Who doesn’t wonder what the purpose of life is? Who doesn’t think of death without trepidation? These are the issues that emerge from Calvin White’s latest book, Letters from the Land of Fear, (Guernica Editions, Toronto). For 11 months, White worked as a mental health specialist with Doctors Without Borders in Central Asia. During that time he worked every day to keep death at bay from the 400 patients that the international humanitarian aid organization was serving. That area of the planet, little known to most of us, is the region of the ancient Silk Road which connected Europe to the Far East. Today it’s the region hardest hit by the environmental disaster of the Aral Sea.
Formerly a part of the Soviet Union, the Aral Sea was once the fourth largest body of inland water on the planet. The decision of Soviet authorities to siphon off water from it’s two feeder rivers for cotton production has resulted in a sea now only 70% of its former size. That has created uncontrollable health issues from the toxic winds that carry their poisons from the exposed sea bed. Multi-drug resistant tuberculosis is epidemic in the Uzbekistan area that White was sent to.
His job was to counsel patients and to train local counselors to help patients cope with their affliction. During the period White was there, an eruption of communal violence in the east of the region also threw him into trauma and post traumatic stress counseling in refugee camps. These compelling adventures are brought to life in Letters from the Land of Fear in such a way as to emotionally connect the struggle and beauty of human beings from a far off place to ordinary Canadians and their own challenges.
The Revelstoke Branch of the Okanagan Regional Library is sponsoring the author for a special evening presentation on Thursday, October 1 at 7 P.M. There is no charge. White will show slides and integrate his experience in Central Asia with the derivative themes of how to live more intimately, how to healthily live with suffering, and how to heal from personal traumatic experiences of the past. The presentation will be thought provoking and emotionally charged.
Calvin White is also the author of two books of poetry, the latest out this year from Now Or Never Press in Vancouver, as well as the non-fiction book, The Secret Life of Teenagers, which came out in 2013. He has written over 85 essays and articles in all of Canada’s major newspapers, the most recent being an article on teenagers and sex education in the Hamilton Spectator.