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Book Nook: Walking with Abel - Journeys with the Nomads of the African Savannah, by Anna Badkhen


Anna Badkhen is one of my favorite writers. Her latest book is one of my favorite books of the year. My interview with Anna is one of my favorite interviews this year. I cannot wait for her next. Here's my review of her current book which ran in the Cox Ohio newspapers:

In 2013 the journalist Anna Badkhen went to the West African nation of Mali to spend time with nomadic cattle herders known as the Fulani. They have lived in the area for thousands of years. She spent almost a year living with a Fulani family as they made their seasonal migration across a two billion year-old plateau in the Inner Niger Delta. Badkhen describes her travels with the Fulani in "Walking with Abel - Journeys with the Nomads of the African Savannah." The Fulani cowboys herd their Zebu cattle across a vast range. They gave her a Fulani name-she walked with them as they tracked along the same routes that their ancestors have followed for millennia. She observed her host family as they went about their daily lives. The men are responsible for the cattle. When a Fulani youth has turned the age of seven he is old enough to take the cattle out alone to pastures many miles away and stay with them for days. The Fulani depend upon their cattle for sustenance. When the cows have had sufficient grass to eat they produce wonderful milk. The Fulani women will make butter and buttermilk which they can exchange in nearby towns for other essentials; rice, millet, and the cotton seed that they feed their cattle when there's not enough grass to eat. The author's depiction of the impact of climate change upon this area is revealing. Weather patterns are forging drought conditions. The short rainy season can take much longer to begin and end too quickly. The cattle that have sustained the Fulani for generations are having a tough time surviving. Many Fulani cling to the ancient ways. A combination of factors threatens this way of life. They depend upon the milk from their cows to maintain healthy diets. When the cattle cannot find forage Fulani mothers are forced to consume diets which lack the nutrients they need to nurse their babies. Child mortality rates in Mali are high. Youth who cannot see any future in being nomadic herders are moving to cities and discarding their Fulani customs. In Northern Mali an Islamic jihadist insurgency is wreaking destruction. Another impact of climate change is this: disaffected youth are becoming jihadists-some Fulani have joined the insurgents. Badkhen was a war correspondent. In "Walking with Abel" she recounts the uncertainty of feeling exposed down on the ground as French fighter jets are flying over. We vicariously experience an ominous sense of dread. Her account of life with the Fulani is enthralling. We learn their history, customs, superstitions, and taboos. Her writing transports us there: "The sun blasted into the sky an hour after the morning prayer. A black kite dove for fish in a fen west of the camp and cattle egrets flaked into the hippo grass, rosewinged with dawn light. Starlings fell in and out of the acacia tree with earsplitting screeching. In the tree's tussles hung a butter-colored quarter moon." Their culture has endured for eons. Will it survive? We need to know what is happening. "Walking with Abel" is essential reading.

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Vick Mickunas introduced the Book Nook author interview program for WYSO in 1994. Over the years he has produced more than 1500 interviews with writers, musicians, poets, politicians, and celebrities. Listen to the Book Nook with Vick Mickunas for intimate conversations about books with the writers who create them. Vick Mickunas reviews books for the Dayton Daily News and the Springfield News Sun.