Thursday, January 25, 2007

Ryszard Kapuscinski dies

Southern Eritrea

"Poland's most celebrated journalist and non-fiction writer, Ryszard Kapuscinski, has died in Warsaw, aged 74, after a heart operation. He made his name in Africa in the 1960s, where he was the Polish Press Agency's only correspondent. He wrote widely on wars and dictators, chronicling the last days of Ethiopia's Haile Selassie and the Shah of Iran. " - BBC news

He wrote the very excellent book, The Shadow of the Sun, My African Life, in which he recorded his experiences over 40 years a a reporter in Africa. His stories covered independence for Ghana, superstition in Uganda, a coup in Zanzibar, the genocide in Rwanda and starvation in Ethiopia, amongst others. Not always the most positive news to come out of Africa but he tells his stories with so much sympathy and attention to detail.

However, it is his stories of everyday life which are most enchanting auch as short stories about a camel herder in Somaliland, a day in a village in Senegal, life in 'his' alleyway in Lagos and what goes on underneath a tree.

One observation of his which sticks in my mind, and unfortunately I cannot find it in the book now, regards the introduction of plastic containers which he says is the one thing which more than anything has changed the lives of so many people in Africa. No longer do the women and children have to transport water in heavy vessels, mainly on their heads, but now they can strap water cannisters to a donkey and let them do the work. And this is very much what we saw when we were in Africa ourselves, donkeys everywhere strapped with yellow plastic cannisters bringing water from the well to the village (and often wood from the forests to the village).

He also talked about the phenomenon of seeing people by the side of the road, going somewhere, quite probably miles and miles away from anywhere, and with no hope of getting a lift and carrying very few provisions. Where are they going and where are they from, he asks? Indeed, it was a question, we too asked many times as we travelled the highways and byways of Africa.

I would heartily recommend this book to anyone thinking of travelling in Africa, as it will heighten your experience of what you see around you.

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