I need these breaks because the stories hurt to read. I know I often talk about pain in reading, but these true stories are more painful and hopeful and truthful, I think, than any piece of journalism I've ever read before.
My need to take these breaks scares me. I'm sure it says something about my own weaknesses that I have to take my eyes away from the stories every so often, that I need to read something else in bed at night after a handful of nights reading Nolen's work.
Could I go to Africa? Could I look and look and look and not take my eyes away?
There is darkness to be seen on Edmonton's streets, in places like tent city or even when I walk to the grocery store. I don't look away then, but this is not the same. Obviously.
I am just eleven chapters into Nolen's book, and I am so impressed with the equal compassion she shows to the truck drivers who could be blamed for spreading HIV as she does the women and children who are so often the victims.
But so far, two stories have struck me. One, just three pages, that I finished this morning. She ends it so:
"Mfanimpela was thirty-four that day we met again -- a few months older than I. And he had outlived his entire family." (p. 149)
Another, of Tigist, a 14-year-old girl in Ethiopia left since 2002 to take care of her orphaned younger brother, 10-year-old Yohannes. Nolen asks them what they would do if they had more money:
"When his sister was out of earshot, he confided, 'I'd use it to take care of her.'
And when Yohannes had gone back out to run with his friends in the street, Tigist watched him from the doorway, her head against one slim-fingered hand, and she said it too. 'If we had more, I would try to take better care of him. I have to take care of him.'" (p. 43)