Book ReportsWangari Maathai's Unbowed: One Woman's Story: Kenyan Wangari Maathai is the first woman in
eastern and central Africa to earn a doctorate; the first female professor at
the University of Nairobi, and the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace prize in 2004.
When she heard of her win, she planted a tree to celebrate, which was
appropriate for the founder of the "Green Belt" movement, a
grassroots women's group which, beginning in the 1970s, has planted over 30
million trees in Kenya and beyond to halt deforestation in Africa.
The Green Belt has also provided jobs and the means to lift 10,000 women out of
poverty. Unbowed is Maathai's
remarkable memoir which documents the many challenges she has faced head on in
a traditional world which favors men, among them beating and imprisonment by
Kenyan president Daniel Arap Moi's government for protesting the clearing of a
forest for a Nairobi housing development. She signed her police report in her
own blood from a head wound. After Moi lost the presidential elections of 2002,
Maathai was elected to parliament. She is now Assistant minister of the
Her detractors seriously
underestimated this woman. This is a book to inspire about Africa
instead of to disillusion.
A passage from her book: "Trees
have been an essential part of my life and have provided me many lessons. Trees
are living symbols of peace and hope. A tree has roots in the soil yet reaches
to the sky. It tells us that in order to aspire we need to be grounded and that
no matter how high we go it is from our roots that we draw sustenance."
For more information about
the Green Belt movement see www.greenbeltmovement.org.
Marie Javins Stalking
the Wild Dik-Dik: One Woman's Solo Misadventures Across Africa: In 2001, Javins came up with the idea to travel
round the world within a calendar year without taking an airplane, for the
benefit of fans of her blog at www.MariesWorldTour.com.
(A similar premise of Jeff Greenwald's 1995 The
Size of the World.) Stalking the Wild
Dik-Dik isn't about the entire world
tour, only the African portion of it. In the introduction Javins writes that her
2001 travels introduced her to an Africa that she didn't know existed—dignified,
vibrant, with a sense of community and caring lacking in our own culture—and
falling in love, she returned to live there for six months of 2005. I settled
in to read about those epiphanies on African soil that had so changed her and which
drew her back, but that book hasn't been written yet. Instead Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik read like a
check list of African destinations and sights. Every so many chapters, Javins returned
to her claim that Africa had transformed her; she asked the tough questions
that travel in the developing world ultimately raises—do you give to someone
who asks for help when you have just spent money on a balloon safari or at one
of the best hotels on Zanzibar? Her answers were typically as abbreviated and
superficial as her travels through the continent. There was a line in the introduction
which warned me that I wasn't going to relate to this travel writer: "I
sleepwalked through most of Asia, having been there just one year before."