Over at The GOAT PoL, our eight Reader/Advisor/Editors (RAEs) continue to work with scores of stateless, refugee, and disenfranchised writers, publishing one or two dozen of their new stories every week. With hundreds of stories already published, The GOAT PoL map is crowded with remarkable writing to explore, like a bookstore or a library with a constant flow of new titles.
To give readers an easy road in, every three weeks we’ll publish four new “Staff Picks from The GOAT PoL.” Individual RAEs each select a story that they especially love and write a brief “staff pick,” directing your attention to an interesting author’s work. If you like what you find, click the writer’s name on the story byline, to see what you can do next. Thanks! Here are four new Staff Picks from The GOAT PoL:
Alison Turner’s Pick: “Mosi-oa-tunya: The Smoke that Thunders”
By Ashley Simango
Who doesn’t want to see Victoria Falls? Who doesn’t get to? In “Mosi-oa-tunya: The Smoke that Thunders,” Ashley Simango offers practical, savvy travel tips for trekking from Harare to Victoria Falls on a shoestring budget—but this is no conventional guidebook. True, Simango takes readers step by step from the bus station in “the sleepless city of Harare,” to their first taste of sadza, “a mixture of water and mealie meal that is cooked into a thick porridge,” and along a trail of delights that includes national parks, epic bridges, baboons, hippopotamuses, and, of course, a variety of spots for viewing the waterfalls. But Simango’s tongue is in her cheek at every turn. While proving that this journey can be completed for $100 or less, Simango occasionally lets the irony of tourism bubble up through the cracks in the bridges that lead travellers to new places. Guests on Simango’s tour learn how to get by so that “no one would ever suspect that [their] budget is as tight as they come;” these travellers learn how to limit themselves to one meal a day, which is okay, because “the excitement will probably outweigh the hunger for a couple more hours.” Simango convinces her readers not only that they want to see Victoria Falls, but also that the world’s wonders are for everyone—even if some tourists arrive richer in imagination than others.
Louis Lüthi’s Pick: “Life Among Them, with a Dead Cat in the Chimney”
by Tamanna Mehrzad
“Life among Them, with a Dead Cat in the Chimney” chronicles several weeks in the life of a young woman in an unnamed city. A repressive regime—also not mentioned by name, but we can infer who “they” are—has forcibly taken power. A man has been hanged in the middle of the street; soon women are forced to wear the niqab. The woman is a poet, or she was. “When I published my book,” she writes, “they came. They invaded. I don’t know where they sell my book. But I know it is a collection of poetry.” She becomes a teacher. Moments of joy are squashed by feelings of fear and intense despair. As befits a poet, the language used by the woman to gather her thoughts is original and arresting. “My throat is like a hot water pipe with a small dead cat in it.” Such is life under the regime—or rather, “among them,” for its presence is felt everywhere.
Parwana Amiri’s Pick: “The Terrible Things That Destroy a Family“
by Papy Kapend
The “terrible things” that destroy a family include the narrator’s childhood struggle with bronchitis, his father’s financial difficulties and loss of a job, and the seemingly endless wars disrupting daily life in Kolwezi, the city where they live in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As the wars get worse, the father decides they must seek refuge in Europe. The story is told by their infirm child, a boy whose care is made more difficult by the perils of the journey. The family doesn’t make it far, settling in the nearby bigger city of Lubumbashi, where the boy grows to teenage years forming close friendships while exploring the many worlds within the city. Among these is the Pentecostal church, where he finds a sense of love and belonging. The boy’s new faith breeds conflict with his Catholic family, and the reader cannot be sure if this breach will ever be repaired. Written in plain language with a fluid, compelling chronological structure, the story’s detailed character descriptions and subtly rendered conversations bring all the main players sharply into focus.
Niels Bekkema’s Pick: “Noesis“
by Ashley Dube
In “Noesis,” the arrival of Doctor Mafukidze, a 42-year-old retired educator, creates a wave of gossip and speculation when he moves into the high-density suburb of Chikanga. The story, serialized on The GOAT PoL, explores a range of theories about the doctor’s true nature, from supernatural theories to undercover government missions. Ashley Dube successfully combines elements from everyday life with more complex discussions about consciousness. This becomes particularly evident when the protagonist helps Doctor Mafukidze repair a tire puncture one night, which leads to a deeper conservation about the nature of consciousness. By balancing community chatter and academic topics, “Noesis” asks how local norms and scientific inquiry can intersect.