A little courage is all it takes
The side effects of a malaria prevention drug was what made me start writing. In the second year of my trip around the world, I was crossing the African continent from south to north.
It was not rare to see travelers suffering from malaria. I faithfully took the antimalarial drug, which is recommended to be taken for no more than three months. But after half a year I was in the remote Omo River Valley in Ethiopia and started to suffer from serious side effects.
At first, I had minor nausea, but soon my hair was falling out and my eyes were burning. I couldn’t eat or drink anything, so I spent my days in a small, dark room.
After completing my journey across Africa and the Middle East, I returned to Korea and had a health checkup. I was planning to leave for Central and South America in two weeks, but my doctor advised me to rest for three months because of my high liver index.
Just in time, an editor of a magazine where I was writing a travelogue series started a publishing company and suggested I write a book about my trip. It sounded like a good idea. I was tired of repeating the same story to everyone I met, so it would be much easier to write a journal, publish it and tell others to read it. I shut myself in a friend’s country house and wrote my first book in two months.
I published “Daughter of the Wind: Three and a Half Times Around the Globe on Foot” in 1996.
The book became a best-seller overnight as soon as it was published. It became popular because it was not just a travel book but a story of real people.
My health recovered and I continued my travels. In 1999 I completed my six-year trip around the world and concluded it with a cross-country tour of Korea, just as a marathoner finishes by running around the stadium. I also completed the five-volume “Daughter of the Wind” series.
The series gave me what I’d never imagined: a pretty nickname, “Daughter of the Wind.” Thanks to the royalties I was free from the worry that I would have to quit travelling when I ran out of money. But most of all, my backpacking trip inspired many people to believe that they could also do something that a woman did by herself.
The sixth book, “Travel to China,” is the story of my language study abroad for a year. People were skeptical of the essay about my daily life, but I thought it was important to share different perspectives on China in order to understand the emerging giant.
This book is still loved by readers, but the cover photo is the problem. I had eaten ramen the night before the photo shoot and my face was all swollen. I repeatedly told the publisher to change the cover photo, but they wouldn’t.
Why can’t I change the photo on the cover of my own book?
Then, in 2005, I published “March to the World, Off the Map.” It chronicles my five years as a World Vision Korea Emergency Relief Team Leader and food division manager for World Vision International. Reporters and publishers were skeptical about the book and thought that the serious and unfamiliar subject would not appeal to the public.
But despite the concerns of experts, the book became an instant best-seller, selling more than 1 million copies, and was chosen as the most influential book of the decade. It was something I’d never expected. How can a book about what happens in disaster relief sites and how to help victims be so popular?
When the publisher explains that this kind of book becomes a best-seller in international book fairs, foreigners often envy the high standards of Korean readers.
If “March to the World, Off the Map” is a book about a female warrior dashing into raining gunfire, “That Was Love,” also about emergency relief work, feels like a conversation over a cup of tea after a busy day at work, according to the readers. They are most accurate. This is exactly how I felt when I was writing these books.
Last weekend, my ninth book in six years was published. It is titled “One Gram of Courage.”
“Just one gram? Why not a kilogram?” I hear you ask.
But you should know that one gram is all it takes. When you are reluctant and are agonized from desperation and fear, one gram of courage will make you take a step forward.
I can assure you that whenever I was faced with troubles and obstacles, it was the encouragement and motivation that I received from so many people that brought me to where I am today. I would like to give you one gram of warm and bright courage, so please accept it.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, Mar. 9, Page 29
*The author is a relief worker and a visiting professor at Ewha Womans University.
by Han Bi-ya