Africa

July 22, 2009

alce

I’m reading a book from a polish writer/journalist named Ryszard Kapuscinski. It’s a small and short one, called “The cobra’s heart”. Up to a few months ago, I had never heard of this writer before. But as most of the times happen, when something meaningful steps into our lives, it did it surprisingly, casually. Fact is that I ended up attending a talk about Kapuscinski’s work, which resulted a very interesting one. After that, a friend of mine who’s a heavy reader, lent me the book.

For a person who comes from Argentina, a place in the world where immigration from Africa forced by colonialism didn’t happen in such an extent as it happened in other places, the continent only exists in the movies. There are no links to Africa whatsoever. You hardly see a person of color walking on the streets. There is no contact with African cultures.

But London is the world in a city. People from everywhere. And with the people, their cultures, and with their cultures, their past, their struggles. Africa is here, but sadly, I had never noticed it until I started to read this book. And now I feel like a boy with a new toy. I thought I had imagined everything about this world of ours, even if I haven’t visited it. But now there is Africa, a new place for me to be discovered, even if it only has to be so on the books.

AfricaKapuscinski’s writings are from 1962. A time when most parts of Africa were regaining its freedom, its independence. Places left alone upside down to their own fate, a situation which, I think, led to the common images we have today of the continent, visuals of need and death. But through the writer’s own experiences, the book shows something else: life, the African way. Cultures rich in its authenticity, and to the judging western eyes, its simplicity and unfamiliarity to material comfort.

The book might be outdated and sometimes poetic as to take it as a trustworthy description of plain facts, but I believe that’s why I got compelled with it; it’s a personal portrait of a place that albeit old, it’s new to me.

Had Kapuscinski been a blogger, he would have published the prologue of the book as a post. I transcribed it below. Within its synthesis, I find it extremely powerful; the kind of text I wish I could ever write myself. It depicts also the way I like to travel, the one that leads you to a complete understanding and knowledge of the place you’re visiting, which is one that avoids the most popular paths.

I lived in Africa for several years. I first went there in 1957. Then, over the next forty years, I returned whenever the opportunity arouse. I traveled extensively, avoiding official routes, palaces, important personages, and high-level politics. Instead, I opted to hitch rides on passing trucks, wander with nomads through the desert, be the guest of peasants of the tropical Savannah.
Their life is endless toil, a torment they endure with astonishing patience and good humor.
This is therefore not a book about Africa, but rather about some people from there – about encounters with them, and time spent together. The continent is too large to describe. It is a veritable ocean, a separate planet, a varied, immensely rich cosmos. Only with the greatest simplification, for the sake of convenience, can we say “Africa”. In reality, except as a geographical appellation, Africa does not exists.

R.K.

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