My Mom occasionally buys me books that she thinks I will like. She has bought me about ten books in the past couple of years, and all ten books were far from my usual reading selection. I try my best to have a diverse reading list, but my Mom is in a league of her own when it comes to getting me out of my comfort zone. The most recent example of her eclectic curation came from the book – What is the What by David Eggers. What is the What is a nonfiction book written as a fiction book…yes I did say my Mom expanded my horizons. It is technically a piece of fiction because it is the story of Valentino Achak Deng – one of the lost boys of the Sudanese war during the 1980s. Valentino was a child when the war occurred, and hence his first memories are not 100% accurate – but doesn’t take away from the real nightmare that made up the first two decades of his life.
When Valentino was seven, his peaceful life in the southern region of Sudan turned upside down when war broke out. The war was between the SPLA, who wanted an independent South Sudan, and the government of Sudan who wished to maintain control over the area. Southern Sudan was primarily Christian while the political north was primarily Muslim. The Islamic government wanted to bring an Islamic state to the south, and the SPLA wanted to maintain its unique Afro-Christian identity. The conflict has been known to posterity as the Second Sudanese Civil War which began in 1987 and ended in 2005. During that time, two million people were killed – almost three and half times more people that died in the American Civil War – and thousands of children were left orphaned to fend for themselves.
A large portion of those children were boys who were too young to enter into the SPLA and fled their homes to escape the conflict. Valentino was one of 20,000 lost boys who marched from South Sudan to safe havens like Ethiopia and Kenya. The boys walked to these places many times in small groups and had to endure starvation, government attack, and even predatory animals. Valentino witnessed his friends being dragged into the jungle by lions, shot by overhead helicopters, and eaten by parasitic flies after dropping dead from exhaustion. The walk he took consisted of hundreds of miles and months of toil – on several occasions, he laid on the ground for hours unable to move from extreme malnutrition and infection.
Valentino was able to obtain some semblance of life at a Kenyan refugee camp that was funded by the United Nations. He lived in the camp for several years until the US allowed several Lost Boys to resettle in the states. While in the States he met Dave Eggers who recorded his story and wrote the book What is the What. Through funds of the book, Valentino started his own foundation to support education in Southern Sudan. South Sudan won its independence in 2011 but is still in conflict with various internal organizations – it is one of the most depressed countries on earth. I had no idea the turmoil in Sudan until reading this book, and it has ignited in me a desire to learn more about Africa in general. Oftentimes, we get consumed with our own interests that we miss seminal events around the world. All these things impact us, and we must continue to learn and help those who are suffering. Refugees need help more than ever, and we need to seek practical policies which benefit not only the “lost” but also the countries who take the “lost” in as citizens. Thanks, Mom, for expanding my horizon, and I always appreciate your eclectic tastes – I never thought I would be mentioning your name with South Sudan. Expand your world…I am continuing my expansion by reading a book that is far from my comfort zone – Emma by Jane Austen.
Here are 9 out of the next 15 books that I will begin in June:
William Makepeace Thackeray
“The” Wet Belly
It was the best of times and the worst of times. Last week Tuesday, I was having the best of days. The sun was out, the weather was pleasant, the leaves were colorful, my wife was looking sexy, and my pants were feeling loose. It was one of those Tuesdays when you almost think it’s a Friday. Feeling on top of the world, I decided to take Max, my single-minded Chihuahua, for his most favorite activity in the world – a walk in the park. Max was running through an open field full of grass, leaves, trees, sunshine, groundhogs, and the occasional cluster of white-dog poop. Being in a state of complete relaxation I didn’t notice when my pea-brain dog began to rub his neck in some putrid-smelling substance that was either a dead animal or a concentrated pocket of mud that had been overly exposed to Flint-river water. Whatever the source of the stench, I did not discover it until I came home and bent down to take off his leash. His neck smelled like a trashcan that had been sitting out in the hot sun after a pouring rain – wet, thick, and unbearable. I immediately took him to the shower and began to use the best treatment I had – Head and Shoulders Anti Dandruff Shampoo. Max was all about the shampoo and I think he may have done the stinky neck thing on purpose just to get the extra neck massage. He looked like a wet rat after the soak and I wrapped him tightly in a towel and rubbed his whole body until his fur was barley wet. He bolted out the bathroom door and jumped onto the couch like a crackhead during a bad trip –rubbing his body at random all over the cushions. This was approximately at 5:00 pm.
Around 8:00 pm I was watching TV and heard Max enter the bathroom. This did not bring me much thought because being a Chihuahua, Max is always ADHD and running around the house. I had just used the bathroom and I thought it normal that he was smelling around to access the damage. I heard a faint noise in the bathroom but took it as him trying to get into the trash for some yummy Q-Tips – nothing out of the norm. At about 8:10 I walked into the living room to give my sexy wife a big kiss and to tell her how amazing she was – again nothing out of the norm. But then, Christina looks over and there are water spots on the couch. At first we thought Max must have peed and we commence a frantic, grab-the-dog-and-throw-him-outside maneuver. Upon grabbing the spindly dog I felt his belly and it was completely wet. I lifted the animal to my nose and performed a thorough smelling – my sense of smell, being a sensitive-introvert, is above average. The liquid was not urine but rather water. I then noticed that the top of the couch, where Max usually sits, was completely soaked in water. I used five large paper towels to soak up the liquid and it again was odorless without any color. This was extremely odd, Max had a wet belly, he dripped water on the couch and his normal sitting area was drenched. We thought this was the extent of the wet-belly fiasco but then Christina, beginning to do her homework again, noticed water on the keyboard. As soon as she touched the keyboard the screen went black. This began a two hour ordeal of Christina going full-out Filipina and me trying to use my limited computer skills to perform a miracle. By 10:00 pm the computer was still not turning on, my Friday-like Tuesday was now a post vacation Monday, and I felt like returning Max back to the Humane Society. In the end we had to pay 400 dollars for a new laptop but thankfully Christina’s work was still safe in the hard drive.
Signs of Guilt
To this day I have no idea how Max got his wet belly. Did he get into the water dish, the toilet, the post-shower tub? Did his bladder somehow expand to the size of a grown man? I have lost my mind trying to figure out the mystery of the wet belly. Max and I are on tenuous terms and I don’t know if I can ever again trust him around my laptop. What do you think is the riddle of the wet belly? What caused my Chihuahua to turn into a wet burrito? Why do I have a Chihuahua in the first place? All questions that need to be answered. Yet another life-lesson learned from Max – when you have a brain the size of pea you are apt to have a wet bellow at any moment.
Max, our pea-brain chihuahua, has been a member of our family for almost two months now. I wrote about Max in a earlier post and since then our friendship has grown significantly. Initially, I saw our friendship as one sided-being that I fed and loved the dog on a regularly basis. But over time, Max has returned the favor by teaching me a key life lesson-contentment. It is hard to be content in this world that always tells us we need “more.” Max has a very simple life and for all intents and purposes seems quite happy. He is either in a complete state of relaxation on the couch or in a complete state of ecstasy while eating-especially when its tortilla chips. From my observations he never thinks about anything except what is happening right in the present moment. If he is on the couch, he owns that couch. If he is on a walk, he doesn’t even know the couch exists. Max is a master at being present. Now, this may be because his tiny brain can’t handle too much thought but nevertheless it is a skill that I am learning from my new friend. At any given moment I am trying to get somewhere, do something, or thinking about the future. It is rare that I am actually a witness of the present and fully taking in my surroundings.
When Max eats a tortilla chip, his one neuron must be overwhelmed by all its intricate details-the saltiness, the crunchiness, the deliciousness, the sheer heaven that is fried corn. When I eat a tortilla chip I usually am not thinking about the chip but rather how fat I will feel after eating the whole bag and whether it is weird to be eating them while taking a shower. When Max goes on walks it is like he is running through a field filled with magical grass and hypnotic trees. When I take a walk, I am thinking about tomorrow’s schedule and questioning whether or not I had pooped that day. My point being, Max is content and I am not. If I were content I would take in each moment and not feel the need to have “more.” I wouldn’t be constantly worrying about the future or trying to upgrade my material possessions. I would be happier and more at peace because all I would need would be the present moment. The next time you eat a tortilla chip, try not to think about anything else, use your “Chihuahua Super Powers” of thoughtlessness. Take a bite and see how much better it tastes. It may be the first time that you have ever consciously tasted something. Who would have thought that my dog, who I thought would never teach me anything, is now helping me see the world in a better way? Thanks Max for your limited mental capabilities, they are helping me to find greater contentment.
Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.
One of the top things on my bucket list is to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT). The AT is 2,200 miles and stretches from Georgia all the way to Maine. The trail was completed in 1937 and is maintained by hundreds of volunteer clubs. Each year, over 2 million people hike the trail at least 0ne day and over 2,400 complete a thru-hike of the 2,200 miles. A thru-hike is extremely difficult-those who attempt this endeavor take an average of 6 months to complete the expanse and 75% will fail in their pursuit. If you can’t get 6 months off from work then there is the option of section hiking the AT-this officially counts as completing the entire trail and can be completed over a lifetime. My goal is to section hike the trail over a 3 year period. I think one-month stretches twice a year during the best times for hiking would make the trip much more enjoyable. My ultimate goal is to hike the AT along with the Continental Divide Trail (3,100) which runs through the Rockies and the Pacific Crest Trail (2,600 miles) which runs through the west coast.
So the question is why would anyone want to hike over 8,000 miles of wilderness? What is the point? It is a hard question to answer because in a sense it requires one to describe an instinctual urge. I feel better in the woods. I feel more happiness in the woods. I feel alive in the woods. The woods bring me into nature in the most intense way because they encompass every sense: the sight of trees, the songs of birds, the smell of fresh air, the texture of trail beneath my feet. In addition to the surrounding nature, the act of hiking is the most relaxing and pleasant activity. Hiking is the foundation of mankind’s physical prowess. We walked across continents and spread throughout the entire world with our ability to hike. When I’m hiking in the woods my mind is in a proverbial hot tub of relaxation. Moving through the woods tangibly connects me to the earth and to the ancestral urge to explore. Contrast all these feelings with the unnatural state of everyday life: driving in a climate controlled vehicle, staring into a computer screen, shopping at Walmart, watching TV commercials, etc.
I think most of you who are reading this agree with me about the awesomeness of hiking. However, I still haven’t justified why I want to hike 2,200+ miles while carrying a backpack and sleeping in a tent. Backpacking is a humbling experience because you can only carry so much stuff and what stuff you do pack becomes quite heavy overtime. It is the antithesis of our consumer culture where we accumulate tons of stuff but never really feel the environmental impact of our consumption. This antithesis attracts me to backpacking and my minimalist lifestyle delights in carrying only the most essential. So what is the point of hiking all those miles? The point for me is to push myself and see what I am capable of. God has blessed me with great health and I want to utilize those blessings to the fullest. This logic runs parallel to my proclivities for reading and writing-I don’t want my talents to be wasted so I regularly do both of them. We all have goals but unfortunately many of them are misaligned. I want to get a promotion. I want a new car. I want an extra 20,000 a year in salary. I want a remodeled kitchen. I want bigger biceps. Humans need goals and we like to conquer those goals. That is why I want to hike all these miles. It is a challenge that brings me closest to my naturally aligned physical and mental state. What do you think? Would you like to join me?