Longform’s Picks of the Week

The best stories from around the world.


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The Ghost Rapes of Bolivia

Jean Friedman-Rudovsky • Vice

The women of the Manitoba Colony would awake with blood and semen stains on their sheets, tiny bits of rope on their wrists and ankles. Their rapists? Eight young men from their own community.

All the victims I interviewed said the rapes crossed their minds almost daily. In addition to confiding in friends, they have coped by falling back on faith. Helena, for example — though her clutched arms and pained swaying seemed to belie it — told me she’d found peace and insisted, “I have forgiven the men who raped me.”

She wasn’t alone. I heard the same thing from victims, parents, sisters, brothers. Some even said that if the convicted rapists would only admit their crimes — as they did initially — and ask penance from God, the colony would request that the judge dismiss their sentences.

I was perplexed. How could there be unanimous acceptance of such flagrant and premeditated crimes?

It wasn’t until I spoke with Minister Juan Fehr, dressed as all ministers in the community do, entirely in black with high black boots, that I understood. “God chooses His people with tests of fire,” he told me. “In order to go to heaven you must forgive those who have wronged you.” The minister said that he trusts that most of the victims came to forgiveness on their own. But if one woman didn’t want to forgive, he said, she would have been visited by Bishop Neurdorf, Manitoba’s highest authority, and “he would have simply explained to her that if she didn’t forgive, then God wouldn’t forgive her.”


The Lions of Street Food

Matt Goulding • Roads & Kingdoms

Searching for “the soul” of street food in Singapore, Bangkok and Saigon.

Wrestling with all of this threatens to zap my appetite, but then Daniel takes me to Hong Lim’s most famous stand, Outram Park Fried Kway Teow Mee, where the family still cooks the Chinese-Malay staple in a wok set over a crackling charcoal fire. You can taste the difference-not just in the subtle hits of smoke that perfume the dish, but in the rogue chunks of crispy pork fat and the light sheen of gently cooked egg that covers the noodles like a textbook Chinese carbonara.

The genius behind the creation, Ng Chin Chye, has been cooking char kway teow for nearly 50 years, the first four decades at the elbow of his father, the last on his own, with his wife dolling out his creation to the masses. When he adds his special brew of soy sauce and fish sauce to the noodles, he methodically counts it out from his squeeze bottle: 42 squeezes, just like Dad used to do. But who will be there to stoke the charcoal and squeeze the sauce when his days of char kway teow come to an end?

For now, the line he commands curls around half the second floor of the complex. The hardest work has already been done. If someone wants to man the wok, they’ll have an entire country line up for them.

Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images

The Royal Prank

Andrew McMillen • Buzzfeed

The inquiry into a nurse’s suicide after she was on the receiving end of a crank call.

Listening back on the royal prank, the absence of comedy is remarkable. Neither nurse is in on the joke, because to the best of their knowledge, there’s no laughing matter at hand. They’re simply passing on important information to (presumed) family members — a routine occurrence in hospitals throughout the world. The call ends with nervous good-byes from both parties, and afterward, laughter in Sydney.

Yet any situation that relies on exploiting human emotion is treading in dangerous territory; pranks of all stripes invariably inspire an emotional response — embarrassment, anger or mirth, maybe even relief. Few in the entertainment business know this better than Peter Funt, the 65-year-old producer and former host of proto-Punk’d institution Candid Camera. Peter hosted it for eight years (1996-2004), after taking over the show his father, Allen, created in 1948.

Funt and his team avoided the word “prank,” and they never referred to their unwitting stars as victims. “We were very careful with our lingo,” he says. “We called the unsuspecting people who we photographed ‘subjects.'” The vast majority signed a release permitting their image to be used on the program. Funt estimates that less than 1% declined, usually for one of two reasons: “Either they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or with the wrong person,” he says. All of the show’s filmed sequences ended with the classic reveal: “Smile, you’re on Candid Camera!” Funt says, “If there wasn’t some moment where the person reacted in an interesting way, then we’d sort of wasted our time. And if it didn’t end on a happy note, we were disinclined to use [the footage].”

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

What happens when four guys try to cross the Atlantic…in a Rowboat

Shannon Proudfoot • Sportsnet

Rowing from Senegal to Miami with an Olympic gold medalist, a North Atlantic rower, an adventurist paddleboarder, and a former wilderness EMT.

At the end of January, just 200 kilometres into the journey, the team is rowing in a wild nighttime sea when a rogue wave the size of a small house hoists their boat, tosses it into a valley and crashes over it. The force of the water snaps one of the oars in Kreek’s hand. Equipment flies overboard, but the moon and stars offer enough light for him and Hanssen to frantically recover as many objects as they can. Two weeks later, in daylight, another wave breaks one of Kreek’s oars. It’s their last spare. Being thrashed by the Atlantic is terrifying and Kreek slips into shock. He goes cold, crawls into the cabin and falls asleep for four hours. “You have to come to terms with the fact that you’re this tiny little thing that can be eaten by the ocean at any moment,” Pukonen says.

But in between these frightening experiences, there are moments of pure, strange magic. Seabirds bob placidly alongside the boat through the worst storms, offering beady-eyed reassurance. One dark, starless night, glowing green orbs appear around them like water-bound ghosts; it takes them a few stunned minutes to realize dolphins are stirring up the bioluminescence. Another night, rain passes over and a bright half-moon emerges, then the slack-jawed crew watches the perfect arc of a greyscale rainbow-a moonbow-sweep across the inky sky.

SEYLLOU/AFP/Getty Images

A Different Childhood

Sergey Khazov • Berfrois

On growing up gay in Russia.

Next thing my mother was not just yelling but crying too. “What am I supposed to do with a son who is a homosexual? Perhaps tomorrow you’ll be on the game earning money with your arse! Don’t talk like that? How the fuck am I supposed to talk? You hide everything, you lie to me! What have I done to deserve this? There’s never been anything like it in our family! Where has it all come from? What do you get from it? And he even writes it all up as if it’s a novel!”

“You’ve been looking in my diary!” I almost choked with resentment.

“How could I not find it when you left it lying around for all to see?” For a moment she was on the defensive, but quickly recovered her self-righteousness. “What business is that of yours? What difference does it make how I know? Do you think I wouldn’t have found out sooner or later that my son is a homo?”

She was shouting and crying and wiping her tears and her mascara with the damp kitchen towel. I had never seen her like this, and had certainly never heard her talk like it. For all I knew, my mum might allow herself to swear when she was with her friends, but she never did at home. The taboo was so strong that I never swore myself, not even at school.

I stood there silent, not knowing how to answer her. Yes, I was guilty on all counts, but was I? When you were a child your excuse could be that you had not meant to break the window, or you could promise never to steal sweets from the sideboard again. But what could I say now?


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