“All news out of Africa is bad,” says Paul Theroux in the opening of his 2003 book Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town, and while it’s just the first sentence in a sweeping narrative that encounters misery and hope in equal measure, he has a point.
It is still difficult for Africa to elbow its way into the world’s headlines without dragging some kind of disaster story along with it: Famine, AIDS, political violence, civil war.
It is always nice to encounter writing — book length or journalism — that finds other things to say about the Greenest Continent, writing that at the very least attempts to go beyond a fatalistic approach to Africa so often driven by major media outfits and pack journalism. Writing, in other words, that searches for, and ultimately finds, some context.
Theroux’s book is one example, and the travel books of Jeffrey Tayler are another. The subtle novels of Alexander McCall Smith come to mind.
African narratives in daily journalism are harder to find, put they are out there (one that immediately springs to mind is Boston Globe travel writer Tom Haines’ brilliant dispatch from Sudan a few years back).
The work of author and adventurer Jon Bowermaster, a frequent contributor to National Geographic and National Geographic Adventure, is a part of this second group.
Bowermaster is currently writing a series of dispatches as he makes his way along the coast of Northwest Africa.
I like them because they read like vignettes, each one a picture with a few characters at their center: Shopkeepers in Casablanca, fisherman in Dakar. And he’s touching on issues that do not usually make it to newspaper front pages: Overfishing in Senegal, the region’s desertification, the questionable legacy of Thor Heyerdahl in the Canary Islands.
In many of these dispatches you will hear the voices of Africans, a nice reminder that this troubled continent still has a lot to say.
Give them a read.