by Conor Grennan
After working for years at a public policy think tank, Conor Grennan was ready to take a vacation. He decided to take all of his savings and go on a wild year-long spree around the world, a decision criticized by his family and friends. In order to make the trip more palatable, Conor signed up to do some volunteer work in Nepal at an orphanage. Who could complain about a man braving a civil war to help parentless children? Once he actually arrives in Nepal, Conor is overwhelmed. He doesn’t know the first thing about kids. But as his three month stint in Nepal continues, Conor finds working with the children deeply fulfilling. He is shocked to learn that many of the kids aren’t orphans, but victims of child trafficking. Their parents paid large sums of money to have their children brought to the city to be educated and given a safe home; however, the traffickers pocketed the money and abandoned the kids. When a group of kids he tries to rescue from traffickers disappear, Conor makes it his goal to locate the missing children and reunite them with their parents.
It was heartbreaking to read one account after another of parents who sold what little they had to improve their childrens’ lives. The kids would head to Kathmandu, supposedly to get an education at school, and simply disappear. The parents would have no idea what happened to their sons and daughters; meanwhile, the kids would be told that their parents were dead. One boy was even given a false death certificate. And it seems like there are so many kids that have been caught up in this child trafficking. In the book, Conor largely focuses on his search for seven children, but he meets hundreds more in situations just as bad. It’s really hard to read about the kids that he can’t help, because he lacks the means.
However, the book is often very funny, too. There’s a great scene where several kids are showing Conor and Farid (another volunteer) a toy that they call a “jablo”. It has two sticks, which are used to throw a goblet-shaped item into the air; Conor’s description makes me think the toy is a Chinese yo-yo. As they’re throwing the goblet in the air, showing the foreign men how to use it, the toy hits a spiderweb with a huge green spider in it. The two men scream and freak out, trying to get away from the spider. The kids, confused, put the toy away and Conor doesn’t see it again. He later finds out that the kids stopped using it because for some strange reason, foreigners are terrified of jablo.
Conor is an honest narrator, fully aware of his own foibles, and I liked that he was willing to share them. This was especially true when he talked about his relationship with Liz, the woman who (spoiler!) eventually becomes his wife. They meet through e-mail, and he builds up this giant crush before he’s even met her in person. (He sounds a little creepy, to be honest, but it works out well for him.) It’s just a little amusing that while he’s trying to track down kids in remote mountain villages, he’s also wondering if this smoking hot blonde woman likes him. I mean, it’s very human. He matures throughout the story, and I liked that we’re invited to join him in the process.
This book has inevitably drawn comparison to Three Cups of Tea. In fact, I can’t help but wonder how this book’s sales were affected by the scandal surrounding Greg Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute, since it seems like people have become a lot more suspicious of NGOs.
5 out of 5 stars
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