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Book Review: Dark Continent My Black Arse Featured

picQuote: "It is a refreshing and reasonable cause for excitement to have a travel book by a black African author but his obsession with the female body gets a little stale after a few chapters. There are only so many ways you can say a woman has a gorgeous behind....."


It was a hot Sunday afternoon and I was busy at work in Oshakati, a semi-urban town in Northern Namibia, when my colleague whispered to me, "You spend too much time on the road, moving around. How do you manage as a woman all alone? Do you have a personal journal?"


Now, at that time I was desperate for a good book by an African author which was proving to be very difficult to find in Oshakati. My colleague's "concerns" reminded me of the book "Dark Continent my black Arse". Though published in 2007, I had yet to read it and so two days later whilst in Windhoek I finally picked up a copy albeit with some effort.

 


"Dark Continent My Black Arse; by bus, boksie, matola...from Cape to Cairo" is a travel memoir written by Sihle Khumalo. It is the story of an African man who decides to travel around Africa just because he can. Born in Nqutu, rural KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, Khumalo later moves to the cities to study. He eventually lands himself a good job with Anglo American, but quickly gets bored with the routine of corporate life and decides to do something different. He describes the change as deciding to "live my own life, in my own way on my own terms". To celebrate his 30th birthday, Khumalo quits the corporate world and embarks on a journey from Cape Town to Cairo seeking adventure and fresh challenges. This he does in just four weeks. He uses his own money and motivation, and documents his experiences and views. It is all about embracing and living life to the fullest.


The book tries to capture personal and somewhat hilarious accounts of the thrill seekers' movements around Africa. It is one of those books that one picks from the shelf and thinks, "A travel book by a "black" African! Well it is about time!"


It is a refreshing and reasonable cause for excitement to have a travel book by a black African author. Most travel books about Africa are written by white men (and white women on very rare occasions), and describe 4x4's, campfires, roaring lions, vulnerable antelopes, half dressed Africans with spears and machetes, and endless clear landscapes. Khumalo's book is an "unusual" travel book; he tells of rattling busses that people share with chickens, describes congested cities, smelly guesthouses, and conmen. He also writes of interesting culture, good people, new friends, good food and how it feels to be an "African foreigner in Africa".
The title of the book betrays the mood and tone of the story. It is an easy and light read, offering moments of both laughter and irritation. He makes playful resolutions depending on his experiences and discoveries, and toys with silly "revolutionary" ideas.


He writes not as a spectator but as a participant of different African cultures, illuminating popular culture and the effect of cosmopolitanism in Africa. His subtitle, "by bus, boksie and matola", prepares the reader for his movements which are mainly confined to the underbelly of towns and cities, hence capturing the disillusionment of many African states. On the one hand he describes corruption, poor infrastructure, and ignorance in Africa and on the other the spirit of laughter, survival and pride is not lost.


He further tries to merge the personal with the political; by giving the political history of each of the eight countries he visits, explaining how such histories frame his perceptions. This provides some sombre moments in the book.


His narration is simple, carefree, but his thoughts are loaded with stereotypes. Perhaps this is indeed a true reflection of African popular cultures. Even so, at the end of the book, one is left with the feeling of being rushed through something that has the potential of being more exciting and informative. While we can appreciate and respect the author's personal opinion, his misogynist and sometimes careless statements are bound to make a reader uncomfortable or even petulant. For example, when describing the women he meets in the different countries, his obsession with the female body/ physical appearance gets a little stale after a few chapters. There are only so many ways you can say a woman has a gorgeous behind.


Nevertheless, it remains a splendid travel book that can be enjoyed if one is looking for an easy and entertaining read. The writer is politically and gender incorrect yet unapologetic about it and his interaction with people and perceptions of issues and culture is amusing. Paul Theroux, a famous African travel author describes the book as "very likeable and engaging". It certainly does grow on you with each turned page. It is just what travel writing in Africa needed to spice things up.

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