I have settled in – if settled is what it can be called. It’s funny, things no longer seem exotic; or, more accurately, my idea of ‘exotic’ seems to have changed. A new place – that is all, for now. The same problems; old problems that never seem to go away, especially not in Africa. Corruption. War. Evil.
The mundane problems. Brownouts, internet outages.
Boredom – Africa is boring. Nobody tells you that, when they write the scripts for the movies. When they author the epic novels. Mine is about to come out – a novel, not a movie. Yes, it’s also epic. No, it does not tell the tales of the waiting – the wondering. The stories are always about running from rebel attacks; camps full of dying people; diamond mines; ducking under the feet of the rhinos to escape the poachers. Deep, dark rivers churning with life under expansive, impenetrable canopies – daylight barely able to fight its way through.
The feel-good stories are only about great plains teaming with animals. There are no animals left in Africa, well more specifically not in West Africa. Nobody tells you that either – the days when elephants roamed the streets of Timbuktu are long gone. The times when the hippos swam the long arc of the Niger are over. “Poverty is the greatest polluter,” Indira Gandhi once said. Nobody please tell Al Gore.
To be sure, I’ve done that – the ‘running from rebels’ thing. More than once, actually. One time I remember I was in eastern Congo, specifically in Fizi in Uvira province across the Tanganyika from Burundi. I was visiting a water-mill that we were rehabilitating. Now, Fizi is a ways down from Uvira town – a ways too far actually, and it was market day. The water mill was a good twenty minute hike up into the mountains from the road and the lake. I was there to discuss and debate with the elders about the location of the mill and its proper use: I know nothing about the proper location for a mill, nor of its proper use – pretentiousness at its most lurid, adolescent empowerment. And I’m not a millennial! I can’t imagine how it must be these days. Anyway, suddenly from above the sound of gunfire – pop, pop, pop and the screaming, running of peasants down the hill.
The lesson here is, if the crowd runs, run with them. Somebody should tell Al Gore that; not that he’d ever need to know – he has his own plane. Climate alarmism is lucrative: but it didn’t save the animals.
Mostly however, in Africa, those situations are not the norm. At least not for foreigners – or western foreigners more specifically. We are firewalled from the discomfort, from the violence. Not that I’m complaining – except for the boredom. And except for the Radisson, or the Ethiopian Restaurant. But I digress; those too are the exception – except for me.
Which brings me back to my point, if I had one at all. I’ve settled in – again. Another country. Another war. Another year, then another and another. They became a decade, actually two – the years did. I got older – although I still see myself in my tweens. The lines of sadness have grown a little around my mouth; the crow’s feet around my eyes a witness to far too much trouble. I can’t seem to escape it – Africa and its troubles. Incidentally we’re not allowed to say any of this – we who fight the darkness. Shows weakness – shows we’re human. Best to become cynical, hard. A jester; a mocker. A bureaucrat.
I digress again. Because notwithstanding all this, I’m grateful. To live a life of significance, that has been an honor – even if it were to end tomorrow. To come from a great nation – and to take that experience and pass it on to others, who have not. That for me has made it all worthwhile.