Congo Sole – BONUS POST

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The Bonus Book of the Week is “Congo Sole, How a Once Barefoot Refugee Delivered HOPE, FAITH, and 20,000 PAIRS OF SHOES” by Emmanuel Ntibonera with Drew W. Menard, published in 2021. This slim paperback volume included no index, and its writing contained occasional grammatical errors throughout. But it was suspenseful.

The oldest of nine surviving children, the author was born in April 1989. He grew up in the city of Bukavu near the Rwandan border, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (hereinafter referred to as “Congo”). Living conditions were primitive. Life-threatening conditions abounded, including malaria, poisonous snakes, bacteria-laden waterways (used for drinking), and jiggers (which burrow under the skin and reproduce; if not removed, they eventually prompt amputation of digits and limbs, but are easily prevented from doing any harm if people wear shoes!).

When the first Congo civil war started in 1996, the family fled on foot many miles to the author’s grandfather’s village in the mountains of Eastern Congo. They did hard manual labor– growing cassava, tending to pigs, and herding cows and goats. If they shot a rabbit with a bow and arrow, they ate it. When the author was about eight years old, he, his father (who was a preacher and small-businessman) and two younger brothers walked back to Bukavu. His father’s dry-goods store had been looted and trashed.

It had been only a few years after the genocide in neighboring Rwanda. Child-soldiers and refugees were still pouring into the Congo, and clashing with rival tribes. In 1997, the regime change in the Congo led to yet more atrocities, including raping of females of all ages. The author and his younger brother had somehow been warned not to be lured into joining the ranks of the child-soldiers. They ran away when recruiters came to call and offered sweets.

While nearly starving to death and suffering many hardships, the author’s family truly believed that petitionary prayer worked for them. At least, people’s outlook improves with petitionary prayer, as it has a placebo effect. People who have a bible that’s falling apart, usually aren’t.

However, one burning question that can’t be answered is: What is the percentage of people for whom petitionary prayer failed (who are unable to triumphantly say that it worked for them) because they died?

Read the book to learn: how the family survived, and about many more details on how the author came to start a foundation (hint: “…for the Congolese children, a pair of shoes was a treasure, not a fleeting status symbol to be discarded for the next trend. It wasn’t about a brand, logo, or label there; it was about protection, vitality. About hope.”)

Gratitude In Low Voices

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The Book of the Week is “Gratitude In Low Voices, A Memoir” by Dawit Gebremichael Habte, published in 2017. According to the book (which appeared to be credible although it lacked an extensive list of detailed sources, and an index), through the decades of the twentieth century, Eritrea suffered the usual traumas of a former colony (of Italy from 1890 to 1941) that was fighting for independence:

  • exploitation of its assets and resources (including dry docks, factories, railway cars by the British, and oil by the British and the Americans in the 1940’s);
  • oppression of its people (by Ethiopia in the 1950’s and 1960’s, via a UN resolution that was violated after a decade);
  • a military draft (by the Ethiopian government in 1983);
  • famine (in 1984);
  • ideology and language of the oppressors forced on students in the schools (by Ethiopians, funded by the Soviets in the mid-1980’s); and
  • arrests of and atrocities committed against, Eritrean people who uttered one word in any form, critical of Ethiopia (beginning in the mid-1980’s).

In 1973 or 1974, the author was born into a typical lifestyle for his time and place. He herded sheep and goats at an early age. By then, the Eritrean independence movement was gaining ground in the form of two armed groups resisting Ethiopian oppression: Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) and Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF). His father joined the former group, and desirous to have his son educated, in the early 1980’s, sent him to school in Asmara.

Through his formative years, the author received an eclectic education. At about nine years old, he became apprenticed to a carpenter. Afraid the generous pay would corrupt him, his mother sent him to study the Bible at Saint George Orthodox Church. There, he learned Tigrinya, the language of his native people. His father went to Saudi Arabia to work, and sent money home. Eventually, his family became refugees from the violence and left Asmara but stayed in Eritrea.

Read the book to learn what transpired when the author wished to gain access to the resources in a library in his neighborhood and later, when he paid a people-smuggler to help him flee for Kenya; and his and Eritrea’s fate.

Burn Rate

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The Book of the Week is “Burn Rate, Launching A Startup and Losing My Mind” by Andy Dunn, published in 2022. Born in February 1979 in the United States, the author won the lottery in that he had family and friends who knew him well enough to recognize that, given his personality, his behavior was anomalous. He was doubly lucky that not only did he get mental-health treatment before he ended up in jail (well, at least on one occasion) or in the cemetery, but also, he could (with assistance from others) afford it.

“… for many, even a ‘chill’ drug like marijuana can stimulate a manic episode.” The author got to college still unaware that bipolar disorder (aka manic-depressive illness) ran in his family; his grandmother had had it. People who actually have the condition suffer under a Damocles sword their whole lives, as their mental state goes through unpredictable cycles, even with medication. Of course, stress exacerbates the highs and lows. The medication has side effects that are meant to dull the emotions, so bipolar patients don’t experience and enjoy life as much as people whose brain chemicals are more stable than theirs.

According to the book (which appeared to be credible although it lacked Notes, Sources, References, or Bibliography and an index), while in college, the author was ingesting alcohol and controlled substances such as ecstasy, magic mushrooms and marijuana on a daily basis, and taking the (radical) acne medication Accutane. Somehow, he graduated anyway, and got his MBA at Stanford. He explained that the professors there educated students in entrepreneurship, if they wanted to go that route. The author did.

After years of interesting ups and downs, in 2016, the author– a lifelong fan of the Chicago Cubs (who had last been World Series winners in 1908)– was afforded the opportunity to see game 7 of the World Series in Cleveland. But first, he had to rush to JFK airport from the streets in the East 50’s in Manhattan, beginning an hour before his plane took off, to get there. His cab driver did 90 MPH. Sympathetic people at the airport made way for him when they heard about his situation.

Read the book to learn of the author’s other trials and tribulations, triumphs and defeats. Speaking of defeats…

This is the song Hillary Clinton is singing now.

IN POST-CLINTON TIME

sung to the tune of “Sunny Afternoon” (Official Audio) with apologies to the Kinks.

My opponents BEAT me the last two times.
Deplorables and BERnie were unkind.
I SOREly miss the Situation Room.
And though I CAN-not be in charge,
I’m not locked up, I’m still at-large.
All I WANT’S in-the Situation Room.

Save me, save me, save me
from bad publicity.
I’ve got lots of enemies.
It’s a VAST right-wing conspiracy.

And I love to hobnob with elites,
brag about my political feats.
I SOREly miss the Situation Room,
in post-Clinton time,
in post-Clinton time,
in post-Clinton time.

Donald Trump’s ruined my rep.
He’s in his safehouse doing ’24 prep,
spewing the usUAL blather and cruelty.
Now I’m here online,
doing the grass-roots, make-work grind.
I SOREly miss the Situation Room.

Help me, help me, help me
revive my ca-reer.
Well, give my Party money
to get me out of here.

‘Cause I love to hobnob with elites,
brag about my political feats.
I sorely miss the Situation Room,
in post-Clinton time,
in post-Clinton time,
in post-Clinton time.

Ah, save me, save me, save me
from bad publicity.
I’ve got lots of enemies.
It’s a VAST right-wing conspiracy.

And I love to hobnob with elites,
brag about my political feats.
I SOREly miss the Situation Room,
in post-Clinton time,
in post-Clinton time,
in post-Clinton time,
in post-Clinton time,
in post-Clinton time.

Those We Throw Away Are Diamonds

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The Book of the Week is “Those We Throw Away Are Diamonds, A Refugee’s Search for Home” by Mondiant Dogon with Jenna Krajeski, published in 2021.

Born in February 1992, the author began his childhood on a cattle ranch in Bikenke, a village in Rwanda. His family was of the Bagogwe tribe, a subcategory of Tutsi. His ancestors had migrated between Rwanda and Zaire (aka Congo; the author was unclear as to which current country– “Democratic Republic of Congo” or “Republic of the Congo”– he and his family lived in and when; so the area will hereinafter be referred to as Congo.).

In the mid-1990’s, the genocide in Rwanda forced the family to flee their Congo home mostly on foot with little more than the clothes on their backs. They had previously lived harmoniously side-by-side with their Hutu neighbors in the Congo. But contagious hatred reared its ugly head. The family hid in a cave, at a school, in the woods and other places prior to trying to stay alive at less dangerous places (i.e., refugee camps).

By spring 1996, the family had finally made its way to a refugee camp in Rwanda, where the Red Cross provided humanitarian assistance. The author and others lived in a tent city on grounds formed by the eruption of the volcano, Nyiragongo. A refugee was shot by a sniper, so the UN moved them to another camp, guarded by the Rwandan Patriotic Army. That did not end well either, as child-soldiers in the terrorist group called Interahamwe killed hundreds of Tutsis with machetes.

In the next several years, the refugees were moved from one camp to another, as life-threatening dangers (mostly from human violence) presented themselves around every corner. They nearly starved to death many, many times, and suffered from malnutrition all the time.

Nevertheless, the author, at eight years old, was finally able to start first grade at school. According to the book (which appeared to be credible although it lacked Notes, Sources, References, or Bibliography and an index), there were no: chalkboard, desks, pens and books. He passionately took to learning, anyway. At recess time, he and his friends also played soccer with a makeshift ball– made with whatever material was at hand. The refugees continued to eat only tiny portions of beans and corn every two or three days.

In 2001, Kabila, the new dictator of the Democratic Republic of Congo, wanted to give the (false) impression that peace had been restored in his country, so he had officials from Kivu go to the region’s refugee camps, including those in Rwanda, and propagandize that refugees could come home and live as they had prior to the unrest.

However, unaware of the full extent of Congo’s then-civil war, the author, his brother and father endured a stressful, multi-day journey via on foot and bus to see whether conditions were sufficiently safe for their family to return to their pre-war property. They were unable to reach their home, but in a village many miles away, the father found work from a Hutu employer who showed no tribal hatreds. For a change. The author resumed attending school and achieved fluency in Swahili, giving him a survival skill when he was confronted by haters. Bullets flew around outside the school from all different rebel groups in Kivu.

Read the book to learn: of the numerous times the author cheated death; the many hardships he suffered; and how he parlayed his passion for school into various positive developments, including receiving recognition from a philanthropist who helped him rise above discrimination against his refugee status.

Maverick

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The Book of the Week is “Maverick, The Personal War of A Vietnam Cobra Pilot” by Dennis J. Marvicsin and Jerold A. Greenfield, published in 1990. Marvicsin nicknamed himself “Maverick.”

Born in 1940 in Mansfield in Ohio, Maverick had a burning desire to become a helicopter pilot. He joined the Navy right out of high school, but after a year and a half, switched to the Army in order to fulfill his dream. In September 1964, he began boot camp in Fort Wolters in Texas, and finished advanced training in Fort Rucker in Alabama.

According to the book (which appeared to be credible although it lacked Notes, Sources, References, or Bibliography and an index), in 1965, Maverick began his first Vietnam-War tour in Vinh Long. The American military base there had comfortable living conditions, and creature comforts such as alcohol and cigarettes. At his periodic reassignments to other locations, he encountered primitive accommodations. He began by flying re-supply missions to ARVN troops and American advisers in the Cam Ranh Bay area before a full military installation was built there.

The American military killed not only the enemy, but also dangerous animals such as tigers, and elephants because they were useful beasts of burden to the enemy. In autumn 1965, when he began flying a Huey helicopter that had the ability to return fire– for the purpose of rescuing the war-wounded– he took to the work like a fish to water. When they answered a typical call for help, he and the three other adrenaline-junkies in his crew rushed to “… the middle of the jungle, miles from the base, but someone had set off a red smoke grenade which meant enemy fire.” A crashed or shot-down chopper might be stuck in the trees with fire all around, and the pilot pinned in the wreckage’s cockpit.

On more than one mission, Maverick got to host a highly-decorated military bigwig. This, in an allegedly aerodynamically improved aircraft (but it had yet to be perfected and was shot down), such as the “…brand new Charlie-Model Huey with the fancy 540 rotor system, and now it’s fancy garbage and it’s on fire…”

Maverick began his second tour in Vietnam in Tay Ninh, a mountainous region where the Viet Cong had made tunnels underground. The Huey helicopter had been replaced by the Cobra, which was easier to maneuver but had its own flaws. Regardless, the traumas of war had caused Maverick to become twice shy about getting emotionally close to his fellow soldiers. He said, “First tour, you make friends and they get blown up or shot down or simply never come back. Second tour, you make no friends.” One of numerous other emotionally troubling aspects of Maverick’s participation in the war was not knowing how long it would be, if ever, before he was released when he was taken as a Prisoner of War.

Read the book to learn of many more episodes of Maverick’s personal experiences in combat, in captivity, and in collecting medals and glory.

Call Me American

The Book of the Week is “Call Me American, A Memoir” by Abdi Nor Iftin with Max Alexander, published in 2018.

“There were more guns in the city than people. There was more ammunition than food. It became a thing to own a gun to save your life. Most people slept with a loaded AK-47 sitting next to them.”

The above was the author’s description of lawless Somalia (not the future United States) during the 1990’s.

Somalia, formerly two different colonies– of Britain and Italy, became a sovereign territory in 1960. Born around 1985 in Somalia (where birthdays aren’t important), the author had an older brother and later, younger sisters. Years before, his father’s side of the Muslim family, the Rahanweyn clan (farmers and nomads) was forced, due to drought, to give up herding as their livelihood. Fortunately, the father was able to become a professional basketball player. The mother was a traditional female of Islam– expected to bear and raise the children, and do all the chores and housework.

At the dawn of the 1990’s in Somalia, tensions boiled over between two of the five clans who desired to run the government. Warlords took to fighting that involved looting of shops, bullets and rocket fire. Rebels ousted the “president.” Former government employees fled to America, Canada or the United Kingdom.

Common people like the author’s family who were forced to evacuate their Mogadishu homes were caught in the crossfire of the anarchy, and died anonymously and were left in mass graves in droves from the usual causes– bullets or other weaponry, disease and starvation.

The family had no car, so like thousands of others, they walked miles and miles along unpaved roads with cows, donkeys, dogs and chickens, trying not to get arbitrarily shot by sadistic child-soldiers for being in the wrong tribe, or blown up by rockets (supplied to the anti-government Somali rebels by Ethiopia, sworn enemy of Somalia). Occasionally, they got an extremely crowded truck ride from a driver who had no beef against their tribe. Word-of-mouth rumors led them to believe that the city of Baidoa was a less dangerous place to be than Mogadishu. But that was a relative assessment.

In October 1993, sixteen American soldiers were killed in a Black Hawk helicopter attack at the hands of Soviet weaponry supplied to Somali soldiers. In March 1994, the Americans left Somalia. Ethiopia and Kenya supplied qat to Somali soldiers.

Beginning in the late 1990’s, the United States government paid the warlords (as though they were bounty hunters) to catch radical and foreign Islamists. In the single-digit 2000’s, the warlords assassinated the chairman of one of the five merged Islamic Courts that resolved local legal disputes in Somalia. The merging set the stage for a radical Islamic takeover, but ordinary Somalis were angry at the Western-backed warlords.

As a way to escape the trauma and wreckage around him, in the late 1990’s, the author got caught up in the American pop-cultural scene at local storefronts that: sold boom boxes and cassette tapes of Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, reggae and hip-hop music; and screened American movies such as Terminator. He passionately learned English and hip-hop dancing from them.

When the author’s family’s circumstances improved, his horrified parents administered the usual beatings when he put up posters of American cultural icons on his bedroom wall, including one of Madonna in a bikini. His mother thought of the United States as a Christian (evil) country.

However, the author was sufficiently street-smart to complete his seven-year education of memorizing the Koran in Arabic, all 114 chapters, 6,266 verses of it, even though the headmaster of his madrassa was a corporal-punishment tyrant.

Read the book to learn further details of the major ironies, among others, that graced the author’s incredible story: 1) the combination of his (sinful) passions and (highly praised) education that provided him with survival skills in a country where life was cheap and any minute could be one’s last; and 2) “Pictures and names associated with America were crimes, not counting the pictures and names on the American dollar bills that they had in their pockets.”