Oprah: But what's interesting is that people were e-mailing us saying they couldn't believe that the mother in the story was passing the glue to her children because I don't think people—and even I had friends that say, "Well, I don't understand the whole glue sniffing thing"—that they didn't understand that the reason why they were sniffing the glue is so that they wouldn't have the hunger.

Uwem: Yeah.

Anderson: Right. And with the mom, I think in the story it's to, you know, cure her kids' hunger pangs and so they're not crying, they're not complaining, they're able to get through the night, they're able to sleep through the night.

Oprah: So you had, you had obviously witnessed that, too. I'm sorry, Anderson.

Uwem: Yes, I had seen street kids, you know, sniffing glue. And when I was...

Oprah: Had you seen families sniffing glue?

Uwem: Did I? I did not spend a lot of time with street families.

Oprah: With families.

Uwem: I constantly looked at street kids. That was, that's why it was easier for me to write about families, so that I can, I could imagine, you know.

Oprah: Oh. 

Uwem: That was important to me. Because I'm not writing biographies or autobiographies. I'm just writing and imagining and bringing the story together. But it's not, for me, it's not so far off that a mother could, you know, could give to, you know, the...

Oprah: The children.

Uwem: The children.

Oprah: Yeah, the children.

Uwem: Hunger does a lot of things to, you know, to us. And when we are in a difficult situation, for example, the Katrina experience in this country, as rich as it is, once those parents had their backs against the wall, they were ready to do anything to get those kids on the buses to Houston.

Oprah: Yes.

Uwem: Yeah.

Oprah: Well, Anderson knows quite a bit about Katrina because I think he's a reporter who has probably spent more time in New Orleans helping the Katrina victims than anybody else in this country.

Winnie is Skyping in along with her Appleton Wisconsin Book Club and has...Hello, Appleton Wisconsin Book Club! You didn't know you were writing for the Appleton Wisconsin Book Club.

Uwem: (Laughter) I did not know.

Oprah: Winnie has a question about "An Ex-Mas Feast." Okay, Winnie, what's your question?

Winnie: Well, first of all, on behalf of all of us, thank you for allowing us to have this privilege to participate in this worldwide event. It's very amazing. And my question is, as a Christian, the contrast between our celebration of Christmas in the U.S. and the celebration in "An Ex-Mas Feast" is so ironic and so dreadful. When you were writing it, did you plan that? Or did it just happen that way? It's just so horrible and not the way Christmas is supposed to be...

Uwem: ...Celebrated. Thank you very much for reading my book. When I was writing, I wasn't—as I said in, in my, you know, in my profile—there are many things that happen in fiction and I just don't understand. In Africa, Christmas is supposed to be a nice celebration. And in many places in Africa, many homes, it's, you know, just the kind of experience as you have here celebrating Christmas. But for some poor people, it can be a very terrible experience.

Oprah: Mm-hmm.

Uwem: And for a poor family like this, that depends on, say, their daughter or their children, what is she going to bring home, okay? They will celebrate, they will find a way to celebrate. But what are they celebrating, you know? These children in my stories, they have a lot of hope. Their external worlds have collapsed, but their internal worlds are very resilient, which is the reverse of, you know, sometimes American children or Western children. The additional opportunities are there, things are working fine, and yet, you know, you have teenage suicide. Someone has given up. Someone is not feeling loved enough. And my... What I would like to say to you, my dear American brothers and sisters, is why is this happening? You have all these opportunities any yet many a times some child gives up here. Some university student commits suicide. The opportunities are there. But yet you go to these suffering countries and everybody's rooting for life. We will make it. We will believe.

Oprah: Mm-hmm.

Uwem: What is lacking? You know. So when you see children struggling like this and still being hopeful, Maisha in that story hopes she will come back from prostitution and do something with her life.

Oprah: Yeah.

Uwem: Jigana hopes he can be, you know, he can't stand the, the sister getting into prostitution. What gives these people in struggling countries this hope. And sometimes in our society where things are working very fine, working very well, it's not there. For me, that's a puzzle.

Oprah: That is a puzzle. And, and Anderson, I bet you can address that because as you travel around the world, I think that is what happens when...that is so fascinating when you go particularly to African countries. You see people who have so little.

Uwem: Mm-hmm.

Oprah: I mean, people who have absolutely nothing. And within themselves they maintain this sense of joy and well being and...

Uwem: Yeah.

Oprah: ...And the, and the desire to want to keep, keep moving forward.

Uwem: Mm-hmm.

Oprah: I mean, I've seen that many times. I see it with my own children at my school. And Appleton, Winnie, I would say to you and the book club, I mean, what he describes in "An Ex-Mas Feast" is very, very common in many Third World countries around the world where it's Christmas Day. Everybody, you know, people who celebrate the Christian faith and would want to have a Christmas tree, you know, don't. Would want to have a Christmas meal, don't. Would want to be able to celebrate with gifts and sharing with their children, but they don't. I mean, I go through that right now with all the girls, the girls at my school. Every year there's a question of whether I give them presents because they're gonna go home to people who have no presents. There's a question of whether I provide food for them to take home to their families or try to find some social service agency who can at least get them, you know, food for Christmas Day. So I think that what you described here is, is really very common.

Uwem: It is. It's painful.

Oprah: Yeah.

Uwem: The situation of our continent, as rich as it is, and what has been done with the, with the wealth of our continent and where that wealth is in this world is very frightening.

Oprah: Yeah. Anderson, I was saying that about going around the world. When you go around the world, what the Father, what Father Uwem was talking about. You see these children in particular in, you know, in dirt floor schools with no walls who are, you know, dying, literally, to get an education.

Anderson: Yeah. Yeah, I mean it's one of the things that is so—has fascinated me from the beginning is why some people survive and others don't.

Oprah: Yeah. Yeah.

Copyright 2009 Harpo Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce any printed copy of the material except for the user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon Harpo Productions, Inc.'s copyright or proprietary interests in the material.


Next Story