Monday, July 21, 2014

Book Review: "A Thousand Sisters: My Journey into the Worst Place on Earth to be a Woman" by Lisa Shannon and Zainab Salbi (All Lady July)

Before we get started on today's post I just wanted to wrap up Bloggiesta!  Thanks to everyone who commented and participated, you can see my updated challenge list here!


Lisa Shannon is a woman in a good place. She and her photographer boyfriend have a stock photography business and live in a rambling Victorian house. (If you need some lightheartedness after a somewhat downer book review may I suggest the tumblr Women Laughing Alone With Salads?) But then her father dies, and it makes her withdrawn, sad and depressed. She can't bring herself to return to work.One day she turns on Oprah and sees a report that startles her. It's about the women who live in the Congo. (There is a country called "Congo" and there's on called "the Democratic Republic of Congo". From what I've put together from the story I think when she refers to the Congo it's the DRC. But who knows whats changed since the publishing of the book.)

The journalist Lisa Ling is talking about the fighting that was bred from the Rwandan genocide of the 1990s (they share a border, many of the people who were doing the killing escaped into Congo). 4 million people have died since it started. The rape of women is systematic and incredibly prevalent.There is a spokesperson for a nonprofit called Women for Women International who says that a Congolese woman can be sponsored for $27 a month, which would be life changing for these women.

This weighs on Lisa. She does sponsor a woman. And then she organizes viewings of the program to get more sponsors. And then she starts something called "Run for Congo Women." She organizes runs across the Pacific Northwest to raise money for more sponsorships. She goes to Washington and talks to anyone who will listen about her cause. She gets several more sponsorships but she doesn't feel like it's enough. She finally decides to go to Congo. Several people warn her that it won't be easy and to expect to be saddened and dissapointed and to feel helpless about not being able to fix every problem that she comes across. But she doesn't really heed the warning and goes.

She lands in Rwanda, which by all accounts has beautiful scenery, is pretty modern in the cities and has several memorials up in honor of those killed during the genocide. Lisa is heartened, thinking that if this is what Rwanda is like, where it used to be so bad, that maybe Congo, just a border crossing away, won't be as bad as she pictures. She is most wrong.

*My main problem with this book is the naivete that she clings to as she travels. It's borderline clueless. (I feel like an ass saying anything because God knows I haven't saved a bunch of women from poverty lately, but it's throughout the book and it kind of got me each time). 

There was one woman who's husband had been kidnapped by the rebels and forced to be their cook. He escaped but the men were looking for him because he was such a good cook he wanted him back. Lisa suggests they move to a city and start a restaurant since he's such a good cook. Right, because it's just that easy? This woman has nothing, and it's not like the government has a program to help small start-up businesses.

 Often when a group of women are together she will ask them to raise their hands if they had been raped. Not taking into account that maybe that's not something you'd want to advertise in a group. (She does this kind of a lot). She talks to a woman that she sponsors about the fact that she has lost 10 children to sickness and violence. Lisa presses her to name them all even after the woman has a little breakdown and says she doesn't want to talk about it.

 In each of these cases I'm sure she had the best intentions, getting information so she could share it with us about how dire the situation in the Congo is but she didn't go about it the best way, almost ever.*

It seems strange to give this book a star rating. I've already mentioned above what my main problem is with this book. It's a hard read, but an important read. Instead here are a couple of links that may interest you.

Run for Congo Women (caution, automatic playing music)

File:Democratic Republic of the Congo (orthographic projection).svg
Also this is where it is on a map, in case you're not an expert into the ever shifting territory of African country borders.

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