Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Why we travel by Pico Iyer

We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again -- to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more. The beauty of this whole process was best described, perhaps, before people even took to frequent flying, by George Santayana in his lapidary essay, "The Philosophy of Travel." We "need sometimes," the Harvard philosopher wrote, "to escape into open solitudes, into aimlessness, into the moral holiday of running some pure hazard, in order to sharpen the edge of life, to taste hardship, and to be compelled to work desperately for a moment at no matter what."

I like that stress on work, since never more than on the road are we shown how proportional our blessings are to the difficulty that precedes them; and I like the stress on a holiday that's "moral" since we fall into our ethical habits as easily as into our beds at night. Few of us ever forget the connection between "travel" and "travail," and I know that I travel in large part in search of hardship -- both my own, which I want to feel, and others', which I need to see.

Abroad is the place where we stay up late, follow impulse and find ourselves as wide open as when we are in love. We live without a past or future, for a moment at least, and are ourselves up for grabs and open to interpretation. We even may become mysterious -- to others, at first, and sometimes to ourselves

Its hard being a traveler

The Tao of Travel: Enlightenments from Lives on the Road by Paul Theroux,It is hard to be a stranger. A traveler may have no power, no influence, no known identity. That is why a traveler needs optimism and heart, because without confidence travel is misery. Generally, the traveler is anonymous, ignorant, easy to deceive, at the mercy of the people he or she travels among. The traveler might be known as “the American” or “the Foreigner,” and there is no power in that.Among the Batelela in the Sankuru region of central Congo the word for stranger is ongendagenda. It is also one of the most common names for a male child. The reasoning is that when a child is born—and males matter most among the Batelela—he appears from nowhere and is unknown, so he is usually called Stranger, and this name stays with him throughout his life—Stranger is the “John” of the Sankuru region.In Swahili, the word muzungu (plural, wazungu) has its root in the word for ghost or spirit, and cognates of the word—mzungu in Chichewa and murungu in Shona and other Bantu languages—have the meaning of a powerful spirit, even a god. Foreigners had once seemed godlike when they first appeared in some places.

Friday, November 11, 2011

How to write about Africa by award winning author Binyavanga Wainaina

Writing in the literary magazine, Granta, awardwinning author, Binyavanga Wainaina, pens a satirical piece on the Western psyche titled, "How to write about Africa". Wainaina, the Caine award winner of 2001 and editor of the online literary magazine Kwani?, says, in part: "Sunsets and starvation are good. Always use the word Africa or Darkness or Safari in your title. Sub-titles may include the words Zanzibar, Maasai, Zulu, Zambezi, Congo, Nile, Big, Sky, Shadow, Drum, Sun or Bygone. Also useful are words such as Guerrillas, Timeless, Primordial and Tribal. Note that People means Africans who are not black, while The People means black Africans...."

Wainaina adds: "Make sure you show how Africans have music and rhythm deep in their souls, and eat things no other humans eat. Do not mention rice and beef and wheat; monkey-brain is an African's cuisine of choice, along with goat, snake, worms and grubs and all manner of game meat. Make sure you show that you are able to eat such food without flinching, and describe how you learn to enjoy it - because you care. Taboo subjects: Ordinary domestic scenes, love between Africans (unless a death is involved), references to African writers or intellectuals, mention of schoolgoing children who are not suffering from yaws or Ebola fever or female genital mutilation. Throughout the book, adopt a sotto voice, in conspiracy with the reader.."