Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Who will tell me about the real Africa now?

There was no warning, no advance notice.
Jan 24: I was on the internet and my eyes drifted to the tragic headline which told me of Ryszard Kapuściński's death. Just like that. That was last week and I still can't believe that he has gone away. He was almost 75. He had plenty of work left in him, he had to have. Now, who will I turn to get the true description about Africa, a continent that Kapuściński visited endlessly. I have not found anyone else who described the continent so perfectly, so lucidly that I felt I was present there along with Kapuściński in that broken jeep trying to cross the border. I felt that I was sharing a beer with him just to fight the heat from killing us. He told us about the importance of silence (Soccer War). We ignore silence but it is during these periods of silence that real evil is lurking. Given recent crimes in Africa, one can't help think of Kapuściński's words. Under the covers of silence, genocide was being committed. And the world could only care for which movie star did what and whose marriage was being broken.

Kapuściński also understood the meaning of time in African life and how time there is not the same entity that hangs like a sword over the Western World. A few words from Shadows of the Sun (Vintage Canada):
"Africans apprehend time differently. For them, it is a much looser concept, more open, elastic, subjective. It is man who influences time, its shape, course, and rhythm (man acting, of course, with the consent of gods and ancestors).....Time appears as a result of our actions, and vanishes when we neglect or ignore it....The absolute opposite of time as it is understood in the European worldview....In practical terms, this means that if you go to a village where a meeting is scheduled for the afternoon but find no one at the appointed spot, asking, "When will the meeting take place?" makes no sense. You know the answer: "It will take place when people come."

His description of an entire city floating away in boxes (Angola in Another Day of Life) is unforgettable. Likewise, his insight into the collapse of the Soviet Union in Imperium is well worth reading. The Emperor (about Hallie Haile Selassie) and Shah of Shahs (last Shah of Iran) brought to life people that the media never fully understood.

As of 2006, I have all his 6 English translated books and each one of them is worth reading again, and again. Simply written, beautifully described, poetic infact. I just learned that another book by him will be released in early 2007 -- Travels with Herodotus. I can't wait for that one.

In the meantime, Africa marches on. Hollywood & the U.K have decided to cash in and are busy making movies about the continent. I have managed to see a few of them over the last year, but I have yet to see Blood Diamond and The Last King of Scotland. Regardless of how these movies are, I doubt if they will be able to match the brilliance of Kapuściński's words.

Thank you Mr. Kapuściński for giving me a look into the real Africa! Thank you for poetic words and your vivid images!!

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