Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Found this over at It's a Negro League monument in Philadelphia. Check out that typo! ... In a similar vein, my brother Howard overhead a great misuse of "literally" recently: A guy on a cell phone tells his friend, "You are literally going to laugh your ass off." Call Dr. House! ... Authors have a saying: The only thing worse than seeing your friends fail in publishing is seeing them succeed. Well that most definitely does *not* apply in this case: My friend Colin Woodard's new book just came out. It's called "The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down." It's getting great reviews, and I couldn't be happier for Colin. (Click here to purchase a copy.) ... Tomorrow is election day here in Mali, and I will be monitoring the balloting as an "observateur international." I will tell you how it went next week.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Mormon Temple

Ten years ago today, on April 24, 1997, the Mormon Church held an “open house” for the media at its then-new temple in St. Louis (pictured). At the time, I was working at KWMU, the NPR station in St. Louis, and was keen to go, since non-Mormons (such as yours truly) are not permitted inside temples after they are dedicated. My news director, Lester Graham, was skeptical about the newsworthiness of the event, but I convinced him to let me cover it anyway.

There was a large tent set up outside the temple where the reporters were divided into small groups before being led inside by Mormon guides.

Walking into a Mormon temple is not like walking into a grand cathedral. It’s more like walking into an apartment building. Mormons divide their temples into a series of rooms on different levels, where various sacraments (e.g., baptism, marriage) are performed. I found this very interesting… but not as interesting as another reporter in my group. She had red hair and freckles and was wearing a green dress. Her name was Allyson.

As the tour continued I casually sidled up alongside her. I don’t remember the first thing I said to her, but it was almost certainly a sarcastic remark of some kind, intended to be intelligent and charming. Whatever it was, I guess it worked.

When the tour was over, the Mormons invited the reporters to stay for a light lunch. I had a longstanding policy of refusing such offers, fearing even the slightest hint of impropriety (a fear, incidentally, that sportswriters don’t have). But Allyson was staying, so I made an exception on this occasion. We sat at a small table with one of the guides. As I recall, we had cucumber sandwiches on white bread with the crust cut off.

After lunch we walked out to the parking lot together. A moment of truth was rapidly approaching. How it came about exactly, I don’t recall, but we ended up exchanging business cards (how romantic). She drove off in her Toyota Tercel. It’s the car in which I would finally learn how to drive a stick shift. I noticed that she had very good posture: I’d never seen anybody sit up so straight while driving a car!

A little more than 18 months later we were married. We may be the only Gentile couple in the world to have met inside a Mormon temple.

Thank you, Lester, for letting me go to the Mormon temple that day.

Thank you, Allyson, for being there that day – and every day since.

Monday, April 23, 2007

I’ve filed a couple stories for Marketplace, which will probably run this Friday (April 27) and/or next Monday (April 30). The stories will be pegged to Mali’s presidential election, which takes place on Sunday. … Speaking of the election, I have volunteered to serve as an international observer at the polls. … The week before last I went to a small town called San to get tape for a story I’m working on. It’s on the Niger, about five hours from Bamako. Very interesting place. The people up there are Bobo (as opposed to Bamako, where everybody’s Bambara). They seemed friendly enough, but apparently they have a reputation for having short tempers. When I told my French professor I’d been there, he said, “Oh, The Bobo are very dangerous! You must never offend them.” Glad I didn’t (apparently). … Incidentally, my French professor, the very professorial Mr. Barry, wants to introduce me to a traditional healer he knows who claims to have found a cure for asthma. The healer wants to connect with American drug companies to share his cure. I’m hoping to meet him this week. ... Also this week: My agent is sending out my book proposal to publishers. Please keep your fingers crossed for me.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

I’ve received some great suggestions for helping the lonely, bored chimpanzee in the Bamako Zoo (see previous entry). The really sad thing about the chimp – and the rest of the unfortunate animals in the zoo – is that there’s really nothing that can be done for them. You could either try to improve the zoo or have it shut down. But the Malian government doesn’t have any money for improvements, and if you tried to raise funds privately, most would be lost to corruption. And if you force the zoo to close down, the animals will either be sent to equally pitiful African zoos or euthanized – probably the best option, come to think of it.

But there’s good animal news to report today: About two weeks ago, a dove built a nest on the outside of our porch and laid two eggs. She and (presumably) the father have been sitting on the eggs round the clock since then. Well, the eggs hatched this week, and two seemingly healthy chicks emerged. They’re tiny – each could fit in a thimble – but if all goes well they will be flying in about two weeks. Pretty cool.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

My brother-in-law Rob has sent us some pictures from his visit last month. Remember how I mentioned visiting the Bamako Zoo, a.k.a. The Most Depressing Place on Earth? Anyway here's a picture of the forlorn chimpanzee.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

When we moved from Los Angeles to Washington in mid 2005, all our stuff was put in a State Department storage facility somewhere in Maryland (I think). After a few months in Bamako, Allyson realized there were certain things in storage that she wanted to have here, mainly dishware. There was only one problem: We have about 200 boxes of stuff in storage, but we had no idea which boxes the things Allyson wanted were in. So we guessed. Basically we picked 20 boxes at random and had them shipped here.

Yesterday the boxes arrived.

For the most part we were lucky. For example, the dishes are in one of the boxes. But we’ve also received some pretty random stuff, to wit:

--A bound copy of 1893 Philadelphia Press newspapers.

--Our wedding ring boxes. Apparently these have sentimental value.

--A little shoe brush.

--Assorted refrigerator magnets.

--The plaque I got for winning a spelling bee in sixth grade.

--A remote control for a TV we no longer own.

The funny thing is, when we leave Bamako, all this random stuff will be packed up and sent to another State Department storage facility – in Antwerp.