birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.


As I get a bit long on the tooth and my nieces and nephews set off for Bali and a monastery in Oregon and Barcelona, I realize how lucky I was to have some fine adventures abroad in my 20s. I missed Cuba under Castro, couldn't afford the $500 "student exchange fee" to go. But I saw the old Soviet Union and lived in London for four months in a posh flat because my hippie college boyfriend became a lawyer. In later life the farthest I've ever been was Greenland, but it was a strange and painful trip, so I'll save it. At about age 28, I got a chance to go to Togo in W. Africa for a travel trade journal. We landed in Dakar, Senegal and the equatorial sun was full blaze enormous when I stepped onto the tarmac to switch planes. I recall seeing a woman cocooned in beautifully embroidered silk curved around her in ways American women never sheathed themselves, asleep in an impossibly small seat on the crowded plane. I recall Abijan, like a mixture of Oz and the United Nations complex in New York City, a graceful, modern city skyline. They wouldnt let us open the blinds on the runway in Monrovia, but I peeked. Milirary convoys and, if I recall correctly, red-bereted mean riding everywhere with rifles and machine guns. I pulled gthe blind down tight. Togo was (is?) a tiny, former French colony tucked near Nigeria, and it had at that point been ruled by Eyadama, a one-name dictator president, for 20 plus years. They were trying to encourage tourism, hence the American travel journalists' expedition. But I had a secret mission too. I'd stopped by Amnesty International in NY and they'd asked me to check on some rebels who were trying for a peaceful overthrow. My code name?Lois Lane. I swear to God. My contact met me on the sidewalk outside the Internationale Continentale or whatever they called the one big hotel in Lome, the capital. He reported that the opposition members had all been moved to a prison outside the city before we arrived. One moment I remember was in the north, when we had spent all day on a small bus and had done a lot of awkward "tourists mingle with tribespeople" meet and greets that neither side enjoyed. The older chief pulled me aside and begged me to send medicine and medical supplies from the U.S. to his village. That's not the moment though. The kids running around took the small electronic games I gave them, but scoffed at the image of a man walking on the moon on one game. No, I explained in my schoolbook French, we have landed a space ship on the moon. "La lune! La lune!" I exclaimed, pointing to the sky. They laughed and laughed. I was dumfounded, but I didn't know how to make them realize what I was saying was true. I treated a small black girl to ice cream at a cafe meant for white out-of-tonwers. We sat at the finest table in the middle of the otherwise empty restaurant and the waiter treated us both like queens, albeit nervously. I took down her birth date and promised to send her a present but i never did. That evening, I heard the sweetest music I have ever heard, before or since. Women walking in from agricultural fields (no one went hungry in Togo, plenty of fish and bread and coffee) were singing a capella, crooning traditional West African tunes. When I returned to the U..and landed at Newark, I drove 20 mph from the airport on the New Jersey Turnpike and people kept honking angrily at me. It was the first time I'd ever truly been away from the influence of the West. I needed to hurry back up and catch up with the rush and bustle and stress, blared those angry horns.