The Ukimwi Road: From Kenya to Zimbabwe by Dervla Murphy

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In January 1992, Dervla Murphy prescribed herself several carefree months and embarked on a cycle tour (pedalling and pushing) from Kenya to Zimbabwe via Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia on the cyclist’s equivalent of a Rolls Royce called Lear. Before long, she realized that for travellers who wish to remain stress-free, Africa is the wrong continent. Inevitably she was caught up in the harrowing problems of the peoples she met; the devastating effects of AIDS (ukimwi is Swahili for AIDS), drought and economic collapse; scepticism about Western “aid schemes”; and corruption and incompetence, both white and black.

The Ukimwi Road: From Kenya to Zimbabwe

Scribbling the Cat by Alexandra Fuller

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When Alexandra “Bo” Fuller was in Zambia a few years ago visiting her parents, she asked her father about a nearby banana farmer who was known as being a “tough bugger”. Her father’s response was a warning to steer clear of him: “Curiosity scibbled the cat, ” he told her. Nonetheless, Fuller began her strange friendhip with the man she calls K, a white African and veteran of the Rhodesian War. A man of contradictions, K is battle-scarred and work-weathered, a born-again Christian and given to weeping for the failure of his romantic life and the burden of his memories. Driven by K’s these memories of the war, they decide to enter the heart of darkness in the most literal way, by travelling from Zambia through Zimbabwe and Mozambique to visit the scenes of the war and to meet other veterans.

Scribbling the Cat

Canoeing the Congo: First Source to Sea Descent of the Congo River by Phil Harwood

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Canoeing the Congo narrates the journey of Phil Harwood, who undertook an epic five-month solo attempt to canoe the Congo River in war-torn Central Africa. It was a historic ‘first descent’ from the true source in the highlands of Zambia. Just short of 3,000 miles long, the Congo River is the eighth longest in the world and the deepest river in the world, with a flow rate second only to the Amazon. Along the way, Phil encountered numerous waterfalls, huge rapids, man-eating crocodiles, hippos, aggressive snakes and spiders’ webs the size of houses. He faced endemic corruption, was arrested, intimidated, bullied, chased and he received numerous death threats. He also collapsed from malaria. The people were mostly friendly, however, and Phil received tremendous hospitality from a proud and brave people, especially from the riverside fishermen who helped him wherever they could. On one stretch of river known as ‘The Abattoir’ due to its past history of cannibalism and current reputation for criminal activity, he hired four brothers with a shotgun to accompany him as bodyguards. They paddled and floated for five days and nights on the river. Common questions from locals were, “why haven’t you cut his throat yet?” and “if you don’t want to do it, tell us where your camping and we’ll come and do it for you …We’ll share his money.” It was an exhilarating, terrifying and wonderful journey but Phil managed to survive, despite the odds, to tell his story. Canoeing the Congo will appeal to fans of adventurous travel writing and people who love the nature and wilderness. Phil, who is a fan of adventure stories himself, enjoys the work of Ranulph Fiennes and Bill Bryson.

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Don’t Let’s Go To The Dog’s Tonight: An African Childhood by Alexandra Fuller

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Don’t Let’s go to the Dogs Tonight is a wonderfully evocative memoir of Alexandra Fuller’s African childhood. Fuller regards herself “as a daughter of Africa”, who spent her early life on farms in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia throughout the turbulent 1970s and 80s, as her parents “fought to keep one country in Africa white-run”, but “lost twice” in Kenya and Zimbabwe. This is a profoundly personal story about growing up with a pair of funny, tough, white African settlers, and living with their “sometimes breathlessly illogical decisions”, as they move from war-torn Zimbabwe to disease and malnutrition in Malawi, and finally the “beautiful and fertile” land of Zambia.
Central to Fuller’s book is the intense relations between herself and her parents, a chain-smoking father able to turn round any farm in Africa, her glamorous older sister Vanessa, and the character who sits at the heart of the book, Fuller’s “fiercely intelligent, deeply compassionate, surprisingly witty and terrifyingly mad” mother.
Fuller weaves together painful family tragedy with a wider understanding of the ambivalence of being part of a separatist white farming community in the midst of Black African independence. The majority of the book focuses on Fuller’s early years in war-torn Zimbabwe, with “more history stuffed into its make-believe, colonial-dream borders than one country the size of a very large teapot should be able to amass.” This is the most successful dimension of the book, as Fuller describes growing up on farm where her father is away most nights fighting “terrorists”, and stripping a rifle takes precedence over school lessons. The sections on Malawi and Zambia are more prosaic, but this is a lyrical and accomplished memoir about Africa, which is “about adjusting to a new world view” and the author’s “passionate love for a continent that has come to define, shape, scar and heal me and my family.”
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