Two tales of Afghanistan

Marianne Elliott and Nicky Hager‘s books at first sight appear to be quite different beasts. Investigative journalist and author Hager needs no introduction, he has been illuminating New Zealand’s political, military and intelligence underbelly since 1996. His books are weighty tomes (metaphorically if not literally) replete with formidably detailed research. Zen under fire by Marianne Elliott, former United Nations’ human rights officer and lawyer, uses a more personal tale-telling technique to describe her time in Afghanistan and its impact on her, her nearest and dearest. Surprisingly the books taken together are complementary and sympathetic, providing a picture of Afghanistan, big and small.

Both Hager and Marianne felt compelled to write due to the lack of information on Afghanistan despite New Zealand’s involvement there. Further Marianne wanted to tell the stories of her Afghani colleagues, “to use the location and time in history to inform people”, to give context and reveal the discrepancies between the theory and practice of humans rights in Afghanistan.

For research Marianne relied on the almost verbatim notes she’d kept of interactions with warlords and non-governmental organisations. Her own “tenacious memory” informed the rest. Hager spoke to serving soldiers, senior officers and collected intelligence and military documents in the tens of thousands. The sheer volume of evidence “nearly melted down his brain” and Hager initially struggled to reduce this mountain of paper and find the essence.

Finding the “voice” of their respective books had challenges for them both. Hager didn’t want a critical, nagging voice. He wanted Other people’s wars to be a nation building book explaining who we are as New Zealanders, and to be read by the military, military families and the wider New Zealand public especially the young. Marianne wrote for her friends, women she knows and loves but who sometimes struggled to understand her experiences. She also felt strongly that most New Zealanders wanted to understand Afghanistan and be able to access nuanced information. The personal story was for her the best vehicle

Asked about what the next five years held for Afghanistan neither author was optimistic. Nicky Hager believes the slow collapse of Afghani society is inevitable once the West withdraws. Marianne likewise, despite her reservations about the West’s original involvement in Afghanistan, fears the lack of long-term political commitment will result in hardship for the many people who have experienced improved lives since Western forces entered Afghanistan. The transition needs to be slow and thoughtful and she hold real reprisal concerns for the many Afghani who have worked alongside the West.

This was a carefully structured and sensitive exploration of the writer’s craft rather than a febrile, political polemic. Well attended, the audience provided some thoughtful and topical questions.

Blue September and the Unsexy Cancer

Now, you could argue no cancer is sexy, but some get a lot more publicity, funding and sympathy than others.

My husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer early last year at the tender age of 49, six weeks before we got married. His dad was also was diagnosed with the same cancer but at a much older age.

September is marked as Blue September, a month for raising awareness for a cancer that kills as many men as breast cancer kills women each year, and that is also chronically un-diagnosed, and unrepresented in research and funding.

Every year over 500 men die in New Zealand of prostate cancer.  That is more than 500 fathers, sons, brothers, grandfathers – gone!

Men are often unaware just how dangerous the disease is, they often avoid seeing their doctor about it, they simply don’t do anything about it. The most important thing to know is that prostate cancer can be prevented if detected early enough.

The Prostate Cancer Foundation encourages people to paint their faces blue during September, donate money to the Prostate Cancer Foundation  or just spread the word.

My husband did go and see his doctor, did have the rectal exam men are so afraid of and a few uncomfortable ones besides… and after treatment, he is recovered and doing exceptionally well, with very few lingering side effects. So because he made the decision to ‘suck it up’ and see his doctor he is still with me and his children and friends and will be for many years to come.

We found a lot of helpful reading in the Christchurch City Library collection about the prostate and prostate cancer, and although it is frustrating when a specialist won’t just tell you which treatment to do, it really is important to do the research yourself, and the right treatment for you will emerge.

So if you know a man over 40, encourage, nay nag them to go for a check up, if you are a man over 40, go and have one yourself. You WILL survive the exam with your manhood and dignity intact and you just may save your own life, if not for yourself, but for the people who love you.

Encyclopædia Britannica: your reputation precedes you

There are some reputations that are deserved in this world. When I say Britannica everyone tends to sit up straighter in their chairs. We librarians respect scholarly excellence and want to provide trustworthy information to you – so we have made sure you can access not only the print version of this resource but its magnificent electronic versions in all their glory!

  • Britannica Junior: Aimed at primary school kids. Lots of pictures, video and articles that can be read aloud.  Stegosaurus is “Animal of the day”!
  • Britannica Student: For tweenies and teens. Great for homework with plenty of interactivity that will keep them entertained as they learn.  Eero Saarinen is “Biography of the day”. You don’t know who he is? That would make two of us. Thank heavens for Britannica!
  • Encyclopædia Britannica Online: For the grown ups. Covers every subject known to (wo)man and a few others besides. If you think life is depressing at the moment then use the “Country Comparison” to compare New Zealand to Somalia. Their life expectancy for women is 51! Eeek!

Access these resources and many other clever online resources at the Source using your library card number and PIN.