Longform’s Picks of the Week
The best stories from around the world.
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.
“Who Is Polluting Rio’s Bay?” by John Branch, New York Times Magazine
A major part of Rio’s winning Olympic bid was a plan to capture and treat 80 percent of the sewage that flows into Guanabara Bay, something organizers now admit will not happen — certainly not by August, if ever.
A block from the river, Antônio da Costa tried to unclog a narrow pipe under the street with a trowel and 20 feet of thick wire. Waste from the toilets and drains of seven houses flows through this pipe to the Rio Sarapuí, and it is often clogged with sewage, trash and diapers. The backup bubbles through a broken concrete manhole cover and enters the front door of Maria das Graças’ home.
“Every month, something happens that it gets clogged, even when it doesn’t rain,” she said. “Sometimes I wake up, and there is a lot of sewage in my house. I suffer the most because it is in front of my home.”
“Abandon All Hope” By Nat Segnit, Harper’s
Hieronymus Bosch comes home.
A naked man grabs me by the lapels and bares his teeth in frustration. I say naked, when I mean clad in a skintight nude suit that delineates his six-pack and decorously abstracts his genitals in the manner of a kids’ action figure. I have been assaulted by the personification of Anger. I’m probably being paranoid, but the unshakable sense of foreboding this gives me derives, as far as I can tell, from the suspicion that his little coup de théâtre is so effective because the guy playing Anger has actually taken against me, can discern in me something weak or sinful that he could exploit as grist for his performance. Earlier, a jester wearing a boat around his midriff had sniggered at the way I was holding my press folder. Maybe I’m not being paranoid, and the bad feeling I’ve had since I walked onstage at the Theater aan de Parade — which will increase over the course of my stay — is only an appropriate response.
“Fishing in Guantanamo Bay” by Ed Augustin, Roads & Kingdoms
Life in the Cuban town two miles north of the infamous American naval base.
Thousands of Cuban soldiers guard the area surrounding this village. Nobody gets in without a special pass. Residents here have to show their ID cards every time they leave the town, and organizing visitors permits for friends and family can take weeks. Caimanera has all this security because it borders the Cuban-controlled waters in the inner part of Guantánamo Bay. The infamous naval base of the same name sits at the mouth of the bay.
Our car weaves slowly around the bollards lining the checkpoint approach, to a barrier. Two soldiers clad in green come to check our papers. I peek through the coils of barbed wire surrounding the village entrance while we wait. Nine months of sitting in waiting rooms for meetings that never happened, sweet-talking officials, and other bureaucratic games finally pay off when the soldiers wave us through.
“For Refugees, Soccer Helps Pass an Eternity in Limbo” by Sabrina Toppa, How We Get to Next
In the lush verdure of Indonesia’s island of Java, a young girl wearing baggy sweatpants, a short-sleeved shirt, and a black polka-dotted scarf punts a white ball. Before she came here, 12-year-old Hanifa Karimi had never played soccer in her hometown of Quetta, Pakistan—the city her family had escaped to after generations of living in Afghanistan.
“I love soccer,” says Maliha Ali, another girl from Quetta, who is sitting in Cisarua’s verdant grass, watching her peers kick balls. “In Pakistan, I was a fan of soccer, but I wasn’t given the opportunity to play.” She fondly recalls watching World Cup matches and cheering on Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
“The End Of Days Is Coming — Just Not To China” by Isaac Stone Fish, Foreign Policy
Why apocalyptic fiction and film haven’t caught on in the Middle Kingdom.
Part of the reason Chinese writers haven’t written fiction about the destruction of their country involves religion: China does not follow the Judeo-Christian tradition that foretells the apocalypse and rapture. “The Christian tradition is linear. There is an end, a judgment day,” said Mingwei Song, an expert on Chinese literature at Wellesley College. “Whereas in China, there is a circle, a change of dynasty, but not a change of the world.” The Analects of Confucius, the closest thing Chinese civilization has to a founding text, advocates harmony, continuity, and order, and the strong Buddhist and Taoist traditions call for an escape from society. “If the human world becomes too corrupted to live in, you can always withdraw to nature,” said Sheng Yun, a contributing editor at the Shanghai Review of Books. Instead of wishing for a great fire or flood to cleanse corruption or immorality, as persists in the Western tradition, the Chinese reaction is to retreat to an often fantastical earthly paradise, she said. (That’s not to say China lacks a substantial fantasy tradition: The mercurial Monkey King is the protagonist of 1592’s Journey to the West, one of the country’s most famous novels.)
But while China may lack a Judgment Day, its literary tradition is ripe with doomsday prophets and dreamers who reached deep into Chinese history and society to criticize its present — from the Taoists to Mao Zedong to China’s burgeoning sci-fi novelists who satirize Communist China with their dystopian visions. The Chinese don’t need zombies to destroy their country. Their history’s ghosts are devastating enough.
Image credits: YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images; Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images; John Moore/Getty Images; Thomas Koehler/Photothek via Getty Images; VCG/VCG via Getty Images; Michael Gottschalk/Photothek via Getty Images