2015: Book 4

Richard Dowden – Africa – Altered States, Ordinary Miracles

Afria“Africans meet, greet and talk, look you in the eye and empathize, hold hands and embrace, share and accept from others without twitchy self-consciousness. All these things are as natural as music in Africa.”

The Dark Continent – nothing can and never will stop driving me deeper and closer to “the tree where man was born”. My first obsession with Africa started with the African elephant – From the herds in Amboseli to David Sheldrick’s abandoned calf. Of course, I have followed the Bushmen, the pygmies and the fearless head-hunters in their pursuits through adventure-charged narratives.

“African music catches the spirit, a profound talent for living, enjoying life when it is good and surviving the bad times. The paradox is perfectly balanced: terrible times produce huge strength. Grief enhances joy. Death invigorates living.”

After reading loads of books/articles, most often, explicitly shedding light on the savage and tragedy that is Africa – I wanted something that wasn’t historical fiction or a patronizing biography. The words ‘ordinary miracles’ was attractive.

“Life remains one in Africa and life includes the divine and the mystical as well as the objective physical world. In Africa body and soul are one and the soul lives on.”

Here is a man who has spent over three decades and his overview of Africa is honest, sans the stereotyping bullshit. You breeze through the basic introductions, and cut to the chase – no sweeping statements – just truth.

“The best way to find out is to go, not as a tourist in a bubble of western luxury and safety, but as a traveler to meet people and engage with them. It is easily done. But beware. Africa can be addictive. Les fous d’Afrique, the French call them, those who become mad about Africa.”

Dowden talks about what most people already “think” they know of Africa – international capitalism, unfair trading systems, the World Bank and the IMF, the neo-colonialist conspiracy, the aloof aid agencies, the ruling elites and the unrest… the relentless, unshakable unrest.

The South African in Angola says, “The shit changes but the flies stay the same.”

Dowden manages to capture the complex nature and disposition that’s Africa. In this book, he particularly sheds light on Uganda, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Angola, Burundi and Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Congo, South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria. With his incredible analytic narrative, eye-witness accounts, and rich personal experiences – he tactfully delves into cases of colonialism, imperialism, elite money-grubbers, hoggish savage governments, shrewd capitalists, jaundiced journalists, over indulging aid agencies, sensitive ethnic corollaries and the OTHERS – gluttonous nations teasing and patronizing, yet always wanting more.

“Africa seems to have a talent for reconciliation when wars finally end. Given some of the atrocities that have occurred in Africa’s wars I am always struck by the spirit of forgiveness when they end.”

What constitutes Africa, why and how the innumerable and ever contrary international voices & attitudes change its native climate – to how everyone wants a piece of it! EVERYONE!

“Survival is Africa’s greatest talent. All over the continent Africans get by with skill and perseverance in conditions that would kill off other human beings in a few days. Africa may be where mankind began but it’s a tough and unpredictable place for humans to thrive.”

Yet, while he touches upon all this and more, he repeatedly sheds light on the positive – little success stories and simple joy that still makes Africa what it is. Very, very informative!

“Westerners arriving in Africa for the first time are always struck by its beauty and size–even the sky seems higher. And they often find themselves suddenly cracked open. They lose inhibitions, feel more alive, more themselves, and they begin to understand why, until then, they have only half lived. In Africa the essentials of existence–light, earth, water, food, birth, family, love, sickness, death–are more immediate, more intense. Visitors suddenly realize what life is for. To risk a huge generalization: [In the West], amid our wasteful wealth and time-pressed lives we have lost human values that still abound in Africa.”


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