Longform’s Picks of the Week

The best stories from around the world.

STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images; STR/AFP/Getty Images; CELLOU BINANI/AFP/Getty Images; David McNew/Getty Images; SUTANTA ADITYA/AFP/Getty Images
STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images; STR/AFP/Getty Images; CELLOU BINANI/AFP/Getty Images; David McNew/Getty Images; SUTANTA ADITYA/AFP/Getty Images

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.


Boko Haram: Terror’s Insidious New Face, Alex Perry, Newsweek.

It’s several weeks since the Islamist militants of Boko Haram kidnapped more than 260 girls from a school in northeastern Nigeria and the general wants me to see what he’s up against. He invites me to his office in the capital, Abuja, and opens his laptop.  

The general clicks on one folder titled Abubakar Shekau. A first clip shows the future leader of Boko Haram in his years as a preacher, in a white cap and white babban riga, the traditional Nigerian pajama, tunic and cape. A second clip is more recent, from 2013, and shows Shekau in a clearing, looking far bulkier, in full combat camouflage.

The next clip shows Shekau’s former No. 2, Abu Sa’ad, a few months before his death in August 2013. He is giving a speech to his men on the eve of an attack last year on an army barracks in Bama, Nigeria, a town on the Cameroon border. The fighters, who appear to be mostly teenagers, grin shyly at the camera. Abu Sa’ad says that the attack has been long planned and that most of its architects are dead.


The Organ Detective: A Career Spent Uncovering a Hidden Global Market in Human Flesh, Ethan Watters, Pacific Standard.

Tracking the organ trade, anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes visited African and South American dialysis units, organ banks, police morgues, and hospitals. She interviewed surgeons, patient’s rights activists, pathologists, nephrologists, and nurses. So why aren’t more people listening to her?

When she first heard about the organ thieves, the anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes was doing fieldwork in northeastern Brazil. It was 1987, and a rumor circulating around the shantytown of Alto do Cruzeiro, overlooking the town of Timbau?ba, in a sugarcane farming region of Pernambuco, told of foreigners who traveled the dirt roads in yellow vans, looking for unattended children to snatch up and kill for their transplantable organs. Later, it was said, the children’s bodies would turn up in roadside ditches or in hospital dumpsters.

Scheper-Hughes, then an up-and-coming professor at the University of California-Berkeley, had good reason to be skeptical. As part of her study of poverty and motherhood in the shantytown, she had interviewed the area’s coffin makers and the government clerks who kept the death records. The rate of child mortality there was appalling, but surgically eviscerated bodies were nowhere to be found. “Bah, these are stories invented by the poor and illiterate,” the manager of the municipal cemetery told her. 


Nature’s Most Perfect Killing Machine, Leigh Cowart, Hazlitt.

Ebola is nightmare fuel: a biological doomsday device conspiring with our bodies to murder us in uniquely gruesome fashion. It’s also killed fewer than 2,000 people. How has a virus with such a modest body count so fiercely captured the darkest corners of our imagination?

On October 13, 1976, Frederick A. Murphy, DVM, Ph.D., saw something that would terrify the masses for decades to come. A few days prior, a box containing a specimen from a patient in Zaire had arrived at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta in poor condition, the glass tubes broken in transit. Rather than send it straight to the autoclave for sterilization, his colleague Dr. Patricia Webb scavenged some fluid-soaked cotton from the damaged delivery. After the virus spent a few days in tissue culture-monkey kidney cells, to be specific-Murphy prepared a sample for examination with an electron microscope. When he saw it, the filamentous hook-and-loop formation now so recognizable, he immediately shut down the device. He had to return to where he prepared the sample. He had to bleach the area, to autoclave his equipment and his protective coverings. It was urgent.

He returned his attention to the sample, though. He thought he’d seen Marburg, a lethal filovirus capable of causing a viral hemorrhagic fever, and shot a cassette’s worth of pictures-not realizing he had, in fact, just become the first human to ever photograph the slender, looping tell of the Ebola virus.

Ebola. The name itself has become a synonym for horror. That a strand of 280 or so amino acids carrying little more than simple instructions and lucky keys for vertebrate locks can kill in such a fantastically gruesome manner is a testament to the ferocity of nature at the molecular core. It’s one thing to fear life forms at the macro level-to dread the shark in the water, to gawk at lacerations rimmed by skin flapping around like party streamers, to see the stump and hear the story and be filled with awe at the efficiency of an ancient apex predator. It’s quite another to contemplate your own body liquefying inside you, spilling through all of your available holes as you cling to life-to consider that something so deadly could have such stealth, present only in the bodily destruction it leaves in its wake.


A ‘Band-Aid’ for 800 Children, Eli Saslow, Washington Post.

Nora Sandigo is guardian to hundreds of U.S. citizens born to illegal immigrants who are subject to deportation.

Sandigo is Miami’s most popular solution to a growing problem in immigration enforcement affecting what the government refers to as “mixed-status families.” A quarter of people deported from the United States now say they are parents of U.S.-citizen minors, which means more than 100,000 American children lose a parent to deportation each year. A few thousand of those children lose both parents. “Immigration orphans,” is how the government refers to this group.

Many of them leave the country with their parents. Seventeen each day are referred to the U.S. foster-care system. Others seek out new guardians, American citizens such as Sandigo, to protect their legal interests in the United States. For these children, the arrangement means they can stay in the country where they were born and continue to live with relatives or friends who are in the country illegally, without fear of being taken into state custody.


When Wall Street Went to Africa, Christiane Badgley, Foreign Policy.

A New York tycoon won a sweetheart deal to build a massive “sustainable” palm oil plantation in Cameroon. What followed were accusations of intimidation, corruption, bribery, and deceit. 

At the main gate of the Herakles Farms plantation, a large billboard reads, “Contributing to a sustainable future for Cameroon.” The gate is little more than a bamboo pole hung across a dirt road, but security guards won’t let just anyone in. “No visitors,” one said when I asked permission to enter. “You need a pass from management.”

This is no ordinary farm. Several years ago, Herakles Farms — then an affiliate of Herakles Capital, a New York private investment firm — negotiated a deal with the Cameroonian government to develop a palm oil plantation in the country’s Southwest Region, a province known for its lush rain forests and volcano, Mount Cameroon. The plantation would be massive: some 280 square miles, more than 12 times the size of Manhattan. Upon full implementation, Herakles Farms claimed, the plantation would be one of the biggest commercial palm oil operations in Africa.

But the project, now in its fifth year, is highly controversial; it faces strong opposition both at home and abroad. Local opponents have accused the company of using donations of goods and services to garner support. Scientists have challenged Herakles’s claims of environmental sustainability. And numerous observers question the economic benefits promised for the surrounding region, fearing the project is much more likely to strip communities of land and livelihoods than it is to lift them out of poverty.

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