Last week, Stranger’s Guide friend and Senior Editor Karim Ganem Maloof passed away. In this essay, Managing Editor Kyla Kupferstein Torres remembers her friend:
On Tuesday, I received the devastating news that we had lost the newest member of our Stranger’s Guide team. Karim Ganem Maloof had joined us just last month as a Senior Editor, but he’d been a contributor and supporter of the magazine since we met in 2020.
Karim died suddenly, shockingly, of causes still unknown, far too young. Just shy of 32 years old, he had already accomplished more than many writers far older than he was. He’d obtained a law degree, served as the editor of the literary magazine El Malpensante, won the 2020 Simon Bolivar Journalism award and most recently directed Colombia’s Truth Commission editorial team. His book, Calor Residual (Residual Heat), a collection of his food writing, had just been published. He recently moderated a host of panels at the Hay Festival in Cartagena and traveled to La Guijira to meet and write about the Wayuu people.This amazing young man had just begun, with many more exciting projects in the works. I often teased, calling him “wunderkind.”
Karim and I first met in 2020, as I was working on Stranger’s Guide: Colombia. In our first conversation on Zoom, we hit it off immediately. He was still recuperating from a bad bout with COVID, but his humor and curiosity about the world shone through his congested voice. He was generous in his praise for the writers he recommended for the guide. He cautioned me that we couldn’t get Colombia right without a piece on food, and assured me he was the one to write it. Among Karim’s many talents and passions were enjoying culinary adventures, introducing folks to novel delicacies and writing funny, insightful essays about both. His essay for Stranger’s Guide: Colombia, “The Breadfruit Tree,” knits together the history of colonialism, memories of his family’s home on the island of San Andres and his love of the starchy fruit when fried to perfection. Like all of his food writing, it offered us lessons from nature: “if it falls by itself, breadfruit ripens all at once. As with humans, life’s hard knocks cause it to mature.”
As we worked together to put together the Colombia guide, we became friends. Our relationship was one of the gifts of the pandemic. For some people, the separation of lockdown was unbearable, but Karim and I were both types who were happy to use Zoom and Whatsapp to stay—or to become—close to those we couldn’t touch. By the time people could emerge from their homes and gather with loved ones, we were used to hearing from each other regularly.
It was hard not to get excited about whatever he was interested in. His curiosity about the world and enthusiasm for the new things he found in food and people and nature were infectious. He’d send me voice memos on Whatsapp regaling me with details of meals he was cooking, and photos from his travels. Birdwatching was one of his more recent obsessions, and he pounced on the chance to write about it for our latest guide, Stranger’s Guide: Amazon. I scoffed at him for getting into what seemed like a retiree’s hobby at such a young age, but soon, to my surprise, I found myself noticing birds wherever I went. I saw a huge flock perched on a stark bare tree in Central Park when I was home for the holidays, and heard the unusual calls of unfamiliar species when I was on the beach during my winter vacation. When I was out hiking in Marin County, I zoomed in on a rock down below in the ocean and saw a little gang of I-don’t-know-what-type of bird. I snapped a photo.
Because of you, I found the birds!, I texted him with the image.
Suena tan linda que tu dices. I think my work here is done, mi amiga, he joked in reply.
There was so much he still planned to do. Tributes are pouring out in Bogotá, lamenting the loss of his whimsical and dynamic character, his childlike enthusiasm and his old-soul wisdom. So many felt that being with him was enlivening, that—like he writes on the experience of seeing birds up close in “Birding Hurts Your Neck“—he could offer us “a tremor, a joy at an aspect of life that had gone unnoticed until now and that acquires a magnetic vitality.”
—Kyla Kupferstein Torres,
Managing Editor, Stranger’s Guide