Saturday, June 09, 2012


It has been a year since my last trip to Africa, and I am homesick.  I long to hear the incomparable harmony of African singing, to be bathed in the glow of an African sunset, to laugh heartily with dear Zambian friends, and to walk once again on the dusty paths of Namwianga.

I am not alone in my homesickness.  All of us who have an Africa-shaped hole in our hearts know this deep longing.  Vic Guhrs wrote a delightful book called The Trouble with Africa:  Stories from a Safari Camp.  German by birth, Vic married the daughter of Norman Carr, a well-known safari guide.  Vic and his wife spent many years running a safari camp in northern Zambia.  Eventually Vic migrated to the US to continue his profession as a wildlife artist.  His book chronicles the hair-raising and hilarious adventures he had in Africa.  In the epilogue, Vic writes about his return to Zambia:

And so I cam back.  Because the simple fact is that I'm in Africa's spell.  Africa, of course, doesn't care.  Like a beautiful but dangerous woman who turns a cold shoulder to my attentions, her indifference is an added incentive, goading me.  Her aloofness only adds to my eagerness to follow her to the edge of the whirlpool. 

I know that any day I may be stomped by a marauding elephant, wiped out by an unlicensed car in Lusaka's chaotic traffic, or hit by a bullet from a robber's gun.  I may incur the displeasure of a zealous bureaucrat who can change the course of my future with the stroke of his pen.  

I have had malaria more times than I can remember.  I have seen friends die from it.  I've seen others die from recklessness, from getting too close to an elephant, or from that senseless random violence that seems part of the African landscape.  

I have also experienced more joy here than the human heart has any right to expect.  The joy of being awake and alive and out on a vast open plain when the sun's first light floods over the horizon.  The joy of hearing the cry of the soaring fish eagle, its voice like liquid honey.  The beauty of the blood-red sunsets that seem to hint at some great truth just beyond our grasp.  Of watching a herd of elephants crossing the Luangwa River at dust and shuffling slowly up the bank to mingle with the dark trees, speechless at how something so big can be so ghostlike, so ethereal and so delicate.  

I have been awestruck by the raw fury of an African thunderstorm.

And by the African people who, with their stoical acceptance of life's hardships, can teach us all some basic truths about life.  

The trouble with Africa is that once it is in your blood, like malaria, it is almost impossible to get rid of, and I know that I can never leave.  I feel like a prisoner.  A prisoner of freedom.  p. 235
Guhrs, Vic.  The Trouble with Africa:  Stories from a Safari Camp.  Johannesburg, South Africa:  Penguin Books, 2004.     Order it here.

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