Tag Archives: Book Review

Book Review: Our Kind of People

Our Kind of People: A Continent's Challenge, A Country's HopeOur Kind of People: A Continent’s Challenge, A Country’s Hope by Uzodinma Iweala

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When it comes to HIV/AIDS on the African continent we, as Westerners, are often blinded by the ubiquitous stereotypes that permeate our perspectives and opinions about Africa. We then can only rely on the authentic and experienced voices of authors, reporters, and first-person stories from those who have lived and grown up on the continent. We have to rely on those who have committed themselves to setting the record straight about what it is like to be an African who has to face HIV/AIDS every day in his/her community, country, continent and the depth of what it means to them. We can’t guess. We have to lean on their understanding so as to better understand ourselves.

Uzodinma Iweala set out to chronicle the stories about HIV/AIDS in his birth country, Nigeria, in Our Kind of People. He traversed the country to discover how his countrymen and women view the disease; how they cope with it, and how they have learned to live with it. This is especially important in a country like Nigeria that is religiously conservative, but has one of the highest HIV infection rates in sub-Saharan Africa.

In Our Kind of People, Iweala traveled the country from Lagos to small rural villages to hear first-hand how people – men and women, old and young, rich and poor, are coping with HIV/AIDS and how those who have succumbed to the disease dealt with the realization that they too were living with the disease that would eventually take their lives.

Iweala talked with doctors, activists, advocates, researchers, and ordinary people about how HIV/AIDS has changed their lives, their families and their communities. What most of them revealed is that having HIV/AIDS is disgraceful for many Africans. They don’t want to discuss it with others and in some cases, paralyzed by fear of people finding out, they don’t even seek treatment at the hospital to get tested or to get the cocktail of drugs that will allow them to live with the disease instead of being tortured by  it.

Nigeria has come a long way. Its citizens, urged on by those brave enough to face HIV/AIDS from a realistic perspective and can-do approach, have also come to live with it instead of hiding in fear from it. HIV/AIDS is a part of life in Nigeria – few people are not touched by the disease in some way.

One of the painful truths about Our Kind of People is that while Iweala discounts the Western stereotypes about Africans and HIV/AIDS those same stereotypes seem to be played out throughout the book. I suppose that is the power of stereotypes – everyone is plagued by them no matter how hard we try not to be. Nevertheless Our Kind of People is a much-needed look at the African perspective of HIV/AIDS, one that is sorely needed in the conversation about the disease and its affect on the African continent.

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Photo: UN Photo/Louise Gubb

[Book Review] The Last Hunger Season by Roger Thurow

The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of ChangeThe Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change by Roger Thurow

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One does not have to be a wonk to understand the intricacies of global hunger as many might suspect. Roger Thurow, a senior fellow for global agriculture and food policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and former Wall Street Journal correspondent, proved in The Last Hunger Season that chronic, perpetual, and essentially senseless hunger in Kenya can easily be understood by anyone who reads this book. This less academic approach to analysing hunger helps put this worldwide problem on the agenda not only for those who work in the field of hunger relief, but also for those who care about people who do not have enough food to eat.

Roger Thurow
Roger Thurow (Photo credit: ONE Fr)

Thurow follows the lives of four smallholder women farmers in Kenya and writes in clear detail about the struggles these women and their families endure during the annual “wanjala” or hunger season. Each year these farmers must grow enough food to sell and consume and also navigate the volatile food markets during the recent economic crises where food prices have been high, but selling prices have been lower than usual. What you will find in The Last Hunger Season is despite these women’s hard work and dedication to their small farm plots economic, food and health struggles perpetually stand at their doorstep, and yet their hope, while wavering at times, is never broken.

One of the underlying themes in The Last Hunger Season is the dedication these women have for the future; that despite their current circumstances they forge every way possible for a better future not only for themselves, but for their children. These women understand that the only way out of the subsistence, smallholder farmer cycle of poverty is through education. By making sacrifices (even going without food and relying on black tea for meals) it ensures that at least one child in the family can work a job in an urban setting and lift the entire family out of poverty. It is, at times, difficult to read that some of the women would pay school fees instead of feeding their families even when their younger children are failing to thrive from malnutrition. However, the future to these women is brighter than filling their bellies and the bellies of their children.

It is important to note that the One Acre Fund, an NGO that helps small subsistence farmers yield larger crops through better seeds, fertilizers, education and working in cooperatives, is featured throughout the book. It is through the One Acre Fund that these women farmers are able to provide a better living for their families by producing more maize largely, but also growing other crops like beans. Larger crops means more food to sale at market prices and it also means more food to eat.

The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change is a optimal starting point for students and hunger advocates – both professional and lay – to better understand the hunger season in Africa and throughout the world and the importance of better agricultural techniques to a brighter and more productive future for these subsistence farmers.
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