in hand, I've explored many wonderful places, visited many old friends, and met many new ones. But now it too is full; out with the old, in with the new.

Here's to more safe, challenging, and rewarding travels!

Nairobi to Doha, the Long Way Around

Monday, September 2, 2013 | Doha, Qatar (map)

So close, yet so far: Migrant workers take in downtown Doha from across the harbor.
Thanks to a reservation glitch at the Tribe Hotel in Nairobi—and a pleasantly accommodating reception clerk—Rebecca and I spent the final days of our vacation in the hotel's two-story, no-expenses-spared Penthouse suite. And just think, only a few hours before arriving there we had been traipsing through donkey droppings in Lamu!

Lacking mega-malls back in our respective homes, we spent much of our time in Nairobi stocking up on housewares and other amenities at the nearby Village Market mall, a gleaming monument to Kenya's massive income gap.

On our final morning, we packed our bags, had breakfast, and were preparing to head to the airport when a friend texted Rebecca: "Nairobi airport is on fire." We switched on the TV and, sure enough, Jomo Kenyatta International, East Africa's principal transport hub and our way home, was en fuego as promised. Eventually we would learn that a perfect storm of poor maintenance, staff incompetence, and management's decisions to forego forego necessary safety equipment and