An intrepid journalist joins the planet’s largest group of nomads on an annual migration that, like them, has endured for centuries.
Anna Badkhen has forged a career chronicling life in extremis around the world, from war-torn Afghanistan to the border regions of the American Southwest. In Walking with Abel, she embeds herself with a family of Fulani cowboys—nomadic herders in Mali’s Sahel grasslands—as they embark on their annual migration across the savanna. It’s a cycle that connects the Fulani to their past even as their present is increasingly under threat—from Islamic militants, climate change, and the ever-encroaching urbanization that lures away their young. The Fulani, though, are no strangers to uncertainty—brilliantly resourceful and resilient, they’ve contended with famines, droughts, and wars for centuries.
Dubbed “Anna Ba” by the nomads, who embrace her as one of theirs, Badkhen narrates the Fulani’s journeys and her own with compassion and keen observation, transporting us from the Neolithic Sahara crisscrossed by rivers and abundant with wildlife to obelisk forests where the Fulani’s Stone Age ancestors painted tributes to cattle. As they cross the Sahel, the savanna belt that stretches from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic, they accompany themselves with Fulani music they download to their cell phones and tales of herders and hustlers, griots and holy men, infused with the myths the Fulani tell themselves to ground their past, make sense of their identity, and safeguard their—our—future.
The sea is broken, fishermen say. The sea is empty. The genii have taken the fish elsewhere.
For centuries, fishermen have launched their pirogues from the Senegalese port of Joal, where the fish used to be so plentiful a man could dip his hand into the grey-green ocean and pull one out as big as his thigh. But in an Atlantic decimated by overfishing and climate change, the fish are harder and harder to find.
Here, Badkhen discovers, all boundaries are permeable--between land and sea, between myth and truth, even between storyteller and story. Fisherman's Blues immerses us in a community navigating a time of unprecedented environmental, economic, and cultural upheaval with resilience, ingenuity, and wonder.
In the middle of the salt-frosted Afghan desert, in a village so remote that Google can’t find it, a woman squats on top of a loom, making flowers bloom in the thousand threads she knots by hand. Here, where heroin is cheaper than rice, every day is a fast day. B-52s pass overhead—a sign of America’s omnipotence or its vulnerability, the villagers are unsure. They know, though, that the earth is flat—like a carpet.
Anna Badkhen first traveled to this country in 2001, as a war correspondent. She has returned many times since, drawn by a land that geography has made a perpetual battleground, and by a people who sustain an exquisite tradition there. Through the four seasons in which a new carpet is woven by the women and children of Oqa, she immortalizes their way of life much as the carpet does—from the petal half-finished where a hungry infant needs care to the interruptions when the women trade sex jokes or go fill in for wedding musicians scared away by the Taliban. As Badkhen follows the carpet out into the world beyond, she leaves the reader with an indelible portrait of fates woven by centuries of art, war, and an ancient trade that ultimately binds the invaded to the invader.
Peace Meals is a true story about conflict and food. It illustrates the most important lesson Anna Badkhen has observed as a journalist: war can kill our friends and decimate our towns, but it cannot destroy our inherent decency, generosity, and kindness—that which makes us human. Badkhen writes:
There is more to war than the macabre—the white-orange muzzle flashes during a midnight ambush . . . the scythes of shrapnel whirling . . . like lawnmower blades spun loose; the tortured and the dead. There are also the myriad brazen, congenial, persistent ways in which life in the most forlorn and violent places on earth shamelessly reasserts itself. Of those, sharing a meal is one of the most elemental.
No other book about war has looked at the search for normalcy in conflict zones through the prism of food. In addition to the events that dominate the news today—the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq—Peace Meals also bears witness to crises that are less often discussed: the conflict in Chechnya, the drought cycle in East Africa, the failed post-Soviet states, the Palestinian intifada.
Peace Meals focuses on day-to-day life, describing not just the shocking violence but also the beauty that continues during wartime: the spring flowers that bloom in the crater hollowed by an air-to-surface missile, the lapidary sanctuary of a twelfth-century palace besieged by a modern battle, or a meal a tight-knit family shares in the relative safety of their home as a firefight rages outside. It reveals how one war correspondent’s professional choices are determined not only by her opinion of which story is important but also by the instinctive comparisons she, a young
mother, makes each time she meets children in war zones; by her intrinsic sense of guilt for leaving her family behind as she goes off to her next dangerous assignment; and, quite prosaically—though not surprisingly—by her need to eat.
Wherever Badkhen went, she broke bread with the people she wrote about, and the simple conversations over these meals helped her open the door into the lives of strangers. Sometimes dinner was bread and a fried egg in a farmer’s hut, or a packet of trail mix in the back of an armored humvee. Sometimes it was a lavish, four-course meal at the house of a local warlord, or a plate of rice and boiled meat at a funeral tent. Each of these straightforward acts of humanity tells a story. And these stories, punctuated by recipes from these meals, form Peace Meals. Following Badkhen’s simple instructions, readers will taste what made life in these tormented places worth living.
W samym środku afgańskiej pustyni, we wiosce tak odległej, że nie da jej się zlokalizować nawet w Internecie, przy krośnie siedzą kobiety i wraz z dziećmi ręcznie wyplatają przepiękne kwiatowe wzory. W tym miejscu, w którym heroina kosztuje mniej niż ryż, mieszkańcy wioski wiedzą jedno – Ziemia jest płaska niczym dywan.
Anna Badkhen po raz pierwszy wyjechała do Afganistanu w 2011 roku, jako korespondentka wojenna. Od tamtej pory wraca do tego kraju co jakiś czas, przyciągana krajobrazem, który geografia uczyniła nieustającym polem bitewnym, a także mieszkającymi tu ludźmi, dla których ogromną wartością staje się zachowywanie szacunku dla tradycji. Przywołując symbol czterech pór roku, w trakcie których kobiety i dzieci zamieszkujące wioskę Oka tkają, jak co roku, kolejny dywan, autorka ukazuje blaski i cienie codziennej egzystencji w afgańskiej wiosce.
W czasach, kiedy pisarze zbyt często oglądają Afganistan zza płotu strzeżonego przez amerykańskich żołnierzy, Anna Badkhen robi zupełnie inaczej: postanawia samotnie spędzić cztery pory roku na zupełnym odludziu. Taka perspektywa – zintensyfikowana miłością autorki do kraju i jej gospodarzy – pozwoliła odmalować osobliwe piękno surowej codzienności.
Pięknie napisana książka o sercach złamanych na wieki… To cudowny skarb wydobyty na światło dzienne spod ruchomych piasków pustyni
Anna Badkhen oddaje fatalistyczną atmosferę miejsca, w którym szerzy się uzależnienie od opium, telefony komórkowe uchodzą za niewiarygodny luksus, a talibowie czają się tuż za rogiem.
– The New York Times Book Review