As promised, I'm blogging about the first story of our current book club selection, +Say You're One of Them+ by Uwem Akpan, titled "An Ex-mas Feast." If you haven't finished the story, I suggest you do before you read this -- you'll get much more out of it, I promise. I'm first struck by the pure irony of the setting: a family celebrating a Christmas holiday on the street because they have nowhere better to go, much like Mary and Joseph -- but they at least found a manger. And instead being surrounding by animals and sleeping on straw, the family of this story live in filth and squalor in a rundown shack. And then the mother, hungover from partying night before, gives her children glue in order to keep their hunger at bay. This was where I stopped and thought, am I up for this? Can I handle the destitution and heartbreak on these pages? I really didn't know if I could -- it was a particularly beautiful day outside... there were plenty of errands to run.... But after the first couple of pages, all I did know was that I could not put the book down. I needed to know, do these children in this story even have a chance? They live in utter destitution with parents who have given up the fight to better themselves, change their circumstances, completely. But then I think there's hope for these children because they have each other. Maisha is working as a prostitute so her family will have enough money for her eight-year-old brother, Jigana, to attend school for the first time. And Jigana is as devoted to his sister as she is to him. That to me is survival on the edge of despair -- right there, in my face -- who am I to look away. In some way, it reminds me of my own family's story about the time my mother dropped out of college so her younger sister could go to nursing school. They didn't have much money; my grandfather had a devastating stroke and could no longer work, so my mother quit school to go to work to help. My mother's family was nowhere near the dire straits of the family in the story, but it was 1940s America and they were struggling, not just to survive... but also achieve. And I guess why this family story has stayed with me is that my mother never had a moment of resentment about dropping out, not once. I could never understand why. She was as smart as her sister and was just as deserving, but after reading this story, I now understand. My mother didn't just see herself as an individual, but as part of a unit, whose success relied on someone, anyone in fact, getting to the next rung. And when that person succeeded, everyone else felt they did too. That was how families fought their ways out of poverty, sacrifices had to be made and everyone understood. In our case it worked. My mother went on to eventually finish college and even achieve a Masters Degree. But sometimes the burden is too much to bear, the weight too heavy. And in the case of this story -- a tsunami wave of pain and despair swept Maisha and Jigana out on the dangerous streets of Nairobi unmoored and all alone. Will they end up like their own parents, discarded like detritus from a city that never saw their value? Parents who might have been like Maisha and Jigana in their youth? Or will each of them find their own path to a better life than the one they knew? All I do know is that when I see children begging in the streets again... I will think stop and differently -- and that's what a great story is there to do. What are your thoughts about "Ex-mas Feast"? Will these children survive? Are the parents at fault or victims of a system that doesn't support those who have the least? I can't wait to read what you have to say!