Walking the Bowl
An excerpt from a powerful book, and why I think you should read it
In this episode of the Intralingo World Lit Podcast, I offer a short reading from the book Walking the Bowl: A True Story of Murder and Survival Among the Street Children of Lusaka, by Chris Lockhart & Daniel Mulilo Chama.
Below, I offer a whole lot more about it, what I took from it, and what I hope you might too.
From the publisher:
For readers of Behind the Beautiful Forevers and Nothing to Envy, this is a breathtaking real-life story of four street children in contemporary Zambia whose lives are drawn together and forever altered by the mysterious murder of a fellow street child.
This book is nothing short of a dedicated miracle.
Over a period of years, the co-authors, a graduate student and a team of four former street children lived and worked in the vast slums of Zambia’s capital city, getting to know a cross section of the population, taking hundreds of pages of notes and over a thousand hours of recordings.
When a young boy, who became known as the Ho Ho Kid, was found murdered at the city dump, the team dedicated their efforts to following the investigation in real time and discovered a connection to many of the children they were already in contact with.
Lusabilo, a self-titled “chief” and waste picker at the dump finds the Ho Ho Kid’s body and is forced to assist the police in their investigation. Along the way, he is led to Moonga, a recent arrival who has turned to begging, become hooked on sniffing glue and dreams of going to school; Timo, an ambitious and ruthless gang leader; and Kapula, an exhausted brothel worker who is saving to get out of the slum.
The connections between these four kids, who each eke out a brutal existence, and the murdered child is told unflinchingly, unsentimentally, yet with emotion and compassion.
Knowing they wanted to reach the wider public, to tell a very specific story that would humanize these individuals, rather than perpetuate the tropes or appeal only to a small circle of insider professionals, Lockhart and Chama cowrote these intertwined stories as a work of narrative non-fiction.
I felt a stabbing pain at how every one of these kids had been abandoned by family and society, left to survive on their own in unimaginably unforgiving conditions. And every time I felt compelled to DO SOMETHING, the authors reminded me how well-meaning but utterly ineffectual foreign “aid” often is.
Lockhart, an American medical anthropologist who has worked in Africa for decades, and Chama, a Zambian social worker who himself was a street child, hold nothing back. They expose what seems to be an unsolvable tragedy of poverty and corruption, helped little or even made worse by Western notions of “development.”
And yet they present a story that is ultimately one of hope.
In their preface, they say:
“If you were to ask us what we hope you learn from this book, we would say we hope you learn a little bit about the day-to-day lives and realities of street children and a great deal about the power of the smallest good.”
Walking the bowl—offering what little you can to another—is at the heart of this story. It’s a tale the Outreacher shares with every kid in the slums and with the White Man.
(And it’s the reading I offer here, in this podcast episode.)
Toward the end of the book, Kapula tells the Outreacher:
“I wonder how different things would be if everyone did the small things you do for us every day. Even if they only did one thing in their whole lives, especially if that one thing was passed on to others—like in your story. Myself, I think it would be a very different world.”
Myself, so do I.
This book achieved its aim. I learned a little about others and a lot about how I can live a more powerful life. I was reminded that I don’t have to go to Africa. I don’t have to change the whole world. All I have to do is offer a simple kindness to another, right where I am, right here, consciously, whenever I can.
Read this book. Because it’s good for you. For us. For humanity. Because it’s beautiful. Deep. Impactful. Necessary.
But above all, walk the bowl. Please, may we all walk the bowl.
Lisa Carter is Founder and Creative Director of Intralingo, helping authors and translators write and readers explore stories. Lisa brings two decades of professional literary experience, including nine books and multiple other pieces published in translation, and nearly as many years of contemplative and compassion practices to her work. Her inclusive, engaged, caring presence inspires people to share their stories, create new ones and feel truly heard.
My thanks to Hanover Square Press for the review copy.
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