Hell’s Kitchen

The New Yorker has just published my decription of a descent into midtown with the Italian actor Roberto Benigni as my Virgil.

It begins:

For the record, the Italian actor Roberto Benigni does not believe that New Yorkers are going to Hell. “I hope they go to Paradise, every one of them,” he said last Thursday, in the back seat of a taxi, blinking against the swish and roar of traffic. But that might be because he thinks it’s a journey the city’s residents have already made. “This is the beginning of Hell,” he said. “The deeper we go, the greater the range of utterances of grief and fury we will hear. Different colors of people. Slang! Obscenity! Curses! Sighs! Keening!” He paused while a van blasted its air horn. “This is really the sound of Hell,” he said. “But we need to pass through the Inferno to reach Paradise.”

read the rest.

Different Shades of Green in Africa

Time has also published my story about an agricultural war of ideology taking in place in Africa. It’s a fight that could turn out to be good for the continent, but that’s not something that’s guaranteed.

Joseph Odiambo walks decisively past eight plots of corn and comes to a stop in front of the ninth. Where the other plants towered sugar-cane thick with broad crisp blades, here the plants are skinny and stunted, draped with yellow-tinged leaves. The contrast is deliberate, an advertisement for the wares Odiambo sells from his roadside supply shop in western Kenya. While the shopkeeper’s robust plots were planted with commercial seed and carefully nurtured with inorganic fertilizer, his sickly specimens are the result of seeds sown in the bare ground. “We wanted to have a control plot, to show the difference,” he says.

Odiambo’s demonstration plots are an opening salvo in a battle between two very different agricultural philosophies. The goal itself is not in dispute: a healthier, wealthier Africa, one that can feed itself and perhaps even export. Both sides also agree that the solution should be green. The disagreement lies over just what that word means.

Read more.

Kenya’s Blackboard Jungle

When I was in Kenya last fall I visited a school that was trying to enlist the Masai in the importance of conserving the lands in which they live. Time has just published a brief peek at my findings.

It begins:

After we pull our land rover off the track to watch a pair of leopards, I ask my two safari guides what animal they’d be most excited to see. I’m thinking elephants, lions, rhinos — the charismatic megafauna that attract tourists from across the world. Their answer: aardvarks and porcupines, the reclusive nocturnal residents of Kenya’s Masai Mara. “I took care of cattle on the Mara when I was a boy,” says Jackson Tinka, 21. “So I’ve seen a lot of wildlife.”

Tinka and his companion are what was until recently a rarity in Kenya’s biggest-drawing game park: tour guides working in the land of their fathers. Though the vast stretch of savanna lies in territory owned by the Masai, until a few years ago the red-robed pastoralists made up less than 20% of those employed in its camps and lodges. Those who could find work did so mostly as low-paid camp guards. Yet there’s a growing realization that the Masai and the 590-square-mile (1,530 sq km) national reserve share a common future. The tribe’s fortunes will most likely be found in the tourists who provide Kenya with the bulk of its foreign exchange — and in the wildlife those tourists pay to see.

Keep reading.

UPDATE: Check out more photos from this trip here.