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

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.


Some places you're drawn to and some places you aren't, and sometimes this has to do with something inherent and instinctual rather. I don't know why I'm not drawn to Africa, not one bit, why I wasn't drawn to the place ten years ago when I decided to travel there.

I had just gotten my heart broken and was spending most of my time crying in various coffee shops around town when I learned about a humanitarian trip that some people at my church were organizing. I was asked to join some women who were going to work with widows in Zambia. It took us over 35 hours to travel there and once we arrived in Lusaka, the capital, we had to travel over two hours by car over bumpy, unpaved roads to get to our final destination. We were there to participate in a national women's conference. I helped with some art workshops and worked with the ladies to paint a mural for the side of a new school. Some of the women had never held a pencil, pen, or paintbrush in their hands till that moment. Though some of them had been in a classroom when they were girls, resources were so scarce that they were told to stand at the back of the room and watch the boys learn how to write. On the way to and from the conference, I saw billboards with girls faces coupled with something like "having sex with me won't cure you of AIDS" on them because so many men thought they could fuck the disease out of their bodies if they did it with a virgin. After seeing those billboards, I assisted with the children's program at another conference. There, three girls who looked to be ten or eleven were having a great time hula-hooping. I noticed the way they were innocently moving their hips to keep the hoops up. I wondered who else was noticing, who else had noticed. There were some smaller children, as little as four-years-old, who would appear from the bushes, alone. They'd heard about the program mainly that there were biscuits and juice at tea time and then a hot lunch. The games and songs and crafts were a bonus. All of this was too much for me but there was nowhere to go for a private moment to compose myself. I had to face the wall and just cry for a minute before turning back around.

Maybe it was the fact that I was still trying to grieve my big breakup. Maybe it was seeing the poverty and the devastating effects of AIDS. I had such a rich experience in Zambia the food, the music, the nature but I didn't develop the kind of affection and connection to the place that would make me want to return. I left and never looked back.

Bima, Sumbawa

Far Away