Sunday, May 5, 2013

Bob Harris's "The International Bank of Bob"

Bob Harris's books include Who Hates Whom (2007), a pocket guide to global conflict; Beyond Caprica (2010), a mock travel guide to the 12 colonies of the Caprica/Battlestar Galactica universe; Prisoner of Trebekistan (2006), a memoir of 13 Jeopardy! games over 10 years; and the recently released The International Bank of Bob: Connecting Our Worlds One $25 Kiva Loan at a Time.

Harris applied the “Page 99 Test” to The International Bank of Bob and reported the following:
Interesting. The International Bank of Bob is all about my travels to meet mom-and-pop business clients whose loans I'd invested in all over the world — but more, it's really about crossing boundaries and barriers, connecting with people whom I never would have met otherwise. It's one thing to want to help the poor; it's quite another to finally get on a damn plane and go to Rwanda and Cambodia and Nepal.

Not to give away too much, but what I found was glorious — in country after country, people who were superficially so different — languages, religions, skin colors, hats, and so on — turned out to all just be trying to work hard, put food on the table, and make a better life for their kids. No matter where I went — the Philippines, Kenya, Lebanon, Bosnia, you name it — I just kept meeting my own mom and dad, really, with differences that were usually no deeper than cosmetic. Many of the days I spent visiting clients now rank among my most memorable days on this earth.

On page 99, I'm in Cusco, Peru, on my very first trip into the field. Page 99 is where I cross the very first threshold, overcoming my own reluctance, physically entering the new world—specifically, the office of a local microlender, bustling with local men, women, and children. Many were in work clothes, most of them were small and thin, and all of them there in hopes of building a better life. On that first day, I was secretly nervous, suffering under the naive, mistaken impression that these people — and people in more than a dozen other countries I planned to visit — might be so different from me that I might have trouble telling their stories and understanding their hopes. But by the end of page 99 — seriously, look it up — a new friend I'm just meeting is smiling at me, and an amazing adventure has begun.

Well. Dang. Ford Madox Ford had it right.

The bottom of page 99 is a footnote about Quechua, which bears no resemblance to any language you probably speak, but words from which you nonetheless use all the time — puma, jerky, condor, llama, the coca in "Coca-Cola," and so on. I do this throughout the book to demonstrate a constant proof of our interconnectedness that comes out of our mouths every day.
Learn more about the book and author at Bob Harris's website.

The Page 69 Test: Prisoner of Trebekistan.

Writers Read: Bob Harris.

--Marshal Zeringue