email a friend iconprinter friendly iconThe Life: Nicholas Kristof
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A: Is that the closest call you’ve ever had?

NK: There was one particular trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in ’97, when I was in a plane crash getting into the country. Those of us in the plane were OK, but one person was killed on the ground, and the plane itself was a total wreck. It was so frightening, I decided to drive out of the country. But then I came across a Tutsi militia that was busy killing Hutus. They detained us for a while, but we were eventually released. Except then the militiamen had second thoughts and spent the next few days chasing after us through the jungle. To top it off, on the same trip I got the most lethal form of malaria.

A: You’re currently at work on your fourth book, about women in the developing world. When did that idea strike you?

NK: Back in 1989, my wife and I covered the crushing of the Tiananmen Square movement for democracy in China. For weeks the event attracted headlines on the front page, but it dawned on us that a far greater problem was the number of Chinese girls being killed each year—simply because they weren’t boys. And the same was true in India, Pakistan, and much of the world. In India, for instance, people are half as likely to vaccinate their daughters as to vaccinate their sons. An Indian girl is about 50 percent more likely to die between the ages of one and five than an Indian boy. On top of that, you’ve got sex trafficking on a vast scale. The most egregious human rights abuses in the world tend to involve gender. And if you want to address international poverty, you’ve got to bring women into the economy and educate them.

A: Do you ever worry that you might overwhelm your readers or turn them off somehow? You know, maybe someone’s drinking his morning coffee, reading the paper, and he finally throws up his hands and says, Enough! I can’t handle Kristof this morning.

NK: Sometimes I worry about writing what might be called, frankly, "genocide porn." Darfur is so painful a topic, and so brutal, and so graphic that it becomes almost titillating. I worry about that when I pile on horrifying examples. But I don’t know any other way to get people toactually act—and maybe write a letter to the White House.

A: Do you ever get to enjoy a trip?

NK: The coolest country I’ve been to is Vanuatu, an amazing set of islands in the Pacific. There’s one island called Tanna that has an incredibly dramatic volcano and a fairly traditional way of life, with everybody drinking kava out of coconut shells. There’s a cargo cult there in which people worship a guy they call John Frum. Presumably this was someone named John who introduced himself as "John from Atlanta" or "John from New York," but the latter part of it got lost. So now he’s just known as John Frum. And he’s worshipped as a god. He was likely an American soldier who showed up during WWII with a lot of technology that people had never seen before, like maybe a plane or a ship. There’s a real theology about him. Of course, I haven’t been back since, so maybe now there is another cargo cult for "Nick Frum."

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