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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.

 

Life in the Valley of Death, New York Times Magazine, Scott Anderson.

Amor Masovic has the gaze and mournful air of a man who never gets enough sleep. For nearly two decades, his job has been to find the mass graves containing thousands who disappeared during the Bosnian war. He is very good at what he does, and he has a mind for numbers. When I first met him in the summer of 2012, Masovic calculated that he and his colleagues at the Bosnian government’s Missing Persons Institute had found more than 700 mass graves, containing the remains of nearly 25,000 people.

“I think we’ve found all the larger ones now,” Masovic told me as we sat in a smoke-filled cafe in Sarajevo. He had just returned from another foray into the field; his boots were still caked in mud. “But that still leaves a lot of smaller ones.” Exactly how many more depends on the definition of “mass grave.” If you go by the current definition (a grave that contains three or more people), then Masovic’s guess is that there are 80 to 100 still to be discovered. Of those, he suspects that 15 to 20 contain more than 50 bodies.

He has any number of methods for locating the graves. He goes by the testimonies of survivors or by cajoling people in Bosnia’s small villages and towns into pointing him toward places they know about. Other times it’s simply a matter of reading subtle changes in the landscape. “I’ve been doing this for so long,” he said, “that I can be walking or driving somewhere, and I see a spot and think, Hmm, that would be a good place for a grave. I’ve found some that way.” In fact, “grave” is often a misnomer. Masovic has found human remains in mineshafts and caves and dry lakebeds. “They’re everywhere,” he said. “Everywhere you can think of.”

Of all the atrocities committed throughout Bosnia between 1992 and 1995, the one that compels Masovic the most is Srebrenica. In some respects, this is hardly surprising: Srebrenica has come to symbolize the Bosnian war’s unspeakable brutality and the international community’s colossal failure when confronting it. Located in a tiny valley in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina, it was the site of one of the war’s most desperate contests, a marooned enclave in which a couple of thousand government soldiers, along with as many as 40,000 mostly Muslim refugees, held out for three years against a siege by Serb separatist fighters.

 

Somaly Mam: The Holy Saint (and Sinner) of Sex Trafficking, Newsweek, Simon Marks.

Mam is one of the world’s most compelling activists, brave and beautiful, and her list of supporters is long and formidable. Former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton and actresses Meg Ryan, Susan Sarandon and Shay Mitchell, as well as New York Times Pulitzer-winning columnist Nicholas Kristof, have all toured AFESIP centers in Cambodia. Queen Sofia of Spain has for years promoted Mam’s cause and even visited her in the hospital last year when she fell ill. Mark Zuckerberg’s former PR guru, Brandee Barker, whom The New York Times recently described as “perhaps the most sought-after image consultant in the startup world,” is a board member for the Somaly Mam Foundation, and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg is an advisory board member.

Mam has raised millions with a hectic schedule of meetings all over the globe with the good, the great and the super-rich-from the U.N.’s Ban Ki-moon to the pope. One day she will be speaking at the White House, and the next day she’ll be enthralling schoolchildren in a remote corner of Cambodia.

Mam claims to have rescued thousands of girls and women from sex trafficking, a dangerous and formidable feat. Her story becomes even more inspiring when you hear her shocking tale of being sold into sexual slavery. In 2005, she published her autobiography, The Road of Lost Innocence, which became an international best-seller. Mam was one of Time‘s 100 most influential people in 2009 and has over 400,000 followers on Twitter.

She has done so much for so many, does it matter that key parts of her story aren’t true? This is a story about a story-but not quite the amazing one Mam has been telling at cocktail parties in Manhattan and Beverly Hills, or on The Tyra Banks Show. Nonetheless, it’s an astonishing tale.

 

In Kenya, Running with Chinese Characteristics, Roads and Kingdoms, Jon Rosen.

The morning air is crisp as the minivan plods down a red clay road, trailing the pack of runners as they head toward the escarpment, past schoolchildren, cows, and simple mud huts, eventually doubling back through the center of Kenya’s pre-eminent running town.

Renato Canova, the man behind the wheel, has driven this route many times. One of the world’s most accomplished distance running coaches, the 69-year-old Italian has been working with Kenyan athletes since 1998 and now spends much of the year in the Kenyan rift, an area famous for minting world-class athletes in events ranging from 800 meters to the marathon.

As usual, Canova is animated as he follows the progress of the run, occasionally pulling even with the pack to critique an athlete’s form or offer encouragement. On this morning, though, there’s an added layer of complexity. As Canova shouts out in heavily accented English, a young interpreter named Anna Lin repeats the words in Mandarin, and Wang Bin, a Chinese Athletics Federation administrator, yells out the window to the athletes.

These runners-Canova’s latest protégées-are 16 members of China’s national women’s middle- and long-distance running team, in the early stages of preparation for the 2015 World Athletics Championships, to be held in Beijing in August 2015. On this February morning, midway through a six-week stint in Kenya, it’s clear they have their work cut out for them.

 

Did North Korea Kidnap an American Hiker?, Outside, Chris Vogel.

When 24-year-old David Sneddon disappeared hiking around western China, officials chalked it up to a drowning. Only a decade later did another scenario emerge: maybe David had been kidnapped and taken to North Korea.

In the Northern reaches of China’s Yunnan province, just before the rolling hills and deep, river-carved ravines of the Yungui Plateau give way to cascading sheets of lim
estone and spectacular karst, two mountains-Jade Dragon and Haba Snow-jut three and a half vertical miles into the sky. Separated only by the Jinsha River, a 100-foot-wide whitewater tributary of the Yangtze, these scabrous peaks form one of the world’s deepest river canyons:Tiger Leaping Gorge.

Etched into the steep terrain above the wild rapids, the 16-mile High Trail climbs more than 3,700 feet through the canyon’s thick mountain brush and sheer cliffs. The trail, which usually takes two days to complete, is considered a must for trekkers searching for remote panoramic vistas in China, with Tibet looming to the west and Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam to the south. The route is littered with commercial guesthouses, where tens of thousands of tourists-almost exclusively from China or South Korea-can buy a hot meal and sleep in a real bed.

On August 11, 2004, He Shuchang, a local guide, had been trekking for hours with his two clients, a married couple from Hong Kong, when he spotted a pale Westerner marching up the mountain path in the twilight. The stranger wore a blue T-shirt and gray shorts, with a fanny pack tied to his waist and a floppy brimmed rain hat covering his prematurely balding head. He Shuchang was used to seeing the occasional Westerner. Still, when the man emerged over the rise, then politely asked in flawless Mandarin if he could join the group, He Shuchang was stunned. What was this stranger doing here?

The man introduced himself as David Sneddon, an American college student who was taking summer language classes in Beijing. He seemed charming and curious, peppering the Hong Kong couple with questions about themselves and alternating between Mandarin and English. The couple seemed to enjoy him, so He Shuchang let him stay. They hiked together for several hours, eventually reaching the far end of the gorge, where they all spent the night at Tina’s Guesthouse. The next morning, David continued alone up the route away from the High Trail, vanishing as suddenly as he had appeared.

 

‘Playing Straight into the Hands of al-Shabab’, Foreign Policy, Jacob Kushner.

Kenya’s counterterrorism approach following the Westgate Mall attack is crude — and may actually be spawning more violence.

At around 7:30 p.m. on March 31, three blasts went off in Nairobi’s Eastleigh neighborhood. The explosions, which police say were caused by grenades, killed six and injured around a dozen civilians congregating at two local cafes in the suburban area, which is dominated by ethnic Somalis.

The bombings were only the latest in a spat of terror attacks following the September 2013 siege of Westgate Mall by Somali gunmen, which left 67 people dead. In December, a grenade blast killed four people in Eastleigh. In late March, unidentified gunmen entered a church near the coastal city of Mombasa, killing six. In all, nearly a dozen attacks that bear the marks of al-Shabab, a jihadist group based in Somalia that was responsible for the Westgate attack, have rattled Kenya since last fall.

Police are taking a high-profile approach as they respond to these attacks, detaining thousands of Somalis and Kenyan citizens of Somali heritage. But stops and arrests are not based on intelligence. Rather, police officers simply scour ethnic-Somali neighborhoods, sweeping up civilians from the streets.

Terrorism analysts say this sort of policing may actually be making Kenya less safe. As indiscriminate profiling becomes the fabric of security procedures, hundreds of thousands of Kenyan-Somali Muslims — a group from which al-Shabab affiliates are actively attempting torecruit — have something to be angry about. The government’s ethnic-focused, and often brutal, anti-terror tactics thus may be fueling the very attacks they are meant to suppress.