Foreign correspondent Neely Tucker and his wife, Vita, arrived in Zimbabwe in 1997. After witnessing firsthand the devastating consequences of AIDS on the population, especially the children, the couple started volunteering at an orphanage that was desperately underfunded and short-staffed. One afternoon, a critically ill infant was brought to the orphanage from a village outside the city. She'd been left to die in a field on the day she was born, abandoned in the tall brown grass that covers the highlands of Zimbabwe in the dry season. After a near-death hospital stay, and under strict doctor's orders, the ailing child was entrusted to the care of Tucker and Vita. Within weeks Chipo, the girl-child whose name means gift, would come to mean everything to them.
As a foreign correspondent, Tucker had worked in conflict zones on two continents and seen death in all its gruesome forms. "The steady stream of violence had worn away my natural sense of compassion to the point where I could cover almost any horror but felt very little about anything at all." Then, in 1997, Neely, a white Mississippian, and his African-American wife, Vita, were posted to Zimbabwe, where the AIDS crisis was feeding an unprecedented wave of sick and abandoned children. "The scale of death, and the depths of misery it entailed, defied the imagination even for someone like me...." Neely and Vita volunteered at an overwhelmed orphanage in the Zimbabwean capital, where diarrhea and pneumonia were killing babies at an alarming rate. Nobody dared whisper the word AIDS, though its specter hung over every crib. Here, Neely and Vita met Chipo, a desperately sick baby girl who had been abandoned under a tree. With temporary permission to take her home, Neely and Vita threw all available resources toward saving her life: round-the-clock feedings, good doctors, medicine and a clean, warm environment. She thrived. Neely and Vita decided to adopt Chipo, only to discover a slew of cultural taboos against adoption by foreigners-a white foreigner in particular. While Chipo grew healthy and fat under their care, the Tuckers negotiated a nightmarish bureaucracy that threatened to tear Chipo away from them; meanwhile, Zimbabwe was entering a period of civil unrest that targeted Americans and journalists. This is a gorgeous mix of family memoir and reportage that traverses the big issues of politics, racism and war. Agent, Wendy Weil. (On sale Feb. 17) Forecast: Crown will support Tucker's book with a regional NPR campaign, six-city author tour and print advertising. Tucker's current position (he's a staff writer for the Washington Post) should help him garner further attention. Copyright 2003 Reed Business nformation. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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December 31, 2003
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Excerpt from Love in the Driest Season by Phyllis Chesler
People Like Us
The bureaucrat was not a happy man, and it didn't take long to understand that I was the source of his irritation. Richard Tambadini was a senior officer in Zimbabwe's Department of Immigration Control. In May 1997, in a drab office in a dreary government building known as Liquenda House, he looked over my papers. He was slow, careful of speech, and so disdainful he seldom looked up.
"You have sent your belongings here ahead of yourself," he said, sounding as if he were reading from an indictment. "You presume that we will give you a work permit. You think little black Zimbabwe needs big white American men like you."
He paused and looked out the window at downtown Harare. A car alarm was going off on the street below, the repeated bleating of its horn drifting above the sound of midmorning traffic.
I shifted in my hard-back chair. This was becoming embarrassing. Vita and I had packed up our belongings from our previous posting in Warsaw, Poland, a few weeks earlier. The crate had to be trucked to Gdansk, wait for a ship, then be carried across the Baltic Sea down to Amsterdam, transferred to another cargo ship, then sailed down the coast of Europe, the entire West African coast, around the southern tip of Cape Town, and on to the South African port of Durban. Then it had to be transferred to a rail car and hauled to Zimbabwe. The shipping clerk had said eight weeks at best; perhaps three or four months. My predecessor in Harare had assured me that the Zimbabwean government would issue my work permit as a foreign correspondent long before then.