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Nonfiction Audio Review: Walking the Bowl by Chris Lockhart and Daniel Mulilo Chama (narrated by Hlonela Ngqwebo)

Title: Walking the Bowl: A True Story of Murder and Survival Among the Street Children of Lusaka

Author: Chris Lockhart and Daniel Mulilo Chama (narrated by Hlonela Ngqwebo)
Year published: 2023
Category: Adult nonfiction
Pages: 336 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location: (my 2023 Google Reading map)Zambia

SummaryBased on years of investigative reporting and unprecedented fieldwork, Walking the Bowl immerses readers in the daily lives of four unforgettable characters: Lusabilo, a determined waste picker; Kapula, a burned-out brothel worker; Moonga, a former rock crusher turned beggar; and Timo, an ambitious gang leader. These children navigate the violent and poverty-stricken underworld of Lusaka, one of Africa’s fastest growing cities.

When the dead body of a ten-year-old boy is discovered under a heap of garbage in Lusaka’s largest landfill, a murder investigation quickly heats up due to the influence of the victim’s mother and her far-reaching political connections. The children’s lives become more closely intertwined as each child engages in a desperate bid for survival against forces they could never have imagined.

Gripping and fast-paced, the book exposes the perilous aspects of street life through the eyes of the children who survive, endure and dream there, and what emerges is an ultimately hopeful story about human kindness and how one small good deed, passed on to others, can make a difference in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

Review: I was really looking forward to listening to this book and didn't give it a fair chance. I ended up listening in fits and starts, not really getting long stretches of listening time until the last third. However, even with that level of effort, I got that this is a story that is really well told.

The children's lives in this book are filled with poverty, violence, and neglect. Neglect from their families, society, the government, and even the social workers whose job it is to look out for them. But, for all that, there are glimmers of care and concern from within their street families and an occasional adult who is paying attention. Even small efforts such as the woman who sells glue to the boys for sniffing. She makes sure it is pure and not tainted with poison like others do. Strange to think this is kindness, but it is.

This is not an easy read. Hearing children talk about horrifying drug use, rape, AIDS cocktails, and violence in a casual "it's just the way it is" way is difficult. The authors must have done really intense interviews with these boys to have exact quotes and experiences.

"Walking the bowl" is pay it forward. I love how it all wraps up at the end and we see the string of people walking the bowl.

Challenges for which this counts:
  • Literary Escapes: Zambia
  • Nonfiction

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