Wednesday, June 27, 2007

There’s a nice story in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer about the unexpected discovery of Pearl S. Buck’s long-lost original manuscript for The Good Earth. Buck, who died in 1973, lived on a farm in (well, very near, anyway) my hometown of Perkasie, Pa., which makes me the second-most famous author from Perkasie. (OK, third-most after W.D. Ehrhart.)

It’s always mystified me that Buck, one of the great writers of the twentieth century, is practically forgotten today. Winner of the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes, she was also active in the civil rights movement and a remarkable philanthropist. Maybe the discovery of this manuscript will renew some interest in her work.

When we were back in the States last winter, Allyson and I visited the Pearl S. Buck House in Perkasie, which is now a National Historic Landmark. It’s a classic eastern Pennsylvania farmhouse, with stone walls, hardwood floors, and lots of fireplaces. Beautiful. It also has a wonderful collection of memorabilia, including the typewriter on which Buck typed the original manuscript for The Good Earth – the manuscript that has just surfaced. If you’re ever in the neighborhood, it’s definitely worth a visit.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

It’s been a busy couple of weeks here in Bamako. Well, for Allyson anyway. I’ve just been watching TV all day as usual.

The air conditioning at the new embassy is broken and probably won’t be fixed for a few more weeks, so Allyson is going in to work at six o’clock every morning, before it gets too hot. She’s still doing visa interviews, which is pretty remarkable given the circumstances. She usually gets sent home around noon, when it gets too hot to even keep the computers running.

Meanwhile, First Lady Laura Bush is coming to Bamako this week, and, in addition to everything else, Allyson is arranging media coverage for the visit. She will also be the First Lady’s “Gifts Officer,” which means she has to handle any gift exchanges that occur, keep track of who gives what, etc. The rules for that are pretty funny (e.g., NO LIVE ANIMALS), but I’m sure it will be a neat experience.

In less exciting news, I got the dreaded “we need to talk” e-mail from my agent last week. It looks like I need to come up with new book ideas. As usual, suggestions are welcomed – nay, encouraged. The best will be stolen.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

On the Niger, Spring 2007

Monday, June 11, 2007

not much to report ... we had a quiet weekend at home, lots of drinks by the pool (of course!) ... the rainy season has arrived, with cloudy skies, strong winds, and torrential downpours most days. it's a refreshing change from the unrelenting sunshine of the past, oh, eight months. ... last friday i went to the local "fetish" market, where animal parts used for magic/juju are sold. i plan on writing more about it sometime, but for now suffice it to say that i'm glad we don't let our cats go outside! ... i'm planning to go to nigeria to do a couple stories later this summer (is it summer yet? it's hard to tell here) but, to get a visa, i need a "letter of invitation" from somebody who's already there. preferably somebody trustworthy. if you know such a person, please e-mail me!

Monday, June 04, 2007

The only TV we get here is the Armed Forces Network. AFN carries the most popular programs in the States, as well as all major U.S. sporting events. It’s been a godsend to us. I don’t know what Allyson would do without America’s Next Top Model, Lost, and Amazing Race. (And I don’t know what I would do without Judge Judy and Dr. Phil.)

AFN doesn’t carry commercials. Instead it shows public service announcements and military news. It’s been said that AFN is what TV would be like if it was programmed by your mother. Based on what I’ve seen on AFN, the greatest dangers facing our troops are not Islamic insurgents and IEDs, but smokeless tobacco, motorcycle accidents, and STF (slips, trips, and falls).

One of my favorite AFN spots is one for the Army’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit. These are the people who disarm bombs. Not surprisingly, there are always a lot of openings in this unit. The spot is meant to encourage soldiers to volunteer for EOD by reminding them that the unit offers “extra pay” (which seems only right), “marketable job skills” (not sure about that one: “Hey, there’s a bomb on aisle six that needs disarmed”), and, my personal favorite, “a high potential for promotion."
Allyson and I hosted a big party Friday night. It was for several members of the mission community who are moving on to new posts this month. About seventy people attended (including the ambassador), and everything went off without a hitch. It’s kind of funny, Allyson and I have been here for only a little more than a year, but we now qualify as “old timers” at the post.