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Longform’s Picks of the Week

Longform’s Picks of the Week

Every weekend, Longform highlights its favorite international articles of the week. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPad? Download Longform’s new app and read all of the latest in-depth stories from dozens of magazines, including Foreign Policy.

A Lost Boy Grows Up, by Kevin Sack, the New York Times Magazine

Jacob Mach, one of the Sudanese “Lost Boys” granted refugee status in 2001, is learning the hard truth about social mobility in America.

It did not take long for Jacob to realize that the streets were not, in fact, paved with gold. “All I knew was that America was the greatest thing in the world,” he recalled. “Nobody knew how people struggle in America.”

This new life would require new thinking. There was no such thing as ambition back in the village, where each generation of boys tended their families’ cattle and crops just as the last did. But in Georgia, Jacob felt he had little choice but to buy fully into the American dream. Traversing Atlanta’s sprawl by bus and train and foot, he worked the evening shift at a Publix, unpacking produce, and then the night shift at a Hilton, stocking minibars, at $7.50 an hour. He often found no more than four hours for sleep and snatched naps when he could. Once, regrettably, it was while he was stopped at a red light behind a bus, and his foot slipped off the brake.

God delivered him through all of this, Jacob believed. And while he often questioned why he had been chosen for such testing, he now had a degree of confidence that God would reward his faith by steadying his quivering trigger finger. In Philippians 4:13, it says that all things were possible through Christ, and so between rounds, he bowed his head. “God, you are the powerful God that gives us strength and abilities,” he prayed in the clipped, formal English he learned in the camps. “I am going to do this in your name.” 

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The Passion of Dan Choi, by Gabriel Arana, American Prospect

He was the poster boy for the movement to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Now what?

With the plastic animal balanced on his head, Dan grabs the microphone from the corner and holds it close. He pulls back his shoulders and raises his chin, his square jaw protruding over the mic, gaze locked in as if he’s standing at attention. Thirty-two years old, he’s not as jacked as he was during his Army days, but he’s still fit-muscular shoulders and a broad chest that tapers into a narrow waist. In the lambent glow of the blank television screen, he’s striking. His hair is shaved on the sides military–style, his expression grim. It’s easy to see why, four years ago, Dan Choi may have been the most famous gay person in America. But then the spell breaks. “Welcome to the Delilah show!” Dan exclaims as the plastic hippo falls to the ground, and he breaks out into a parody of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man.”

For 21 months-between his debut on The Rachel Maddow Show in March 2009 and the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act in December 2010-Dan Choi was not just the best-known spokesperson for the movement to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.” He was its emblem. A West Point graduate, a combat veteran, a fluent Arabic speaker, he was the kind of soldier the military should have been promoting instead of kicking out. In interviews and at press conferences, he was articulate and passionate, charming and funny.

“The issue needed a voice and a face to get the attention of the media, the military, and Washington,” says Nathaniel Frank, a historian at New York University and author of Unfriendly Fire, the pre-eminent account of gays serving under “don’t ask, don’t tell.” “Dan Choi had a good understanding of political theater, a passionate attachment to his role as an activist, and a strong sense of righteous anger that he was unwilling to let go of.”

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Snowden and Greenwald: The Men Who Leaked the Secrets, by Janet Reitman, Rolling Stone

How two alienated, angry geeks broke the story of the year.

“There are few writers out there who are as passionate about communicating uncomfortable truths,” Snowden, who was one of Greenwald’s longtime readers, tells me in an e-mail. “Glenn tells the truth no matter the cost, and that matters.”

The same, of course, could be said of Snowden, who, from the moment he revealed himself as the source of the leaks, has baffled the mainstream critics who’ve tried to make sense of him. “The founders did not create the United States so that some solitary 29-year-old could make unilateral decisions about what should be exposed,” wrote New York Times columnist David Brooks, who held up Snowden as one of “an apparently growing share of young men in their 20s who are living technological existences in the fuzzy land between their childhood institutions and adult family commitments.”

To the likes of Brooks, Snowden was a disconcerting mystery; Glenn Greenwald, though, got him right away. “He had no power, no prestige, he grew up in a lower-middle-class family, totally obscure, totally ordinary,” Greenwald says. “He didn’t even have a high school diploma. But he was going to change the world – and I knew that.” And, Greenwald also believed, so would he.

Allison Shelley/Getty Images

The AIDS Granny in Exile, by Kathleen McLaughlin, Buzzfeed

In the ’90s, a gynecologist named Gao Yaojie exposed the horrifying cause of an AIDS epidemic in rural China – and the government’s cover-up. Now 85, she lives by herself in New York.

In April 1996, Gao, then 69, was called from retirement to consult on a difficult case. A 42-year-old woman, Ms. Ba, had had ovarian surgery and was not getting better: Her stomach was bloated, she had a high fever and strange lesions on her skin. She grew sicker and her doctors were stumped. After finding no routine infection or illness, Gao demanded an AIDS test for the young mother.

Gao knew from her work that AIDS had entered Henan, the heartland Chines
e province. Yet her colleagues scoffed: How could a simple farmer have AIDS? China had only a handful of confirmed cases. The government said AIDS was a disease of foreigners, spread through illicit drugs and promiscuous sex.

Gao insisted on a test. The results came back; Ms. Ba had AIDS. Her husband and children tested negative, which puzzled the doctors further. The patient was not a drug addict nor a prostitute, so Gao began to investigate. She determined the source was a government blood bank – Ms. Ba’s post-surgical blood transfusion infected her with HIV. “I realized the seriousness of the problem,” Gao later wrote. “If the blood in the blood bank carried the AIDS virus, then these victims would not be a small number.”

PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images

Hack Tibet, by Jonathan Kaiman, Foreign Policy

Welcome to Dharamsala, ground zero in China’s cyberwar.

Welcome to Dharamsala, population 20,000 and one of the most hacked places in the world. This small city in India’s lush Himalayan foothills is home to the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader; the Central Tibetan Administration, or CTA (formerly called the Tibetan government in exile); and a host of Tibetan media outlets and nongovernmental organizations, some of which the Chinese government classifies as terrorist groups. The Dalai Lama fled here in 1959 after communist troops violently suppressed an uprising in Lhasa, now the capital of western China’s Tibetan Autonomous Region. India embraced the Dalai Lama as a token of religious diversity, and tens of thousands of refugees followed suit. About 130,000 Tibetans live in exile, according to a 2009 census; Dharamsala is the closest thing they have to a political capital.

Illustration by Josh Cochran