Longform's Picks of the Week

The best stories from around the world.

Every weekend, Longform highlights its favorite international articles of the week. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPad? Download Longform's new app and read all of the latest in-depth stories from dozens of magazines, including Foreign Policy.

The Ghost Rapes of Bolivia

Jean Friedman-Rudovsky • Vice

The women of the Manitoba Colony would awake with blood and semen stains on their sheets, tiny bits of rope on their wrists and ankles. Their rapists? Eight young men from their own community.

All the victims I interviewed said the rapes crossed their minds almost daily. In addition to confiding in friends, they have coped by falling back on faith. Helena, for example -- though her clutched arms and pained swaying seemed to belie it -- told me she'd found peace and insisted, "I have forgiven the men who raped me."

She wasn't alone. I heard the same thing from victims, parents, sisters, brothers. Some even said that if the convicted rapists would only admit their crimes -- as they did initially -- and ask penance from God, the colony would request that the judge dismiss their sentences.

I was perplexed. How could there be unanimous acceptance of such flagrant and premeditated crimes?

It wasn't until I spoke with Minister Juan Fehr, dressed as all ministers in the community do, entirely in black with high black boots, that I understood. "God chooses His people with tests of fire," he told me. "In order to go to heaven you must forgive those who have wronged you." The minister said that he trusts that most of the victims came to forgiveness on their own. But if one woman didn't want to forgive, he said, she would have been visited by Bishop Neurdorf, Manitoba's highest authority, and "he would have simply explained to her that if she didn't forgive, then God wouldn't forgive her."


The Lions of Street Food

Matt Goulding • Roads & Kingdoms

Searching for "the soul" of street food in Singapore, Bangkok and Saigon.

Wrestling with all of this threatens to zap my appetite, but then Daniel takes me to Hong Lim's most famous stand, Outram Park Fried Kway Teow Mee, where the family still cooks the Chinese-Malay staple in a wok set over a crackling charcoal fire. You can taste the difference-not just in the subtle hits of smoke that perfume the dish, but in the rogue chunks of crispy pork fat and the light sheen of gently cooked egg that covers the noodles like a textbook Chinese carbonara.

The genius behind the creation, Ng Chin Chye, has been cooking char kway teow for nearly 50 years, the first four decades at the elbow of his father, the last on his own, with his wife dolling out his creation to the masses. When he adds his special brew of soy sauce and fish sauce to the noodles, he methodically counts it out from his squeeze bottle: 42 squeezes, just like Dad used to do. But who will be there to stoke the charcoal and squeeze the sauce when his days of char kway teow come to an end?

For now, the line he commands curls around half the second floor of the complex. The hardest work has already been done. If someone wants to man the wok, they'll have an entire country line up for them.

Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images

The Royal Prank

Andrew McMillen • Buzzfeed

The inquiry into a nurse's suicide after she was on the receiving end of a crank call.

Listening back on the royal prank, the absence of comedy is remarkable. Neither nurse is in on the joke, because to the best of their knowledge, there's no laughing matter at hand. They're simply passing on important information to (presumed) family members -- a routine occurrence in hospitals throughout the world. The call ends with nervous good-byes from both parties, and afterward, laughter in Sydney.

Yet any situation that relies on exploiting human emotion is treading in dangerous territory; pranks of all stripes invariably inspire an emotional response -- embarrassment, anger or mirth, maybe even relief. Few in the entertainment business know this better than Peter Funt, the 65-year-old producer and former host of proto-Punk'd institution Candid Camera. Peter hosted it for eight years (1996-2004), after taking over the show his father, Allen, created in 1948.

Funt and his team avoided the word "prank," and they never referred to their unwitting stars as victims. "We were very careful with our lingo," he says. "We called the unsuspecting people who we photographed 'subjects.'" The vast majority signed a release permitting their image to be used on the program. Funt estimates that less than 1% declined, usually for one of two reasons: "Either they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or with the wrong person," he says. All of the show's filmed sequences ended with the classic reveal: "Smile, you're on Candid Camera!" Funt says, "If there wasn't some moment where the person reacted in an interesting way, then we'd sort of wasted our time. And if it didn't end on a happy note, we were disinclined to use [the footage]."

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

What happens when four guys try to cross the Atlantic...in a Rowboat

Shannon Proudfoot • Sportsnet

Rowing from Senegal to Miami with an Olympic gold medalist, a North Atlantic rower, an adventurist paddleboarder, and a former wilderness EMT.

At the end of January, just 200 kilometres into the journey, the team is rowing in a wild nighttime sea when a rogue wave the size of a small house hoists their boat, tosses it into a valley and crashes over it. The force of the water snaps one of the oars in Kreek's hand. Equipment flies overboard, but the moon and stars offer enough light for him and Hanssen to frantically recover as many objects as they can. Two weeks later, in daylight, another wave breaks one of Kreek's oars. It's their last spare. Being thrashed by the Atlantic is terrifying and Kreek slips into shock. He goes cold, crawls into the cabin and falls asleep for four hours. "You have to come to terms with the fact that you're this tiny little thing that can be eaten by the ocean at any moment," Pukonen says.

But in between these frightening experiences, there are moments of pure, strange magic. Seabirds bob placidly alongside the boat through the worst storms, offering beady-eyed reassurance. One dark, starless night, glowing green orbs appear around them like water-bound ghosts; it takes them a few stunned minutes to realize dolphins are stirring up the bioluminescence. Another night, rain passes over and a bright half-moon emerges, then the slack-jawed crew watches the perfect arc of a greyscale rainbow-a moonbow-sweep across the inky sky.

SEYLLOU/AFP/Getty Images

A Different Childhood

Sergey Khazov • Berfrois

On growing up gay in Russia.

Next thing my mother was not just yelling but crying too. "What am I supposed to do with a son who is a homosexual? Perhaps tomorrow you'll be on the game earning money with your arse! Don't talk like that? How the fuck am I supposed to talk? You hide everything, you lie to me! What have I done to deserve this? There's never been anything like it in our family! Where has it all come from? What do you get from it? And he even writes it all up as if it's a novel!"

"You've been looking in my diary!" I almost choked with resentment.

"How could I not find it when you left it lying around for all to see?" For a moment she was on the defensive, but quickly recovered her self-righteousness. "What business is that of yours? What difference does it make how I know? Do you think I wouldn't have found out sooner or later that my son is a homo?"

She was shouting and crying and wiping her tears and her mascara with the damp kitchen towel. I had never seen her like this, and had certainly never heard her talk like it. For all I knew, my mum might allow herself to swear when she was with her friends, but she never did at home. The taboo was so strong that I never swore myself, not even at school.

I stood there silent, not knowing how to answer her. Yes, I was guilty on all counts, but was I? When you were a child your excuse could be that you had not meant to break the window, or you could promise never to steal sweets from the sideboard again. But what could I say now?


For daily picks from around the web, check out Longform or download Longform for iPad.


Longform's Picks of the Week

The best stories from around the world.

Every weekend, Longform highlights its favorite international articles of the week. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPad? Download Longform's new app and read all of the latest in-depth stories from dozens of magazines, including Foreign Policy.

The Serial Killer Has Second Thoughts

Chris Heath • GQ

Why Sweden's most notorious serial killer believes he is "the subject of Sweden's greatest miscarriage of justice" after confessing to eight grisly murders.

"I looked at his background," Christianson says. "If you look at literature on serial killers and rapists, they start early. He was very consistent, these attacks on young guys. And serial rapes. In the hospital he combined violence and rape, strangulation and rape." Christianson offers technical jargon I have read in his book-that most rapists are non-increasers but that Bergwall was in the rare category of increasers, those whose sexual attacks grow in intensity. He asserts that it is impossible for this behavior to simply have gone away. "When sex and violence has been twisted, how do you take that apart?... That sadistic behavior is still there."

Toward the end of our meeting, I ask Sven Christianson this: If Bergwall is an untreated sadistic sexual predator and if someone like him cannot stop himself from expressing it, where has this behavior manifested itself in recent years?

Christianson almost seems to rejoice at this question, as though he has successfully trapped me into asking it. "This!" he exclaims. "This whole pattern!" To have successfully pulled so many people into his fight for freedom-to have made a country's once proud legal system contort itself in knots-is the pinnacle of the sadist's art.

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

My Week in North Korea

Michael Malice • Reason

Playing tourist in the isolated nation.

At the very top center of the cemetery was the ultimate North Korean martyr: Kim Il Sung's wife and Kim Jong Il's mother. Kim Jong Suk (always called the "anti-Japanese heroine") is the Mother Goddess in the North Korean mythology. She allegedly doted over her husband constantly, cutting off her hair to line his shoes as he singlehandedly defeated the Japs. We all bowed before her grave with due reverence. As the group milled about the cemetery taking pictures, I pulled Kim aside. "Did Kim Jong Suk have any other children?" I asked her.

She froze, and for the first and only time during my entire trip her affect became tense. "...Yes," Kim said. She said it in the same way a Mississippian would reply if asked whether his state was known for lynching. Kim didn't want to lie, but neither did she want to talk about it at all.

I apologized, telling her I didn't mean any disrespect. I deduced what fueled Kim's reticence: Despite being forced to learn the legends of the Kim family in excruciating detail, North Koreans know few actual facts-and never ever ask questions. Kim Il Sung's second wife is a non-person, for example, and to this day few people anywhere know how many times Kim Jong Il was married, and when. It is not known where Kim Jong Un lives; there is no equivalent of the White House in North Korea. In fact, government buildings don't have signs to illustrate what lies within. If you needed to know where to go, then you'd know. Otherwise, mind your business and don't ask questions.



In the Violent Favelas of Brazil

Suketu Mehta • New York Review of Books

Rampant rape and murder in the Brazilian slums.

Soon after that meeting, the Rio police found Lulu. It was stupid of him: the first place a wanted man runs to is his mother. Men came up in a jeep and, without arresting him, took him back to Rio, to his favela, to the police station.

According to Luiz, the chief of the local police appealed to Lulu: "We want you back. It's been hell since you left. You kept the peace among the gangs. And besides, I need your money for my political campaigns. You have to get back to work, or else."

So Lulu went back to work, selling coke and meth to the rich kids in the nightclubs of Copacabana and Ipanema. But he had tried to break away; the boys on the corner didn't trust him, didn't respect him as they used to. He couldn't make the 300,000 reais the cops demanded each week.

So one day they came again for Lulu. The cops, Luiz told me, sat him down in a stone chair in an open area of the slum and, with the whole favela watching, shot him in the head. He was useful to the police only when he had power to share. Powerless, he was dead.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images


Virginia Hughes • Aeon

On the scientific research of Romanian orphans.

'We're limited in our resources,' says Elizabeth Furtado, who has been the Bucharest project's manager since 2006 and visits the Bucharest lab about twice a year. Furtado has a four-year-old son. She copes with the job by compartmentalising; for example, she has very intentionally not read the full life histories of any of the participants. But sometimes the pain is unavoidable. She was with Nelson and me the day we visited the orphanage - her first time in an institution since becoming a mother. ‘It took me almost a month after coming back to get to a [point] where I could kind of let it go and focus on my relationship with my son,' she told me.

The last two years on the project have been somewhat defeating, Furtado says, because the adolescents' behaviours are becoming more difficult to manage, and the foster-care parents are getting less and less support - financial, educational, emotional - from the government. ‘On the one hand, I know that we are doing a lot of good for a lot of these kids,' she says. ‘But it makes me sad that legislation isn't keeping up with enough of what we're finding.'


To Live, the Oyster Must Die

Oliver Bullough • Roads & Kingdoms

The fight to save a "delicious gold mine."   

We picked over the stretch marked out by Haward's withies-long willow poles thrust into the mud to mark his territory-filling up four boxes. Whiting explained, as we sorted the shells, that you could tell the live ones from the dead ones because they don't rattle when you shake them. I tried but could hear no difference.

"It takes a bit of practice," he said, with a low chuckle.

Of course, the bars of London and Dubai would need more than four boxes to keep their customers happy that day, and the real fishing is further out to sea. When the sun rose, Haward's boats would be out dredging the seabed, bringing up oysters in their hundreds.

But Haward's job is not just a question of going out there, dredging them up, and counting the money as it pours in. The number of things that will kill oysters before he can even get them onto a boat is improbably huge. They cannot spawn if the water is too cold, and they suffocate if it is too hot. They will be killed by land run-off, by silt, by marine anti-fouling, by untreated sewage, and possibly even by treated sewage if the people whose sewage it is have been taking the contraceptive pill.

"The first thing oysters think of doing is dying," said Haward. "They would die twice if they could."

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

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