Tuesday, May 13, 2014

books change things

It started with a book in a bookstore. Well, I guess it probably started before that. But let's start there. In San Francisco, at my favorite bookstore where some other things started, too. I found a novel I wanted to read, then another (yes, another) Lorrie Moore book, then I saw a book by Tracy Kidder. I'd never read him before, but knew he was a popular narrative nonfiction writer. This book, Mountains Beyond Mountains, was described on the back as a story of a doctor whose work to cure TB in some of the poorest areas of the world addressed not only the body but also poverty, social justice and health policy. This stuff matters to me, I realized. I want to read more about it.

So I bought it, along with four other books on that trip. I'd also received a few others as Christmas gifts. After having moved so recently and feeling the literal weight of all my books, my purchases felt indulgent. I questioned my impulse buys. When I got home, I put them on my shelf, started reading the novel, and vowed that I'd read all the books I bought and received before any others.

A few months ago, I opened the Kidder book. I was at a coffee shop when I started it, and had trouble focusing because the people behind me were talking very loudly about the woman's new engagement ring. But I stuck with it, and a few days later found myself wishing I was with Kidder and his subject, Paul Farmer, as they hiked through Haiti to get to some patients that Farmer wanted to treat. I started thinking of my friend Shannon, a nurse who had traveled to Haiti a few years ago and, while there, felt that God was finally opening doors for her to start the nonprofit He had put on her heart nearly seven years earlier. I thought of her trips to Kenya with this new nonprofit the past two summers.

And then I thought, I want to go with her.

I'd had this thought since she first started Alabaster Mobile Clinic, but wasn't sure how I could be of help. I know how to... put on bandaids? But while reading Kidder's book, I realized I wanted to write about what Shannon does, who travels with her, and the people they meet.

So I asked her if I could come, and she said yes.

This upcoming trip to Kenya - two weeks in August - has been part of the impetus for upping my writing game. It will be a full fourteen days of observing, asking, listening, reflecting and writing - not to mention putting on bandaids (I will still get to help with minor medical care!), bumpy rides around Nairobi and seeing zebras while I pee in the jungle (apparently this will happen). I'm grateful for the focus and energy this trip will give me over the next few months. It feels like good movement forward. I'm thinking about a whole bunch of things that have been dormant for a while - about publishing and interviewing and living overseas and living with people in poverty. Things feel urgent and full.

Books change things. Can we all just agree on that?

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