The REAL Africa Journal LIONS & TIGERS & BOERS, OH MY!1 February 11‐28, 2011 By David Berkowitz Table of Contents SOUTH AFRICA .......................................................................................................................................... 3 KENYA ..................................................................................................................................................... 30 . TANZANIA ............................................................................................................................................... 33 . Appendix: 28 Books for Your Africa Reading List ‐ Safaris, Politics, Culture, History, and More ......... 100 1 There are no wild tigers in Africa. I still had this as the original title of my handwritten journal and couldn’t toss it entirely.
Itinerary NYC – start Amsterdam – stopover JNB (Johannesburg) – one night transit at Sun OR Tambo hotel Hoedspruit ‐ arrive at Djuma, room 2 Mpumalanga – leave Djuma Cape Town – Radisson rm 3201 JNB – stopover Nairobi – transit, Ole Sereni rm335 Kilimanjaro – drive to Gibbs Farm, rm 14, Serena Serengeti, rm 34 Serengeti Airstrip – leave Zanzibar – Stone Town Serena – rm 22 Dar – dinner and stopover Amsterdam – stopover and day trip NYC 11 airports, 11 flights
SOUTH AFRICA Sat 2/12/11 8:10am Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam When I first visited London, as a boy of, oh, 7?, I insisted it wasn’t real Europe – a place I wouldn’t discover until arriving in France many years later. Such was Egypt in ’09. That was real Arabia, real North Africa, not real Africa, with hippos and elephants, malaria, and of course real Africans (the last designation is a form of one that has caused more than one instance of genocide, so don’t read too much into this). Most incredible about Egypt is that, contrary to any remotely reasonable expectation, what is missing from Egypt is a Mubarak in power. Perhaps he’ll be in real Europe soon enough. Now we wait in an adorable lounge with oddly shaped furniture, not far from stands and markets selling tulips, cheese, caviar, and other essentials. On person, excluding one checked bag, are about 60 lbs of luggage. Our breakfast includes brie, Diet Coke (C), seltzer (D), and stroopwafels that taste just like the Wafels and Dinges truck offerings back home. One easy flight so far. I didn’t sleep enough but did miss the middle aged woman pass out in the aisle a couple feet away. She wound up being alright. 11:45pm O. Tambo Airport Hotel by JNB An easy travel day – and I mean day. We left for JFK at 2pm ET and arrived at our hotel 24 hours later. The tail end – passport control and baggage – was especially easy at JNB. SO far, it’s working out. Economy Plus on KLM really is more spacious, and staff at airports and in‐flight has been unusually friendly. Using Malarone instead of doxycycline has spared me 60 days of nausea. And we’re here – in AFRICA! Real Africa. Yay! 2/13/11 JNB While abroad, you relish those moments that scream, “You’re in a different place.” Some whisper it – the Muslim prayer rooms for men and women as we departed, and the man in the galabeya in the elevator and the breakfast at the hotel (a savory spread – I had mushrooms, roasted tomato, chicken sausage, brie, sparkling water). Then there are those at the airport this morning, the “helpers” who weigh your luggage, get you to the check‐in counter, and demand extra tip for “overweight” bags – something impossible for us given how little we packed.
Hotel = very comfortable. I slept well, except for a dream of an adventure in a South American river where I joined a trio of Christian protagonists each seeking to remedy a Medusa curse placed there, at the base of a mountain topped by a Christ statue. It woke me, and returning to sleep was challenging. The last image of the dream: the curse broken, an iron‐frame cross floating down the river, and while the trio acknowledged I was Jewish, I’d join them for the ride. For better or worse, I had no stigmata upon waking. 11am Took a shuttle here to our turboprop, only to hear of a mechanical difficulty so we wait for our seat. Sitting next to a Welsh couple that lived here – [11:15am – on plane] ‐‐ there’s something truly striking. They lived here 27 years ago, and I miss the reference to the timeline at first, until the wife says, “It was under apartheid then.” Apartheid – 1984. Mandela was still in prison. Black violence was picking up. Botha, the Crocodile, kept flashing his grin. The wife added, “It’s much more relaxed now.” An understatement of course, but a tactful one, as she never lived here when it was one person, one vote. It had crossed my mind last night, looking at the man who picked us up from the airport, that if he lived in SA just 20 years ago, he’d have lived under apartheid. As Egypt has taught us, as South Sudan has taught us, as Obama’s election has taught us, the world is not done changing.
3:40pm Djuma Vuyatela sitting room The Rules 1. Lock your doors when you leave. The monkeys could otherwise enter and have a monkey party. 2. Do not go around alone at night. The reserve is secure from elephants but not lions and cheetahs. 3. Really, watch out for the monkeys. 4. Duck under the electric elephant wire. 5. Don’t stand up in safari vehicles as it can frighten animals by breaking the profile of the Land Cruiser. At Djuma Vuyatela, we’re not exactly roughing it
The safari day is a well planned one. Here’s how our regimen works: 5am: Knock at door to rouse us. Hot water boils for tea in our study. 5:30am: Morning drive (includes light refreshment) 8:30: Return for breakfast 10‐1: Optional activities – bush hike, town visit 1: Lunch 4: Afternoon tea served. Mint tea and scones w/jam + clotted cream today were superb – best scones I’ve eaten. 4:30: PM drive – 3 hrs (includes cocktails) 8: Dinner. Tonight: Mussels in creamy white wine sauce; feta, greens, salami, red pepper salad; lamb chops, mashed potatoes, carrots (also offered chicken); strawberry crepes with mascarpone. Really wonderful spread. A cheetah up close
Best game today: 4 cheetahs – male, and a beautiful giraffe A couple rhino in distance Impala, warthogs, the most beautiful birds, and a couple bucks with bullseye targets on their butts (kudu) So heavenly here – really spoiled.
2/14/11 7:47pm Djuma Vuyatela 8 hours in a Land Cruiser today AM Drive: A pride of lions – one male I thought would eat me, a fast‐paced leopard hunt with a great game of hide and seek, hippos, vultures PM Drive: Kudu , elephants – so wonderful! , chased a bunny, puff adder snake, sleeping lions, very scary lions at night Before PM: Monkeys at the lodge! One was climbing our roof as I napped
10:30pm Mid‐morning – went to towns of Utah and Dixie with Amos the tracker, who lives in Utah with much of his family, and every other person we met seemed to be a relative. Getting serenaded by nursery schoolers – twice – was a ridiculously fun highlight, and the kids seem to be learning a lot – in multiple languages. In Dixie, the principal noted school fees are R40 a month – about $6‐$7. Parents who can’t pay must bring firewood. Can you find me? Easiest game of Where’s Waldo ever!
Lunch – a Valentine’s spread too abundant to name. For that window we ate alone. By dinner – and the PM drive – we were joined by 5 others: Peter and Mary of Boston – he’s an environmental engineer. Sweet couple with four grown daughters. Fittingly, he had some hockey trash talking to do. Fittingly over dinner, no one cared. Paula, Husband, son studying at Uni in Singapore. The couple partnered with an aloe farmer in northern South Africa near Zimbabwe. Farmer died. Husband strangely obsessed with animals having sex – like lions having sex on command, and some animals turning gay. Guide “Merman” said worst tourists are Chinese since they all follow each other. If one stands up in the car, they all do, so then he steps on it. Dinner = v. good – bacon/camembert/cranberry in phyllo, salad, fish, cake. Great vodka and apple liquor. Fun facts: ‐ Cheetahs can be domesticated ‐ If you are being chased by a lion, throw a rock behind it ‐ Honey badgers are the toughest animal out here ‐ Don’t shine a light at a giraffe at night It is fun out here. Though I’m more scared of being killed by the aloe farmer than a jungle cat.
2/15 Djuma 10:20pm Woke to a rainy morning, rainy enough that we skipped the 5:30 safari. I went back to sleep – and crashed until 1. Much needed. Did lunch here with the Bostoners. This time, Asian‐inspired fare – pork with noodles, other good stuff. Returned, then afternoon game drive in mostly gorgeous weather. ‐ 2 herds of elephants, the first with 11, including a baby just days old – AMAZING ‐ A family of 3 rhinos ‐ 4 giraffes – with one huge one that materialized last ‐ A hyena ‐ A snail, millipedes ‐ Impala, wildebeest Also saw monkeys at the lodge. A few were scampering outside our room and eyeing me through the window. Also said hi to a kudu couple and George the warthog. With George the warthog
A baby elephant just learning how to use his trunk
Dinner: A delicious salmon mousse and lox canapé, salad, tender lamb shank on the bone, lemon cheesecake Sat around campfire, the boma. New couple joined, from Cape Town, on a wedding / honeymoon jaunt. Not much to say about them yet. Learned more about the animal kingdom from Hendry/Merman – when to share down lions and run from elephants. It’s the wet season here, so it’s more lush and beautiful, but we would see more animals in their winter. The only catch: the prey will be much less well fed. But the cats are happy.
2/16 1:10pm Nelspruit – MQP At the airport for our flight to Cape Town, with half the flight Indian and another quarter a teenage boy sports team. It’s another boarding free for all and yet it works. In 10 minutes we’re all on the plane and seated. I expected a loud flight though. Did another 5:30am drive. Saw a pack of hyenas looking for a morning kill, chased a female leopard – though Cape Towner Christina complained we were driving too fast, and that knocked the wind out of Hendry’s sails – the whole ride lost a lot of energy after that. Mayer then lost his camera and we had to turn around after a bit of leopard spotting. A bit later we came across the male leopard and walked right by us, staring us down. Later we’d see a lone, older giraffe, and some underwater hippos. Returning to the lodge, we had some breakfast – such great omelettes – and the monkeys were stirring. One little thief took the toast from the Dutchman’s table and hid behind a pole to eat it. He looked as guilty as he was. Staff were armed with slingshots, to no avail. As we finished packing, the monkeys visited our room. Looking atop the roof, a couple proud monkey parents were holding a newborn baby – so sweet. Said our farewells, leaving regretfully. We didn’t need to do any more drives there but it would be fun to relax there awhile.
2/17 10:06pm Radisson Blu Waterfront Cape Town
The flight over went smoothly enough, even as a head cold made it somewhat less pleasant. Got our bags and met Graham, who would be our guide today. At the hotel – gorgeous, water views, though with wind so loud it banged our doors and pushed through the window – we passed out, stirring only for room service of chicken clubs, mini Greek salads, strawberries with marshmallow spread to dip it in (C liked it more than me). It was too cloudy, thanks to the wind, to make it worthwhile to do Table Mountain. That was yesterday. Today – quick breakfast, then off to waterfront, very similar to Fisherman’s Wharf and South St Seaport in a pretty but fabricated way. We hit the ferry to Robben Island, which at several parts – from disembarking to the tour reminded us of Governors Island. The “museum” – touring the prison with a former inmate, ours arrested in 1977 and stayed for 5 years for participating in a student protest – has no equivalent, not with the former political prisoners arrested for what in the US would be acts protected by 1st Amendment rights leading it. Seeing penguins was fun too.
Then at 12:30, met Graham. Stopped for lunch at River Café, had delicious gazpacho and well prepared King Klip – a local fare. And off we went, penguin colony (SO much fun), Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope (pretty, but really just another pretty place) and Chapman’s Peak – truly majestic drive. There’s a lot of beauty around here, but so far it’s not coming together for either of us as some greater whole to make it one of the world’s great cities. Headed back to hotel for a bit. Then made plans for tomorrow. Dinner: Five Fleas, a hot restaurant downtown. The mussels were awesome, springbok decent, but wanted more butternut squash puree. Cara thought just alright – had ostrich. One big hit: Cadbury caramilk PS bar – loved it. Had it at Good Hope funicular.
2/18/11 9:55am Radisson Good breakfast Lox. Brie. Toast. Smoothies. Decent enough spread, if you don’t mind a few flies. One note yesterday: really fun time having history come to life – all we’ve been reading about re: Mandela, politics, apartheid, etc now leads to the real world. 10:02pm Radisson Today: post‐breakfast, hit wine country with Graham. First was a city tour, with all the layers starting most visibly with the Dutch. To think of Diaz and de Gama stuck around, they could all be speaking Portuguese – and they already have Brazilian style favelas. Wine country really is beautiful. First – Morgenster. Delicious olive oils, very fresh, and a very sweet Balsamic, plus olives, and a trio of wine.
Then Dornier, also via recs from work friend T. L.. Wines were ehhh but again gorgeous setting, and awesome lunch. 1st – Flammkuchen, Dutch‐German pizza type dish of flatbread with feta, olives, butternut squash, balsamic. Then a juicy, well seasoned kudu steak with mixed veggies. From there, back to the city from the Stellanbosch region and parted from Graham (master of the wheelybin – love that word) for Table Mountain’s cable cars to see striking views, clouds rolling off the mountain, and the adorable, fat, little Dassie (rock hyrax).
A fond farewell to Graham View from Table Mountain
U2 plays now – we can hear them from our room. SA’s proud to have them, with Bono as liberal as he is, in the same stadium where they hosted the World Cup. Dinner: Fish & Chips from the wharf, and Haagen Dazs. Pleasant walk by the stadium with an excited populace around, and the first real sign of police in Cape Town. 2/19/11 Cape Town Airport Catch phrase for a movie I’d love to write, set as a UK/SA version of the Hangover: “A dassie bit my willy!” Guaranteed smash success. Another phrase I went to coin: calling the Cape Town – Jo.berg flight “Curry in a hurry.” Indians everywhere. Easy morning. Guide took us right to security. We may have even packed everything. And Djuma gave us directions to our camera charger. Fell asleep last night as U2’s concert ended. Awesome. KENYA 11pm Ole Sereni Hotel Nairobi, Kenya Slept 1st flight to JNB. No row or zone #s at these airports, but it always works. Passport control so far has also been easy, though Nairobi had more formalities like fingerprinting. At JNB, waited to get my camera battery charger via Djuma to no avail – lots of waiting, and help from Mtutu at Magic Bus, but little to show. Found a replacement though. GREAT Indian food at Raj in the food court, including Bunny Chow! Got more PS bars too, using up my last Rand. Napped/read to Nairobi. V. different place here. Airport feels lie late 70s. Used my limited Swahili – Jambo, rafiki. (Hello, friend) Learned some new words: Mzungu – white person Asante – thank you
Nice hotel here. Had some mixup with the transport company but got here fine, then we went to eat at Carnivore, a Kenyan take on the churrascaria, with a fun mix of flair and décor bridging authenticity and kitsch. Decent food, and enjoyed my Tusker beer. So cool to drink it. Not the best beer, but whatever. C had her Savannah cider from SA. Tastes like camel
Our driver told us a bit about Swahili and Nairobi. He’s not a fan of the government – the politicians can be “nice, but mean.” He said when Obama was elected, Kenyans thought they’d be rich. Whoops. TANZANIA 2/20/11 Gibb’s Farm, Tanzania 9pm Another 5am day, leaving Ole Sereni and to the Nairobi time warm airport with haphazard security and another flight leaving on African Standard Time – though at least they’ve left. Even small flights such as our 6‐seater on Precision Air offered beverage service and a meal – for a 45 minute flight. That’d be unthinkable back home.
Getting through the leisurely passport control in Tanzania, we got our bags and met guide Geoffrey Milinga, 35, father of 3. Bright, experienced, and self assured, he’s sometimes too much of a showman, and deserting us at lunch for an hour to fill up on gas (‘just 10‐15 minutes’) set a poor tone. We’ll see how he does when touring’s really underway. The Land Cruiser – another Toyota – is covered, and the seats are a bit high for a great head‐on view. Tomorrow should be better with the open roof. A/C doesn’t work, so it’s open windows or fry. Yet now up near the crater it’s much cooler. Tomorrow we tour it. It’s an interesting mix of people at Gibb’s Farm, a sprawling 16‐room estate growing its own organic produce. It’s staffed mostly by local Iroq(?) tribesmen, a couple of whom I got a chance to converse with. In many conversations here, we discuss language. People in Tanzania are likely to speak Swahili, English, and a mother tongue, with 120 tribes intermarrying, and two languages unifying most people, the mother tongues like Iroq or Ngoni (Milinga’s) are gradually threatened. I also spoke with Loboy, a Maasai medicine man stationed here trying to bridge understanding between Western and Masai medicine. Breakfast: a Kenyan zeppole (larger, not hot) and a richer tasting Kit Kat at the airport, plus mango juice Lunch: a mediocre buffet at the Arusha coffee room, a too typical safari pit stop whose food was neither authentic nor savory Dinner: A good but not Djuma‐worthy spread – a produce dish, chicken and rice, very good eggplant chili and decent vegetable/paneer curry, bread, a lump of chocolate frosting, and a great cocktail: tequila, ginger beer, honey, lemon Also had snacks by the fire with FL mom and her lesbian daughter from Greenpeace.
2/21/11 Gibb’s Farm 7pm Things are a little off at the farm – firewood came an hour late last night, housekeeping an hour early. Food’s so‐so, though enjoyed breakfast far more than last night’s lunch and today’s dinner. It may be fresh off the farm, but there’s been nothing particularly Tanzanian nor delicious about it. The good news is I’ve been a sustainable eater here, eating enough but not more. Gorgeous, unusual setting, but I wouldn’t return. It resembles the Inkaterra Pueblo Hotel by Macchu Picchu, but I enjoyed the food and setting more there. The bed had to have been more comfortable too. Today – 7am departure for Ngorongoro, followed by breakfast of chocolate croissants, cheese, fruit, juice. Made it to the entrance gate and hung out with some aggressive, thieving baboons. One tried knocking over trash cans (successfully), and if they find your car totally open, they’ll raid it. If they don’t find anything to their liking, they’ll leave ‘a present’ behind for you. When we left we got especially close. One tried scaling the side of a truck, one chewed a wrapper, and a couple shamelessly mated in front of us.
Ngorongoro itself is amazing – a vast caldera yet, at around 12 miles wide, it’s all contained and manageable in a day’s drive. Mostly flat, you can often see from one end to the other. The zebras are especially wondrous, kids in tow, after crossing in front of us and hanging with their wildebeest friends. The lions were also gorgeous – the males were golden and majestic, though one chickened out when it was close to catching a warthog. Other animals: ‐ Gazelles ‐ Eland ‐ Water buffalo ‐ Black rhino (endangered) ‐ Hippos underwater
‐ Jackals ‐ Elephants in the distance ‐ Hyenas ‐ A little monkey ‐ Ostriches ‐ Crowned cranes (fave) ‐ Black ___ (lunch birds) ‐ Guinea fowl ‐ Bustards ‐ Lots of others A hell of a show, and so fortunate to see it all. Only downside was Milinga’s overly defensive attitude at the end of the day – really unprofessional. And the picnic lunch was fun but an underwhelming spread. Had potatoes, pasta salad, local bananas.
2/22/11 Serena Serengeti Lodge Middle of the African plains 7pm Forgot dinner last night – more bland miscellany with really good soup and decent bread and herbed butter Breakfast – some good croissants and miscellany A long, draining, amazing day. IN the car for most of 12 hrs. Went back to Ngorongoro, but backtracked to an ATM in town, taking out 400000 in 10000 notes w/a1500:1 exchange rate, I felt like an African Big Man. Then back through Ngorongoro, around the rim and some farewell views, plus more adorable baboons.
We wound up at a Maasai village – very authentic as this clan of 120 really lives there in this circle of cramped, low ceilinged huts, migrating to new sources of water and pasture every several years. They do get a few tour groups a day though, and sell their trinkets at a steep enough price that it took a bit away from the experience. The prince who showed us around was very gracious though and spoke great English; some Maasai don’t even speak Swahili. Wonderful as the learning was – with the dancing, fire making and spear throwing, it’s not a life for me. I’ll pass on the cow’s blood and polygamy, and it’s the first home I’ve entered in some time that makes my Manhattan apartment seem spacious.
Later, a brief stop at Olduvai Gorge – a quick photo opp and a couple‐room museum that’s basically a life sized Wikipedia entry, or as Cara noted, a middle school science fair project. We passed on the lecture. [Somehow, in this journal, I neglected to reference the Shifting Sands, an odd science fiction‐esque phenomenon of this massive pile of dark sand that shifts 17 meters each year while retaining the same shape and size. It would be a fitting subject for a Spielberg film, and it’s a beautiful part of the pre‐Serengeti landscape. ]
Then we hit the entrance to the Serengeti, amazing in that it’s the first spot we’ve seen with truly cold Coke. Before that must have been the in‐car picnic of more passable Gibb’s Farm lunch.
Serengeti is really something, and our luck today couldn’t have been much better, thanks to Milinga’s animal spotting: ‐ Lions – a whole pride of them, and more hidden ‐ A group of elephants ‐ Thousands of zebras among the park’s combined 2.8 million zebra and wildebeest ‐ Quite a number of wildebeest – like the zebra, part of the great migration, though rain patterns here have prevented all the migration to happen at the same place ‐ A leopard high up in a tree, stalking prey from her branch ‐ Dozens of giraffe, some right up close (saw great ones leaving Ngorongoro too) ‐ Hartebeest, eland, Thomson gazelle, larger gazelle ‐ A couple cheetahs on a rock ‐ Crown cranes ‐ Superb starlings with blue metallic coat at Serengeti entrance ‐ A hippo family – one yawning wide Truly superb starlings
Phenomenal day here. Serengeti’s so wide open. You can travel tens of miles and see nothing but nature – not a hut, a sign, anything but another odd jeep. Aside: on the warm reception we’ve received here: It’s a little jarring how friendly people are to us – mostly sincerely friendly, even if some children do it in hopes of food, pens, or tips. On one hand, we are coming a great distance to visit them and we are their guests. Yet on the other, even as Americans that didn’t have African colonies, we’ve done a lot of harm. Our demand for ivory and rubber funded the slave trade, while we of course had millions of slaves here ourselves. We aided in assassinating promising but unfriendly leaders like Patrice Lumumba while supporting repressive governments in places like South Africa, Zimbabwe, Congo, Somalia, etc etc etc. We keep in place agricultural subsidies that cripple African farmers. We lead the IMF that provides short‐term fixes while ensuring developing nations remain in our debt indefinitely. We turn our back on genocide and don’t demand accountability for our aid.
Why are we received so warmly? Not all of this list of wrongs is widely known – in America or Africa. Much of it I only learned or paid attention to in my self‐education before traveling here; beforehand I tuned out African news like everyone else. We also do a lot of good as a nation with investments of resources and manpower by governments, corporations, non‐profits, and individuals. And personally, I’m here – spending money, asking questions, taking pictures, and spreading the word back home. But I can’t receive such hospitality in a totally clean conscious. What becomes of that, I’m not yet sure. 9:54pm Dinner – pretty good ‐ Carrot ginger soup, brad ‐ Lamb, fish ‐ Papadam Awful dessert. Fun gift shop. Leila Salema (good night) 2/23/11 Serena Serengeti Tanzania 9:15pm – but feels much later, even with a long nap Woke at 4:15am. This is vacation? But here’s why we ddi it: Drove an hour from our hotel to the Seronera area for a hot air balloon ride at sunrise, sitting in a corner of the 3rd of 3 balloons, and with 8 compartments for a total of 16 people per ride plus a pilot. Getting in was very uncomfortable, being on our backs waiting for liftoff as the flame felt like it was burning the hair off my face (it didn’t). And then we tilted up and took off, floating ever so gently above the Serengeti. Higher or lower, it’s the smoothest transportation I’ve ever been on – nothing compares.
Sure, takeoff was a pain and the landing (standing up, not lying back) was a bit bumpy, but the flight was almost literally a breeze, watching the sunrise, landscape, a few passing cars, a handful of birds, some hippos, a couple jackals, a couple antelope, a hyena. Few animals unfortunately, but no regrets. What a wonderful way to see the landscape – see the world. So glad we took advantage of it.
Then, following an explanation of tradition by a Canadian balloon pilot, we had a champagne toast, and then traveled by car to a shady spot for an English breakfast – mimosas included. At our table were: ‐ A Tasmanian balloon pilot having the time of his life ‐ Four Danish folks ‐ And… a young Japanese newlywed couple honeymooning with… their little big‐eyed doll, Edina? Whoever she was, none of the 3 spoke much English, but they were quite insistent that the doll was their friend. It reminded us of the 30 Rock episode where James Franco dotes on a life‐sized Japanese body pillow Komiko (I’m laughing hysterically just writing it). After feeding Edina biscuits, the doll disappeared during breakfast as we munched on bacon, at which point I noted to Cara that Edina’s best friend is a piggy bank. We could barely look over their way again. Way to lvie up to a stereotype. After breakfast, waiting to leave, C told me to look at something and I looked up, expecting the blue‐balled vervet monkey in the tree. Then she said, “James Franco” and I saw Edina’s latest photo shoot. So yes, two memorable experiences for the price of one!
On the way there it was also fun, getting SO close to a few hyenas and then a fast‐moving hippo. We were exhausted for the drive, spotting a few lions, elephants, giraffes, a ton of zebra, and some water buffalo. This was a slow day so after stopping for lunch at a massive hippo pool with a couple camouflaged crocodiles (lunch still disappointed but the Cadbury Dairy Milk was a welcome addition) we drove home. C slept, and before I did I photographed baboons staking out a leaking pipe one hut over, then explored the property, then read awhile before passing out. A new family moved next door and borderline woke me – such thin walls. Dinner – Serengeti beer, hot rolls, tomato soup, a decent spread of beef, fish, veggies, etc, club soda, and we wisely avoided dessert given last night’s debacle.
ON THE 3 SAFARIS We did 3 very different safaris. It’s hard to rate them. Djuma had the best accommodations and food. I wish I could have stayed longer. It’s a lot of fun having open air drives and going totally off‐road, even knocking over trees. We saw some great animals there up close – 4 cheetahs, a hippo out of the water, a couple leopards, and lions staring at us and even growling as if ready to pounce. But it’s contained there, you really can’t enjoy it on a very rainy day, there aren’t masses of animals, and the landscape is the most populated. It was nice having built‐in downtime between drives. Ngorongoro had the most beautiful setting – never saw anything like it, and it’s a world wonder. Magnificent. But given how contained it is, one day is plenty. Gibb’s Farm was also our least favorite place for the food and comfort, though the property is incredible. The Serengeti is vast, and it’s Africa. The dream is real. It goes on forever. So worth seeing, and the balloon was a huge bonus. We’ve also enjoyed the lodging. But after a couple days here, we’re ready to move on. You can do a cross‐country US road trip and spend less time in a car than we have. It is damn fun, but bumpy and dirty and hot and simply draining trying to look everywhere, process it all, and keep moving on to what’s next. In transit, you’re always with a guide – at least in TZ where foreigners can’t drive, and we’ve had guides everywhere. It is, suffice to say, a lot. Can’t wait for Zanzibar. 2/24 Arusha Airport 12:05pm According to the airport scale here, I think I lost weight on this trip. Note only I’ve been weighed, not my bags, despite the much‐discussed 15kg/33lb weight limit on the trip. It’s an odd transition. Had a decent enough breakfast featuring ox liver (a 1st for me) and a pancake that’s really a thick crepe – great with table sugar. Brought my bags 50 feet to the Land Cruiser, and Milinga thought something was wrong. Did a drive toward the airstrip. Saw impala, a buffalo, hippos, a gray heron, a little else. Quiet morning on the Serengeti. The airstrip: 4 then 5 small planes that can carry about 12 people (ours had 11 + pilot, copilot)
A security stand. An overhang, to sit under A ‘big office’ with big lines for women That’s about it. No security for us, no bag weighing. The pilot carried our bags. Said farewell to Milinga, who wanted to make sure we’d say good things about him. Then crouched on the plane. We just learned that rather than one flight, we got 2. First, 55 minutes to Arusha – choppy for 10 of the last 15, but beautiful views the whole way, including Ngorongoro.
Then landed in Arusha. Waited around for someone to send our big bags the right way (we hope) and escort us to a waiting room. He once asked for our passports, so there is some checkin process. The Arusha greeter who served no purpose the first time came by to give me the ticket from Zanzibar to Dar, which he wrongly insisted he gave me before, and he asked for dirt on Milinga, though we couldn’t add much. Got Coke Light and Coke (cold!) here, plantain chips. At another shop I bought a Kit Kat with a 5000 bill (about $3) and she asked if I had something smaller. They really hate giving change. Then we tossed most of our lunch boxes. Ready for round 2. 2/24 7:30pm The flight from Arusha to Zanzibar was just as cramped but infinitely smoother. The island views were also a treat coming in to land.
We arrived at the sweltering airport, showed our Yellow Fever cards, got our bags, and soon found our greeter and driver. From the first few moments on the road, it was clear that we’re somewhere else – very Caribbean in the haphazard condition of buildings and tropical foliage, Arabian in dress, especially the covered women, though some with hijabs more reminiscent of Indian saris. And then the skin color – that rich, deep, dark brown, like the Nubians or the Moors, rather than the jet black African coloring. Dar may well be more mixed, but outside of that it would be easy to spot the difference between a mainland Tanzanian and a Zanzibari. Here in Stone Town, the alleyways are dizzying. People, cars, motorbikes appear from out of nowhere. Hawkers approach, like the man beckoning us to the Bob Marley store, but others are just friendly. A man sitting with his friends by a doorway I photographed asked if I was a professional and got a kick that I was snapping something so mundane. A man served freshly cooked squid on a tray on the sidewalk by an alley.
Before we got to the streets around 6, as some shops closed, we hit the hotel – Western enough with enough local charm. Part of it was a Chinese doctor’s old house. We have a hammock on our second story terrace overlooking the Indian Ocean. We hit the beach, sitting on a largely empty stretch in sight of mzungus but away from anyone in immediate reach. Every sight is charming and romantic, the kind of city romance captured by Woody Allen when his protagonists captured photos of the eponymous setting of Vicky Christina Barcelona. I swam a bit and we read our Kindles. A few locals came in and out of the water, as did a small fishing boat.
Then we changed and hit town, hugging the sides of sidewalk‐less streets. We hit the tourist row and I got a few souvenirs, including a t‐shirt saying Mzungu Mshamba. I asked a young Muslim woman working there what Mshamba was and she laughed, first saying it’s someone who’s “out of fashion” and then sincerely making sure the shirt was not a gift as she feared it would be offensive. The woman who rang me up, barely looking 50 and seemingly Indian in a sari, said the store Memories has been there nearly 10 years. I asked how long she’s been on Zanzibar and said awhile, but was born here. Her grandfather uprooted the family to Pakistan during the 1963‐4 revolution to flee persecution by Africans who were treated “very badly” by the Arabs. Land and homes were being confiscated and there were forced marriages with black Africans, so to spare her and her sisters, they endured a rough life in Pakistan, which she says did her well, and now she’s back where relations are very good between the different groups. As I noted to her, it’s amazing how history has been made so recently here and it’s so alive, not just something in books. In a brief exchange she made this island so much more alive for this mzungu. Dinner soon. A band plays outdoors – Afro‐Caribbean jazz, island music, Dave Brubeck, pop. So relaxing here in this very foreign place. Not the jazz band – this was our dinner entertainment, which included a rendition of “Hotel California” that had about 60% of the words right
10:20pm A fun aside: When asking the hotel clerk which beach was good around here, he said to walk toward the next hotel because – from a black African at our hotel – “there are too many black people” right by ours. “They won’t leave you alone.’ Dinner: v. good seafood dinner at Terrace, outside at our hotel, in the starry, near pitch black night with some lights of boats in the distance and dhows passing through Cocktail: Dawa – konyagi (local gin), honey, lime Several seafood courses – a fish carpaccio, lobster bisque, seafood platter 2/22 Serena Zanzibar Room 22 When outside your hotel, you see a man facing a large tree turning a water tap that appears to be built into this tree and refrain from asking any questions, you’re probably in Africa. Breakfast: a plentiful, carb‐heavy pork‐free spread. I can have tea now that I’m not as concerned about finding a bathroom. Beef bacon was okay, and enjoyed some local breads. 10am – met Shaban, our guide for the day. Drove out of Stone Town and Zanzibar Town, into the ‘suburban’ outlying areas and then into fully rural territory on the west coast. Schoolkids always seem to be coming or going, as school runs a half day. Coke signs are everywhere, as they have a factory here. The next most visible ads are for cellphones. They’re extremely common, and some have 2‐3 phones with up to 3 different carriers (Vodafone and Tigo are the biggest).
Our first stop was a plantation. They have a whole tourist industry of plantations, and given the rural nature of the island, it’s worth seeing. Mr K showed us this ‘short tour’ lasting 45 minutes where he showed us at least a dozen plants we could barely identify at first – avocado, vanilla, turmeric, pepper, lime/lemon, the famous clove, cinnamon, mango, coconut, ginger, lemongrass, nutmeg, etc – while showing us the health benefits of each. Two boy, about 9 and 13, assisted, the older climbing a tree here and there and generally helping, as both wove us baskets and crowns out of leaves. Even if it was contrived, we got a real appreciation for how much we don’t know about agriculture and produce, and how much more we can learn about the benefits of natural herbs, spices, and fruit. Annatto, a slightly peppery fruit of the achiote tree used for food coloring and even lipstick
Then it was off to Nguni (in the north). I got a Stoney ginger beer (made by Coke) and we hit the gorgeous beach – bright blues of the Indian Ocean calling out to us, as were some hawkers and some boys ogling the women. The water was slightly colder than at our beach, and with the dhows you could smell diesel, so it was really no better than the beach outside our hotel, and only slightly prettier. Then we had lunch where we were, at this backpacker hotel, and the food was surprisingly good – we both got the seafood “fajitas” that were perfectly done. One of the best meals we’ve had in Tanzania.
Then a brief look at how dhows are made before heading back to the room. (Oh, we also saw some underwhelming, poorly maintained Portuguese ruins.) A lot of the fun came from Shaban’s insights and explanations: ‐ He’s been leaving here since before the ’64 revolution – well before. His father was born here and his grandfather came here from the mainland. ‐ The most tourists come from Italy since they were the first to offer flights when tourism got going in the 80s. The Italians run several hotels, tour companies, and other businesses. ‐ Italians still aren’t loved here. They’re way too loud, and they walk around naked (presumably on the beach) or in skimpy swimsuits (the men). ‐ The richest Italians here are mafia and profit from racketeering. ‐ The British think everything’s too expensive but otherwise aren’t too bad. ‐ The Germans are so‐so. ‐ The French are generally pretty miserable. We have yet to meet a guide who likes the French, and this was the closest one came to saying anything nice about Germans.
‐ The new up and comers are the Russians. ‐ Americans are generally liked. We tip well because we understand the plight of poor people (go us!) ‐ The most drab area around Stone Town – really, depressingly drab – includes blocks of prison‐ style cement buildings. Guess who built them? The East Germans, in the 70s. SO fitting. People like them though, as they replaced ramshackle hovels, so without the East Germans it could all be a giant slum. Why live it up with naked Italian racketeers when you can enjoy this luxurious East German housing? We talked a lot more – politics, religion, economy, healthcare, education, etc. They don’t have a movie theater on the whole island. They do have paved roads though, and a very comfy van with AC. Shaban was great – highly recommended. Oh, another highlight from Shaban: There’s a visible Rastafarian subculture here that’s really all about people’s love for Bob Marley. They’re not really Rasta – they just have the dreds and knit hats and Marley t‐shirts. Apparently a few mzungu women have fallen in love with them and married them, taking them back home. It can’t be many, but
it’s enough for people to have taken notice. And next to the Japanese couple with their doll, it may be the weirdest thing we encountered on the trip. I mean, I’d LOVE to see a documentary on them, or read a book. This is one of the world’s great and presumably untold stories. [There are some reports on Rasta culture there. See http://www.mambomagazine.com/nutshell‐ guides/arts‐and‐culture/roots‐rasta‐culture .] Back to the day: Unwound in the room, read some of my book (Shadow of the Sun) on the hammock. Went out after 6. Tried an ATM. One had a Windows error and the other wouldn’t give me cash. So much for 24 hrs. Went to Forodhani Gardens – a big outdoor cookoff of street food with lots of locals and mzungus and stray cats. Each stand – there were dozens – had one of a few kinds of food: ‐ Sugar cane juice (love it!) – freshly pressed ‐ Zanzibar pizza with chocolate and bananas
‐ A spread of tons of seafood and meats, much in kebab form – and each spread was the same as every other (bafflingly dumb) Went to Silk Route for Indian food. Pretty good Indian, with pretty poor service. The menu listed 5 specialty cocktails but didn’t say what was in most of them. Descriptions were cut off. I asked the server what was in a Kamasutra. She had no idea. I asked her what was her favorite. She said the Kamasutra.
Amazed, I ordered one. A different guy brought it – a fruity, orange and red, sunset‐like drink in one glass resting on a second glass full of a green fluid resembling absinthe. I asked what was in it. He had no idea. Then he thought to tell me – he wouldn’t have volunteered it – that the green was just decoration. If I drank it, I might have been experiencing Zanzibari healthcare right now, which I’m sure is 24 hours like the ATM. Papadam and mixed appetizer platter were good, though my chicken tikka was overseasoned and the garlic naan a little off. Walked back, and here we are. 2/26 7:30pm Serena Zanzibar AFRICA HOT Rose too early – 7am, but after 7‐8 hrs sleep, as much as I’ve had here, without the haunting dreams I’ve had from reading about Africa. It got no worse than after reading the novel of Rwanda – “Murumbi” – where I dreamt of the impending deaths of many loved ones, C included. I look forward to taking a break. Read in the hammock and relaxed awhile. Breakfast – another ample spread, carb‐heavy as usual, with the sesame bread especially delicious (not C’s thing, as she prefers chocolate croissants). 10am – met Choom(?) – our guide for the walking tour of Stone Town, which often was R‐rated, or PG‐13. We learned about how horny Muslim men satisfy themselves with multiple wives, Muslim women’s marriage preparations to satisfy husbands, more on nutmeg as female Viagra, and how poor people have had tall beds to keep their kids under and shield them from what mommy and daddy do on top.
The real highlight, however, was learning about Italians. He said Zanzibaris like them for spending money here, but he added new color to Shaban’s story. He said they originally traveled to Mombasa, Kenya where their leisure activity included shooting “sex movies.” After awhile, Kenyans got word of this and murdered some Italian filmmakers. The artists escaped to Zanzibar, where they were welcomed as hoteliers but not as cinematographers and had to put an end to their hobby, so they simply did it in secret, while in public irking the locals by not wearing any clothes (again, I’m assuming this was on the beach, but neither Shaban nor Choom was explicit about that). The Italians, loud as ever, made other enemies here, including the British, who have a habit of checking out of any hotel where they discover Italians are staying. Maybe the Italians will fare better with the emerging populations of Russian and Chinese tourists, but I tend to think they’ll find new ways of tormenting the island’s future guests. The one bright spot about Italians today: there were no allegations about their mob ties. (Oh, it gets worse – a search on Google here reveals allegations of Italians using Kenyan children for sexual tourism. If true, the problems are far bigger than private or public nudity.) Stone Town is amazing. Every door tells a story, usually literally. Chain carvings show the home of a slave trader, certain carvings indicate wealth, animals show royalty, certain plants denote spice traders, scales denote fish merchants. Slave traders lived here – note the chains along the frame’s border
Buildings like Africa House and the House of Wonder brought to life much of what we read so far. Since the whole town – 16,000 residents, but 200,000 daily people working or passing through – is a World Heritage Site, very little can change. To that point, even modern buildings look like they’ve been around a long time, while nicer structures like our hotel and Beyt Al Chai across the street blend in seamlessly. While other parts of the island like the north could resemble an overdeveloped Caribbean island, Stone Town probably won’t, any more than Jerusalem’s Old City would (C first made the comparison). Also notable: no chains are here at all. No McD’s, KFC, Starbucks. There are no movie posters for the latest Disney flick – as there’s no movie theater. There are few Western brands, Coke being the biggest, topping only Obama who is emblazoned in tribute in graffiti by our hotel and in apparel in side street shops. (The Clintons are fondly remembered too – Bill toured here discussing democracy and AIDS a few years back.)
We caught signs of the East African slave trade too, at the side of the Anglican church that still has its old slave holds. There’s no way to adequately describe the cruelty and barbarity, but it was meaningful to get a taste of what injustices occurred on this island a hundred years and change before we got here.
After finishing the tour, our guide directed us to Mercury’s, a happening seaside restaurant and bar capitalizing on the name of perhaps the most famous person born here, Freddie Mercury. As a gay ex‐pat who died of AIDS, he doesn’t get too much billing on the conservative Muslim island. Lunch was pretty good – had some pizza, perhaps inspired by naughty Italians, perhaps because it’s popular here and especially at Mercury’s, and perhaps because we’re getting ready to transition back
home. Not perfect. Most food here can benefit from a dash of salt, and it’s funny on this Spice Island that food tends to be underseasoned. A little more Indian influence wouldn’t hurt. We then went walking – first to the ATM, which did have cash, though only one ATM worked, a different one from what which worked yesterday. And then, a very long, circuitous route to find a store we liked selling Zanzibar chests. It took hours. We were already dripping from before, experiencing one of those kinds of heat that doesn’t so much register on a thermometer so much as it does in the way by which walking through the tone alleyways feels like you’re getting cooked alive. While I know of no cannibals nor carnivorous predators here, I envisioned myself as an entrée on a menu. Would my hat have helped? Anything? No idea. I avoided close encounters with predators on safari, medicated against scourges from malaria to Yellow Fever, and haven’t needed any Pepto or Immodium, let alone more powerful drugs like Cipro, but the heat – that Zanzibari, dead of summer heat that laughs at you in the alleys for avoiding the pleasant breeze along the seaside promenade – finally knocked me out. I was out cold. I tried meds, a cold compress, a cold shower, Ayurvedic breathing exercises from eHow, and nothing relieved the invisible clamp crushing my head. Only against the tormenter’s will, in darkness and silence, did I get the 45 minutes of sleep that freed me. Hours later, the headache’s gone but its memory lingers, a reminder that it could attack again.
Dinner: Beyt Al Chai, a very quiet restaurant in a boutique hotel across Kilele Square, close enough to the mosque that we could hear an evening call to prayer (50 mosques here, 2 churches, 4 Hindu temples). The bruschetta was bold (feta, caramelized tomatoes, bread) and delicious, and I had the enjoyable but not unforgettable grouper wrapped with bacon. C checked if the fish came from the market, given we saw the market today with all the fish teeming with flies, the way it must have looked back when people thought meat bred maggots. We avoided the chicken execution. When our guide had said, “There are two kinds of chickens,” I half‐jokingly told C, “Live and dead,” and that’s exactly what he said. You only get SO much choice here. After enjoying my Tusker with dinner, I asked for “chai” and sought to understand the few offerings on the menu. “There are only two options” – said the server non‐ironically – “spice tea with or without milk.” My milk option, in a kind of samovar, was better than the vanilla ice cream. There’s no way the ice cream was Italian. They may be loud, naked, child traffickers, but they’d never tolerate such a dessert. For that, one option – vanilla, and payment – only Visa, or cash. The payment options are always a surprise here – no sign on door or note on menu, most of the time (save for Silk Route). Maybe that will appear in the next generation of door carvings here, if UNESCO lets them get away with it. 2/27 Karume Airport – Dolphin Lounge Zanzibar 2pm Here in the slightly cooler than outdoor “luxury” restaurant in Zanzibar’s airport. We were running late today checking out – a “Hakuna Matata” to manager Kennedy made it possible. But we’re early – an hour early. So our driver, who knew nothing about our flight, reintroduced us to Jackson, who didn’t know who we were, as we approached someone at the ZanAir counter, who said we’re a full hour too early. So we’ll wait here, the only ones in this blue‐tableclothed lounge that seats 40. A Krest soda water for C, a Stoney Tangawizi ginger beer for me.
This morning: up too early again, more from a lot of sunlight, after being up too late reading. Had a good breakfast – perhaps our best yet since Djuma. Indian bread, sesame bread, fish, octopus, passion fruit juice, plantains, pears, pancake‐bread. Could have gorged more but took it easy. Lounged and read poolside, then swam a bit to cool off – felt good. Packed, listening to Queen’s Night at the Opera, a farewell tribute to Freddie. Said farewell to concierge Fauz(?) and checked out. Walked to Archipelago, a popular spot, and had a pretty good lunch of passion fruit juice, and kingfish with plantains East African style. Went to the ATM. The left was out of order today, the right out of cash. Ahh, Africa. A little non‐shopping, then sought somewhere cool at Serena only to hear our driver was early. And here we are, 40 minutes until check‐in, and I’m on Stoney #2 (today).
7:10pm Lobby of a Hotel whose name is changed to protect the staff working there WABENZI Finally, we got to do some old‐fashioned, palm to palm, backdoor dealing. Everywhere we read about the briery economy here, and it’s about time we get to take it underground. First things first… We took the 20 minute 17‐seater to Dar. When one passenger feared there wasn’t a seat, the pilot said, “If there’s not, you can take mine.” We got our bottled water, though no blue mints, on a plane where we never showed ID and our boarding passes had no name on them. The view of Zanzibar made me sad to leave it – such a beautiful, captivating island. And we were off. Bumpy at times with no A/C, we were glad it landed. Air con remains tentative, as it has all trip. And then we met our new driver. It was hard to tell what to make of him at first. We started off with a request: take a driving tour of Dar. He requested to be taken care of, and of course we agreed. We didn’t name a price, but I’d imagine 100,000TS will do (~$65). Ridin’ old school in Dar
Once he got going though, he laughed at EVERYTHING – when I said we were Jewish (he’s black Lutheran), when C asked about Italians (he doesn’t like them – and his only comment on the French was that they’re better than Italians; Chinese and Indians tie for second least favorite, while Germans and Russians are okay but serious and rigid – guides have this wonderful body language, similar all around the world, to show what they think of Germans – straight face, tight and squared shoulders). He laughed when we used any of our nominal Swahili words. And then came his biggest laugh of all. C asked if he’s married, and he said he’s engaged. So finally getting a handle on how things work around here, I asked a question I never asked anyone before, keeping a straight face all the while: “How many cows did you pay for her?” He lit up, kept on laughing, and reached back to give me some kind of cross between a high five and a handshake. It was beautiful. “Who told you that?” he asked. Score one for the mzungu. For me, it felt like acing the Africa finals. I’ve read it, I’ve toured it, and now I’m part of it.
(8:30) We toured all around – waterfront, embassies, quick shops at markets al selling the same stuff 9if you see giraffe paintings, just run). The driver made up for a city you can confidently see without leaving your car, or even rolling down the window. Then we got to Hotel Dar, sweaty as we’ve been, which doesn’t bode well for.. oh… 40 hours of travel. We mentioned the thought of getting a room by the hour to the greeter out front and he had a plan B. He’d call his friend at the pool, we’d grease a couple palms, and we’d get access to the locker rooms, which happen to be nicer than just about any I’ve seen. 30,000 TS went to the locker room guy (who had another ‘client’ come in after me), I’ve got 20,000 TS for the guy out front (George), and we’re now refreshed and a bit more ready for 2 long flights and a half day romp through Amsterdam. Dinner was fine – sweet potato soup, a butter curry version of a chicken tikka masala (D) and pizza (C). Enjoyed another Stoney Tangawizi and Kilimanjaro beer. [And that ends the Africa journal. Normally these journals have some parting thoughts that tie it all together. There was nothing like that here – no final memories, no lessons. A few pages on Amsterdam
follow, but they’re entirely disconnected. It mentions Africa just once: “As of midnight, we were in the erstwhile capital of East Africa’s most stable nation. We did breakfast in one of the crown jewels of Europe, along with lunch, and dessert…” Perhaps even that’s fitting in its own right – no tidy conclusions are deep reflections, but an abrupt end to a story about bribing hotel staff for a shower followed by details of a menu. It ends without ending, perhaps anticipating some kind of grand finale that never got written. It’s the challenge with travel too, as you’re too busy doing it to properly capture it all or reflect on what happened. The real impact of a trip often isn’t known for years later. I’m grateful for every minute of the journey though, and I’m indebted to all those who made the trip as meaningful as it was, even if the meaning will reveal itself in time.] The End.
Appendix: 28 Books for Your Africa Reading List ‐ Safaris, Politics, Culture, History, and More In February, I traveled through South Africa and Tanzania, taking part in a few safaris whileexploring Cape Town and unwinding in Zanzibar. Along the way I also spent a night in Nairobi,Kenya and got a brief tour of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. To prepare for the trip and expand myhorizons while away, I read about 30 books on Africa. As Ive done before with reading lists forEgypt and South America, your reading list for Africa is below, this time with 28 reviews andrecommendations. Feel free to share other recommendations in the comments.I need to thank two sources in particular that helped with this list. One is Amazon, from itsreferences to the Kindle. With the flights to Zanzibar I could only take 33 lbs of luggage for a17-day trip through varying climates, and the Kindle made reading so many books possible.Highlighted passages below all come from Kindle versions. The other is Idlewild Books, aManhattan bookstore specializing in international books, and I picked up at least 10 books therefrom this selection alone; most weren’t available on the Kindle, and the staff there is extremelysharp.
South Africa Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson MandelaIf you only read one book about Africa, this is it. Mandelas the hero, the change agent, therevolutionary, the larger than life inspiring figure you want him to be. The only thing moreincredible than his autobiography is that when reading anything else about Africa, Mandelaremains unblemished. This is also a book that anyone interested in leadership needs to read.Highlight:Of so many great quotes from Mandela, heres one that stands out: "Education is thegreat engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant canbecome a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child offarmworkers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have,not what we are given, that separates one person from another." Country of My Skull by Antjie KrogThis one will rank up there in terms of books that keep you up at night. Krog covers the Truthand Reconilliation Commission hearings in South Africa in the 1990s, and you feel the tortureKrog endures by hearing and relaying the horrors and atrocities that happened in her country.Highlight: We all want to resign. We all yearn for another life. At Tzaneen a young Tswanainterpreter is interviewed. He holds on to the tabletop; his other hand moves restlessly in his lap.“It is difficult to interpret victim hearings,” he says, “because you use the first person all thetime. I have no distance when I say ‘I’ . . . it runs through me with ‘I.’ ” “Now how do yousurvive it?” “I don’t. After the first three months of hearings, my wife and baby left me becauseof my violent outbursts. The Truth Commission provided counseling and I was advised to stop.But I don’t want to. This is my history, and I want to be part of it—until the end. Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan PatonThis is one of those books that I felt so privileged to read. If I hadnt gone on this trip I mightnever have found it, and its undoubtedly one of the worlds great works of poetry.What makes itchilling is that it was written right before the advent of apartheid, so its this snapshot of SouthAfrica before the country spirals even further downhill.Highlight: We do not know, we do not know. We shall live from day to day, and put more lockson the doors, and get a fine fierce dog when the fine fierce bitch next door has pups, and hold onto our handbags more tenaciously; and the beauty of the trees by night, and the raptures of loversunder the stars, these things we shall forego. We shall forego the coming home drunken throughthe midnight streets, and the evening walk over the star-lit veld. We shall be careful, and knockthis off our lives, and knock that off our lives, and hedge ourselves about with safety and
precaution. And our lives will shrink, but they shall be the lives of superior beings; and we shalllive with fear, but at least it will not be a fear of the unknown. And the conscience shall be thrustdown; the light of life shall not be extinguished, but be put under a bushel, to be preserved for ageneration that will live by it again, in some day not yet come; and how it will come, and when itwill come, we shall not think about at all. Disgrace by J.M. CoetzeeAll you really need to know about this one is that its like reading a Philip Roth novel set inSouth Africa. Its about a professor who cant control his prick (a term Roth would use, so it fits)and whose attempts at escaping his problems only cause more misery. Its less about SouthAfrica than human nature, but thats also part of the fun of it - reading a book thats not a historylesson. Favorite African Folktales edited by Nelson MandelaYou can often learn a lot about a country from its folktales, and the scope here is far wider than acountry. Its a fun mix, but nothing here is as striking or well written as Kalila and Dimna fromthe Egypt roundup. If youre at all interested in folklore, go with Kalila - and if youre not, youmight be after reading it. The Pickup by Nadine GordimerThis is an odd book by one of South Africas best known writers. Here, Julie falls for a Muslimmechanic and leaves her Sex and the City set for a life of Islam, Arabie, and destitution. Whileits an interesting story at times, I never really got why Julie was acting the way she was - itseemed a little forced at most major junctures.Zanzibar Revolution in Zanzibar: An Americans Cold War Tale by Donald PettersonIf you go to Zanzibar, or if you love Cold War history, you have to read this. You meet divinelyinspired coup leaders, womanizing ambassadors, and world leaders as Petterson shares his first-hand experience from serving in the American consulate on Zanzibar during these revolutinoarydays.The Sultans Shadow by Christiane BirdZanzibars a surprising, even magical island, albeit with quite a few dark spots in its history. Itwas the capital of East Africas slave trade, which picked up once the scion of an Omani dynastydiscovered the riches from the islads spice plantations, and slaves were needed to supply the
island. The most ambitious of the islands sultans had a daughter who was quite the renegade, asrunning off with German men wasnt exactly de rigeur at the time for an Omani Zanzibariprincess. Along with following the sultan and princess, we meet infamous black African slavetrader Tippu Tip, British Christian anti-slavery crusader David Livingstone, and other leadingfigures of the day. While the narrative is all over the place, as a reader I felt enriched by having itcover so many angles. Paradise by Abdulrazak GurnahWhile the book isnt set in Zanzibar, the author hails from there. Though you wont see this in theAmazon description, the story is remarkably similar to the biblical story of Joseph. Theprotagonist is even named Yusuf, and hes similar to his namesake in appearance and caninterpret dreams. His father sells him into bondage (instead of Josephs brothers - but really, itsthe same plot line), and you know you can expect trouble when you meet the woman whoresembles Potiphars wife.General History: Colonial Period (starting around 16th/17th centuries) until Independence(around 1950s-60s) King Leopolds Ghost by Adam HochschildBelgiums King Leopold II is one of the worlds least known genocidists, a mass murderer fewcan compare to, and one few heard of before Hochshilds best-seller. Edwin Morel, the hero ofthe book, was a British shipping executive who noticed a disparity in some records that led to aglobal anti-slavery crusade. Horrifying through and through, Hochshild is such a great storytellerthat perhaps its a little too much of a page-turner. Heart of Darkness by Joseph ConradI hadnt read this until this trip, and by the time I did, I had read so much about it that the novelitself was anticlimactic. Real life villains like King Leopold II are far scarier than anything inhere. While the story itselfs essential reading, Im more impressed by what Conrad did andinspired than the work itself. Exterminate All the Brutes by Sven LindqvistLindqvist journeys into Africa to explroe the meaning of the Heart of Darkness phrase,"Exterminate all the brutes." Where did that ideology originate, to treat people as animals orlesser evolved humans? How did it influence Hitler, and why do we focus on the Holocaustwhile ignoring other mass killings? There arent easy answers but its a thouhtful thoughtexperiment.
First Footsteps in East Africa by Sir Richard BurtonSir Burton is clearly an outsized personality. Often, hes intoerably bigoted, putting down anyoneand any tribe he meets with as he shares his theories of civilization. And yet, he has hismoments, such as his understanding the dangers of pitting one tribe against another - this kind ofaction caused irreperable harm as the colonial powers left africa. Its great to have access to thiswork, but tough to swallow.Highlight (well, more of a typical passage - hardly a highlight): The natives of the country areessentially commercial: they have lapsed into barbarism by reason of their political condition--the rude equality of the Hottentots,--but they appear to contain material for a moral regeneration.As subjects they offer a favourable contrast to their kindred, the Arabs of El Yemen, a raceuntameable as the wolf, and which, subjugated in turn by Abyssinian, Persian, Egyptian, andTurk, has ever preserved an indomitable spirit of freedom, and eventually succeeded in skakingoff the yoke of foreign dominionDiamonds, Gold, and War: The British, the Boers, and the Making of South Africa by MartinMeredithWhile well reviewed, this book of the Dutch history of South Africa was a bit of a slog for me.The basic history is important, and I enjoyed the character sketch of Cecil Rhodes, among others,but perhaps I was a little historied out by the time I read this.Modern Politics (post-colonial area, focused generally on 1950s-present) The Fate of Africa: A History of 50 Years of Independence by Martin MeredithThis was the first sweeping work I read about Africas modern history. You read the same storyin country after country: Colonizing power props up a seemingly non-threatening but charismaticlackey; colonizing power makes a hasty exit before there are even a few hundred black Africansin the entire country with college degrees; former lackey pillages the country for his personalgain while playing Cold War rivals against each other to gain global standing; some kind of civilwar, coup, and/or genocide ensues. A few break that pattern, usually with an educated leaderwho takes their responsibility more seriously (see Ghana, Botswana, Tanzania, and ultimatelyMandela in South Africa) but not always successfully (Tanzanias Nyerere, for instance, took hissocialist ideals too far, but at least he was one of few leaders to step down voluntarily when theeconomy crashed). This was the first such sweeping tome I read on Africas modern history, andit was confusing to no end, but after a few such works I got the hang of it and can even put a fewof these countries on a map. Yay.
Highlight: By the end of the 1980s, not a single African head of state in three decades hadallowed himself to be voted out of office. Of some 150 heads of state who had trodden theAfrican stage, only six had voluntarily relinquished power. The Challenge for Africa by Wangari MaathaiAn incredible Kenyan woman who has served her country and continent in goverment, onfoundations and through her writing, Maathai ultimately focuses on the MillenniumDevelopment Goals for Africa and why they wont be met by 2015. Especially powerful is whenthis green party hero focuses on the environment and she makes a case for the positive rippleeffects that stem from sustainability.Highlight: Before the arrival of the Europeans, Mount Kenya was called Kirinyaga, or “Place ofBrightness,” by the people who lived in its shadow. The Kikuyus believed that God dwelled onthe mountain, and that the rains, clean drinking water, green vegetation, and crops, all of whichhad a central place in their lives, flowed from it. When Christian missionaries arrived in the areatoward the end of the nineteenth century, they told the local people that God did not live onMount Kenya, but rather in heaven, and that the mountain and its forests, previously consideredsacred grounds, could be encroached upon and the reverence accorded to them abandoned. Thepeople believed this and were persuaded to consider their relationship with the mountain and,indeed, nature itself as primitive, worthless, and an obstacle to development and progress in anage of modernity and advances in science and technology. This did not happen only, of course,to the people who lived around Mount Kenya. Over the next generations, the reverence and spiritthat had led the communities to preserve specific species of tree, like the wild fig, and the forestson Mount Kenya died away. When the white settlers and then the local communities themselvescut down the trees to plant coffee and tea and other agricultural products, encroaching farther andfarther up the mountain, there was little resistance. From then on, they were seen as commoditiesonly, to be privatized and exploited. Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles by Richard DowdenAs great as this book is - the writer is a gifted wordsmith while focusing on many of the salientstories and perspectives that make this modern history lesson so memorable - I wish there were afew more ordinary miracles. As in so many of Africas histories, they proved hard to find here.Highlight: As John Robertson, a Zimbabwean economist, says, `We imagine corruption to belike a tick on a dog. There are some places in Africa where the tick is bigger than the dog.Highlight 2: Shakespeare would have found it easier to talk with modern Africans than modernEuropeans and Americans who have no sense of anything beyond the physical realities ofWestern urban culture. Africans understand Shakespeares woodland inhabited by sprites andfairies or by ghosts of dead fathers and other mystical apparitions. Living in harmony with theother world is important. China Safari by Sege Michel Michel BeuretThis was the first book I read in this crash course on Africa, and its one of the best. It shows thecomplicated nature of the Chinese helping to build Africa while not letting morals get in the wayof business decisions.
Highlight (proverbs):China: "When a tree is moved, it dies. When a man movies, he can make a fortune."Mali: "If you see a goat at the mouth of the lions den, fear the goat."Memoirs When a Crocodile Eats the Sun by Peter GodwinBeautifully told, a reporter reminisces about his life primarily in Zimbabwe, where his parentssurvive endless diffuclties while staying attached to their country. Theres also a memorablesubplot, not to be disclosed here, as Godwin discovers the truth about his own heritage.Highlight: I feel like weeping. Weeping at the way Africa does this to you. Just as you’re aboutto dismiss it and walk away, it delivers something so unexpected, so tender. One minute you’rescared shitless, the next you’re choked with affection.Highlight 2 (because I love folkore, and hippos): Of all the theories for the hippo’s antisocialbehavior, my favorite is the one offered by the San, the Bushmen with whom I have recentlyspent so much time for National Geographic. They believe that the hippo was the last animal tobe created and was made of parts left over from the construction of other beasts. When the hipposaw its reflection in the water, it was so ashamed of its ugliness that it begged the creator —Kaggan — to allow it to live underwater, out of sight. But Kaggan refused, worried that thehippo would eat up all the fish with its huge mouth. The hippo promised that it wouldn’t eat anyliving thing from the water, and Kaggan relented. A deal was struck that the hippo must returneach night to the land to eat and to shit so that the other animals could examine its dung to ensurethat there were no fish bones in it. The regular humiliation of public fecal inspection could wellaccount for the hippo’s irascibility. The Zanzibar Chest by Aidan HartleyThis is two memoirs in one. Half of the book has Hartley recounting the story of his Scottishfather who went native in Arabia and then East Africa, where he came to feel at home. Itsintertwined with the authors autobiography of surviving as a journalist in some of the mosthellish, war-torn conflicts. Whatever You Do, Dont Run - True Tales of a Botswana Safari Guide by Peter AllisonIts not saying much to call this the funniest book I read about Africa, and one of the leastdepressing. If I got any nightmares reading about this, then they were about Japanese tourists.While the book starts off rough, fortunately Allison matures just enough with his experience as aguide to strengthen the narrative while sharpening the humor.
Highlight: Honey badgers belong to a group of only four animals that lions tend to avoid. Theother three members are elephants, rhinoceroses, and hippos.African Fiction (general) Gods and Soldiers: The Penguin Anthology of Contemporary African Writing by Rob SpillmanThis is a useful guide to modern African writers. I bought a few of the books in this roundupafter reading excerpts here, including Minaret and Half a Yellow Sun. I guess the con of the bookis also a pro - a lot of the works were underwhelming, but that also meant I didnt have to readmore from every writer in here.Highlight (from an introduction to the section on Mozambique and Angola, by the formers MiaCouto): I am a biologist and I travel a lot through my country’s savanna. In these regions, I meetpeople who don’t know how to read books. But they know how to read their world. In such auniverse where other wisdoms prevail, I am the one who is illiterate. I don’t know how to readthe signs in the soil, the trees, the animals. I can’t read clouds and the likelihood of rain. I don’tknow how to talk to the dead, I’ve lost all contact with ancestors who give us our sense of theeternal. In these visits to the savanna, I learn sensitivities that help me to come out of myself andremove me from my certainties. In this type of territory, I don’t just have dreams. I amdreamable. Petals of Blood by Ngugi Wa ThiongoA teacher, a socialist, and a prostitute walk into Abdullahs bar - no, not the beginning of a joke,but the setting for the Kenyan novelists dark story about a fictional town that becomes a city, butwith many sacrifices. We meet everyone from local robber barrons to colonialist missionaries. Itpicks up the pace considerably as it progresses. While I wound up loving this, I couldnt get intoThiongos other seminal work WIzard of the Crow, though if you read its reviews youll see Imin the minority The Gunny Sack by MG VassanjiDubbed "Africas answer to Midnights Children, its a fantastic romp through a couple familyhistories spannign India, Zanzibar, Eastern Africa, and a bit of teh west. And times its toosimilar to Rushdies work, and it lost me, but its often lyrical and playful. While I enjoyed it, itwasnt as memorable for me as most of the others. Things Fall Apart by Chinua AchebeThis was, Im embarrassed to admit, the only book from this list I read before planning the Africatrip, thanks to my Mamaroneck High School teacher Shannon Turner-Porter (if youre Googling