Now This Is What I Call a Passion for Aviation

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A man in Kenya, who says he has no engineering experience but had a "boyhood interest" in aviation, has built a plane in his yard. He plans a test flight next week.

Seriously, this is a very touching short video from a Kenyan TV station (via AVweb), which conveys a point that seems banal but is more vivid and compelling when you come across specific people like this.

It is easy to think of people in poor countries as "people in poor countries," or the "third world masses," "the global poor," and so on. It is easy to do that from rich countries, and easy from the rich big-city enclaves of still-poor countries. It's also easy to do this while still granting in theory that, sure, all people everywhere have common dreams, and blah blah blah.

But in my experience -- mainly In Ghana and Kenya during the 70s, in Southeast Asia in the 1980s, and in China these past few years -- there is a cumulatively very different and very powerful experience that comes from meeting person after person like the Kenyan aviator-aspirant. That is, people whose material circumstances and range of experience are vastly different from a typical person's in London or high-end Shanghai or San Francisco, and who objectively have nowhere near the same opportunities -- but who take their own life drama and possibilities just as seriously and can dream just as ambitiously. For instance, I am thinking of a man in his 70s in a village in western China whose consuming project is a handwritten history of life in his village, from his boyhood during the era of war in the late 1930s and 1940s, through the Great Leap Forward of the 1950s, to the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, and onward. He is someone who wears the same pants, shirt, and jacket virtually every day, because that's what he has. He is part of "the rural poor," but he has a plan and a dream.
 
I am fully aware, while typing, that this sounds like pure platitude; but listen to the Kenyan inventor talk about his "boyhood interest" and see if it doesn't take on a different meaning. To tie this back to recent discussions about self-pity in America, one of the many destructive side effects of America's increasing class polarization is that people lack a vivid, first-hand awareness of the full humanity of those in different (usually "lower") walks of life.

By the way, good luck to this man, Gabriel Nderitu, on the test flight.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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