Consider the humble motorcycle. Commonly known in East Africa as a “boda-boda” (the vibrating sound of a poorly muffled two-stroke engine) they have become ubiquitous across the continent over the past decade, thanks to their durability and affordability. A used 100cc or 150cc Bajaj Boxer can be had for as little as 1 to 2 million Ugandan shillings ($250–500 US); well within reach for much of Africa’s rapidly growing population.

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Upon seeing this image my friend Leeman remarked, “I feel like I don’t even know what style or elegance is.”

Last year I spent a week jet-setting (van-setting?) around Uganda in a minibus full of people and suitcases, spending up to 12 hours at a time watching the landscape roll by as we bounced from city to city and appointment to appointment. …

In “Meet me in the Morning” Bob Dylan paraphrases Thomas Fuller, saying “…the darkest hour is right before the dawn.” The phrase contains a truth that is both simple and complex.

Like the old riddle, “how far into the forest can you go?” the smug literalist answer replies, “halfway” because after that you’re actually going *out* of the forest.

Though her rosy fingers are not yet seen, dawn is already in motion at the moment the sun moves past it’s nadir.

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The placement of Christmas and other festivals of light just before or after the winter solstice has an implicit symbolism that is nearly universal to the human experience. The moment of change — the transition from old to new — happens long before that change becomes evident. …

My grandfather, Charles “CJ” Swet passed away on Wednesday December 17, 2020. As sad as I am to see him go, the life he lived in his 98 years was an exceptional one, and up to the very end he was sharper than most of the folks you’re likely to meet.

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This issue of Weird Tales features a story by my great-grandmother alongside pulp giants like Paul Ernst, Edmund Hamilton, and Lovecraft pen-pal August Derleth

As I begin to feel the space he leaves behind, I am compelled to put down a few words about him, though no amount of writing would really capture what a singular individual he truly was.

CJ grew up in Chicago in the 20s and 30s. His father Abe was a journalist making his career as a crime reporter in the heyday of mob-run prohibition-era Chicago. His mother Pearl was an English teacher and a writer from Farnsworth Wright’s Weird Tales pulp sci-fi/fantasy writing circle. CJ was clever and socially deft from a young age; well above average as both a writer and a mathematician. His keen intellect led him to pursue a maritime engineering degree at MIT, where he graduated with distinction in the middle of WWII. After finishing his degree he moved from Boston to Philadelphia to do naval design and engineering, supporting the war effort by converting commercial watercraft to military purposes for the US Navy. …


I grew up in a rather large family with a rather limited income. Not what I would call impoverished — I never missed a meal to my recollection — but money was usually tight, and there was rarely “extra” anything even though we always got by. But one year we purchased a family membership to the Baltimore Zoo (now the Maryland Zoo), and I distinctly remember as we walked through the gate my mom tucked the membership card back into her purse with a little gleeful smile

“I feel rich!” she said, laughing. “We don’t have to see the whole zoo in a single visit. We can just look at what we want to and leave without worrying about getting our money’s worth!” …

I’ve carried pocket notebooks for years, but never used them systematically. If a thought or an observation occurred to me, I’d jot it down, but that was the extent of it. Even though I carried those notebooks everywhere, they’d wear out long before I was able to fill them up with ideas.

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So many unfilled pages.

Four months ago, thanks to several factors, I began experimenting with a much more systematic approach to journal-keeping. Nothing earth-shaking. Nothing transformative. Just a commitment to putting a page or so of handwritten notes on paper every day. The process has been one of trial and error, but I’ve settled into a system that works well for me. As I played around with approaches to note-taking, I also put a considerable amount of time into reading about how other folks have approached their own journaling processes. …

If you were to chart the explosive growth of home bread-baking over the past two months, it would probably match the curve of COVID-19 infections with uncanny precision. Social distancing and home quarantining provide an unprecedented opportunity for so many of us to finally learn so many of the skills we’ve always wanted (I’m working on knife sharpening at the moment).

I started experimenting with home bread-making more than a decade ago, toying with easy sweet and savory quick breads like zucchini bread and beer bread, and then moving on to pizza dough and other conventional yeast breads not long after that. When my wife and I bought our first house five years ago I cultivated my first sourdough starter as a way of symbolically staking claim to the property (“You microorganisms work for me now, hear?”), and not long afterwards I ramped up my work-from-home schedule — first to 20%, and then all the way up to 50%. …

In late 2013 and early 2014 I was the coordinator for a small multidisciplinary team planning a month-long trip to six West African countries to assess the impact of a variety of coastal mangrove forest conservation programs. The team was a Cameroonian botanist, a Bangladeshi development economist, and me (a marginally competent anthropologist and social scientist).

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Somewhere outside of Takoradi, Ghana

As I lined up our timetable and agenda for the weeks ahead, an alarming situation arose. …

As the US moves into the more dangerous stages of the coronavirus epidemic, I’d like to emphasize something critical about our response strategy that has not received as much attention.

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From everything we’ve seen so far, the virus disproportionately impacts the elderly, persons with respiratory ailments, and persons with compromised immune systems — to a frightening degree, in fact. For most of us, COVID-19 will be like a bad case of the flu. For some of us, it will be a life-threatening experience. As the virus spreads, an unprecedented number of people will require immediate and significant attention from our health care system, and there is a very real possibility of our ICU capacity being taxed to the breaking point. Preventative measures like hand washing and voluntary self-quarantining will not stop the spread of this virus, but they will, if practiced broadly enough, hopefully slow its spread to a sufficient degree that our health care system can operate effectively without being overwhelmed. …

Last year I had the opportunity to put a new stamp on my passport with a quick work trip to the Philippines. My time on the ground was too short, the jet lag was a beast, I spent most of the time working, and I never made it out of the metro Manila area.

Nonetheless, it was a great experience. I took my opportunities where I could get them, and I’m looking forward to returning someday.

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Sunset over Manila Bay

The highlights? Well, I’ve bounced around Latin America and the Pacific Rim a bit, and I certainly felt the the fusion of the two regions. …

I’ve had the opportunity to spent a decent amount of time bouncing around a few different African capitals — Lusaka, Kigali, N’Djamena, Nairobi, Kampala, Accra etc. Accra is a particularly favorite destination for me. It’s got a great mix of upbeat hustle and downtempo chill, and every time I go I get to see another side of the city that I missed before.

One of the constant joys is the food. I won’t get into the Nigeria vs. Ghana shooting war over who makes the best jollof rice, but I will say that the diversity of cuisine available in Ghana is overwhelming. One time I had a bowl of Nkatenkwan (peanut soup) that included goat, smoked fish, peanuts, tomatoes, and scotch bonnet peppers, and the flavor combination was so good it just wrecked all of my assumptions about what you could do with soup. BLEW MY MIND. Despite my best efforts I’ve never been able to find that particular style of peanut soup again. …


Isaac Morrison

Baltimore native, anthropologist, evaluator, inventor, potter, writer, and traveler (Central America, Sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East, and bits of Asia).

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