Boy, did this year suck. But it’s nearly over, and that’s worth celebrating! As we crack open a bottle of bubbly to toast the demise of 2016, we’re remembering that even in the garbage-iest of times, there are still some good stories to be told. Here, we’ve collected our favorite articles of 2016, from a personal tale of religious pilgrimage to a remembrance of a great artist we lost this year. These are the words that kept us going this year, and we hope they provide some small comfort for you as well. See you next year!
Chosen by Senior Producer Alexa van Sickle:
Farewell, Champions of Havana
By Brin-Jonathan Butler
I first went to Cuba in March 2003, in the first weeks after the Iraq invasion. This was deep in the freedom-fries Bush years, when the thaw we’ve seen over the last two years between the U.S. and Cuba—culminating in President Obama’s visit to the island in March—was unthinkable. Writer Brin-Jonathan Butler returned to Cuba, where he lived and boxed for almost a decade, during Obama’s tour. His rich longread is partly a meditation on how the U.S. and Cuba’s bizarre relationship and rival systems ravaged the twin jewels of Cuba’s sports system—baseball and boxing—through politics and defections. But it’s also an intimate profile of Havana at an unprecedented moment as it suffers a collective, tentatively jubilant hangover after the President’s tour and a Rolling Stones gig, poised on the brink of… nobody quite knows what. When Obama and his heavily-armed motorcade left for the airport, he writes, it was hard to say just what was left behind. After November’s election, it’s even harder to say what will come next.
The Only Train From Baghdad
By Ahmed Twaij and Hawre Khalid
Built by the British in 1954, Baghdad Central train station was once the pride of Iraq’s state railway system. The trains operating from this opulent hub once ferried people to Damascus, Istanbul, and even Berlin. But now, there is only one daily train: the 5 p.m. to Basra. Ahmed Twaij and Hawre Khalid’s photo essay captures the fading glory of the station’s grand but threadbare spaces, but the real star is undoubtedly conductor Ali Al-Karkh, for whom inspecting and driving the trains is not a job, but a vocation. Based at the station for 37 years, he is the railway’s fiercest guardian and proudest historian. His uniform is always steam-pressed. His pride in his work and the railway system—down to the light switches in the carriages—is undimmed, visible even as he is stands, almost defiantly, in the remnants of a looted train carriage.