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About the Author

Stephanie Nolen

Stephanie Nolen came in from the field with her five rules for success as a foreign correspondent. She's been doing that job and doing it well for two decades, filing memorable stories from South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. She has won a record seven National Newspaper Awards for her reporting. Her book 28 Stories of AIDS in Africa won the PEN "Courage" Prize and was nominated for the 2007 Governor-General's Award for Non-Fiction. She is now the Latin America correspondent for the Globe and Mail and lives in Rio de Janeiro with her partner and two children.

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28

28

Stories of AIDS in Africa
edition:Paperback
tagged : human rights
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Excerpt

Why28

I looked at AIDS in Africa for a long time before I understood what I was seeing. That moment came on the shady porch of a small mud-brick house in a village called Nkhotakota in Malawi, early in 2002. The house belonged to Lillian Chandawili. She was thirty-five years old, and I met her through the local AIDS organization. We sat in the softening heat of the late afternoon and she told me how she was raising her five children on her own–her husband was gone. She confided that she was plagued by diarrhea and a racking cough; some days she barely had the strength to lift a hoe, but her little plot of land was the only source of food for her family.

While we talked, Lillian’s children ventured up to sit near us, and neighbours and relatives stopped by, polite and eager to greet a visitor. There were a great many children. Lillian explained that in addition to her five she was raising two of her late sister’s children and two orphaned cousins. She laid one gentle hand on their heads as they crept in close–“This one has it,” she said. “And this one, I think he’s infected.” When the neighbours moved on, she gestured with a lift of her chin at one or another–“She is infected. He is positive. Her husband is dying. He lost his wife.”

And as I listened, I suddenly understood that it wasn’t just Lillian and the dozen people in her support group in Nkhotakota who had AIDS. On paper, it was one in six adults in Malawi. But in this village, it was hundreds of people. If they weren’t sick themselves, they were caring for the sick. They were sheltering their sisters’ orphans, their dead brother’s young wife and baby. One way or another, everyone had the disease. And it meant that they earned less, that they grew less food, that fewer children went to school, that no one had any savings. Lillian talked of all the people who had “passed,” and I had a sense of a community quietly evaporating around me.

A few days later, in the Malawian capital, Lilongwe, I set out early one morning for the main hospital, where the lone doctor in charge had agreed to speak to me about the country’s HIV epidemic. When I got to the hospital, however, no one was quite sure where he was, and people suggested I try one ward or another, check this corridor or that office. I wandered the halls in a state of growing horror. I had by that point seen many basic and overcrowded African hospitals, but never anything like this. There were people everywhere: three to a bed, lying head to foot to head; under the beds, lying on grass mats in the stairwells and in the verandas off the wards. They were bone thin and covered in lesions and abscesses. As I stepped gingerly among them, they shifted their heads slightly to look up at me through eyes grown huge in sunken faces. I could not find the doctor; I did find a nurse–perhaps the only nurse–who was stout and slovenly and clearly drunk, her hairpiece of copper curls askew. Looking around the ward, I couldn’t blame her: it was barely 8 a.m., but I felt in desperate need of a stiff drink myself.

I had realized, long before that day, that AIDS was a unique and savage phenomenon in Africa. Back in 1998, in a rural hospital in Tanzania, the chief medical officer had led me on a tour of the wards. In one, we passed rows of antique but tidy beds lined up under billowy mosquito nets. Then we came to three men off by themselves, lying in a row on a thin mat on the floor. Their legs were like twigs, and their breathing was audible from the other side of the room. I was puzzled at first, and stopped in front of them. Then realized what this must be.

“Do they have AIDS?” I asked.

The doctor and his assistants whipped around. A nurse seized my arm and began to pull me out of the ward.

Shh, shh, shh,” she scolded. “You can’t just say that word.”

The sight of those men stayed with me. Over the next few years, I kept going back to Africa, drawn to what I began to believe was the biggest story in the world. Not the wars or the refugee crises that occasionally–very occasionally–made the evening news back home, but the slow, almost incalculable devastation that HIV/AIDS was wreaking in country after country I visited.

I know something about what makes news. In the fifteen years I have worked as a journalist, I have reported on some of the biggest stories in the world. I watched Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization move into the West Bank after making peace with Israel in the early 1990s. I saw tentative women venture out of their homes for the first time in five years as the Taliban lost their hold on Afghanistan. I watched Saddam Hussein’s army flee Baghdad in the face of an onslaught of U.S. Marines. There is an undeniable thrill that comes with being in the centre of the big story.

But nothing I was sent to cover anywhere in the world compared to what I saw AIDS doing in sub-Saharan Africa. And yet this story never made the news at all.

In 2003, I persuaded my editors at The Globe and Mail that we were missing something important. They did not yet share my conviction about the urgency of the story, but they were willing to let me try to tell it. I moved to Johannesburg and began what would turn out to be years of travel through the heart of the epidemic: the Swazi villages, the slums outside Durban, the highlands of Lesotho, the urban hospitals of Botswana. I found hundreds and hundreds of communities like Nkhotakota on the verge of disappearing. I knew people in North America who had been living with HIV for years, taking antiretroviral medication that does not cure AIDS but will keep a person with HIV healthy for decades. But no one in Africa had the drugs. No one was even talking about getting them the drugs. AIDS was a fully preventable illness at home. But in Africa, it was a plague, and people like Lillian Chandawili could do little but sit and watch its inexorable progression. And I began to wonder how this could be happening–how we could be letting this happen–almost entirely unremarked.

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Promised the Moon

Promised the Moon

The Untold Story Of The First Women In The Space Race
edition:Hardcover
also available: Hardcover Paperback
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Promised The Moon

Promised The Moon

The Untold Story Of The First Women In The Space Race
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
tagged :
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Shakespeare's Face
Excerpt

Foreword

Like the painting that inspired it, this book can be read in different ways. One way is as a work of investigative journalism in which Stephanie Nolen goes behind the story she broke in May 2001 about a then-unknown portrait possibly of William Shakespeare. Her six chapters, which form the spine of the book, take us along on her voyage of discovery. As she notes, she is neither a Shakespeare scholar nor a trained art historian, but rather a curious layperson who attempts to unravel the mystery of the painting and to seek answers to the many questions it poses. From time to time, she calls on an expert to assist her in solving a particular puzzle or in separating fact from fiction.

Read another way, Shakespeare’s Face is a fascinating work of literary and art historical scholarship in which a distinguished group of experts from Canada, Great Britain and the United States bring all their wit and learning to bear on a very old picture. They look at the Sanders portrait as an artifact, as a work of art, as a cultural icon and as a fascinating window into Shakespeare’s world. I’ve met only two of these scholars in person, but I like to imagine them gathered around the painting as I saw it when it went on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario, in Toronto, in the summer of 2001.

The portrait sits on a pedestal in the middle of a small gallery. The scholars form a circle around this enigmatic object -- are some of them trying to catch its eye? -- each one with a different point of vantage. At first the room is quiet, as each of them looks for the clues that mean the most to her or him. One scholar moves up to look at the painting face to face. Another inspects the back of the panel under a magnifying glass. Still another seems to be as interested in his Collected Works of Shakespeare as in the picture. Finally one of them offers an opinion. Another chimes in. And soon the room is filled with animated discourse. (Involved in this conversation and yet separate from it is Stephanie Nolen, who is writing furiously in her notebook and missing not one crucial detail.) The conversation they might have had if they had met around the portrait is the one they now hold in the pages of this book.

But perhaps the most satisfying way of reading Shakespeare’s Face is as a historical detective story in which some of the evidence is four hundred years old, some is still warm and some may still turn up. In this version of the book the skills of all its writers -- ten scholars and one journalist -- are needed: investigative reporting; art historical analysis; paleography; literary deduction; genealogy; cultural anthropology; scientific analysis; painstaking archival research, to name a few. All their skills combine in an attempt to answer the question that all of us must ask of the slightly naughty-looking fellow in the Sanders portrait: Are you Shakespeare, or aren’t you? Is yours the face of genius?

If your experience of reading Shakespeare’s Face is anything like mine has been as its editor, charged with bringing all these pieces together into what I hope makes for a coherent whole, then as you turn these pages, and move from one point of view to another, you will change your opinion time and again on its central question. In the process you will learn a great deal about a great many things, ranging from the forensic analysis of old works of art to the hidden messages in obscure Elizabethan poems. But most of all you will gain a new and more intimate sense of William Shakespeare.

However you read this book, you will always come back to Shakespeare and the extraordinary staying power of his genius. He is omnipresent in our world even if he comes from a place and time quite alien to our own. He is where we least expect him, including, some would argue, in a painted face on an old and somewhat battered oak panel that has gone unnoticed for most of its life since perhaps a fledgling player in Shakespeare’s company applied the paint, layer on layer on layer, until it formed a face -- a face of which one thing can be said for sure: it looked upon the same England that Shakespeare saw four centuries ago.

Rick Archbold
Toronto, Spring 2002

From the Hardcover edition.

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