This is therefore not a book about Africa, but rather about some people from there – about encounters with them, and time spent together. The continent is too large to describe. It is a veritable ocean, a separate planet, a varied, immense rich cosmos. Only with the greatest simplification, can we say, “Africa.” In reality, except as a geographical appellation, Africa does not exist.
This is how “The Shadow of the Sun” by Ryszard Kapuściński begins. Needless to say, I was intrigued.
In 1957, Kapuściński arrived in Africa to serve as a Polish state newspaper correspondent, the first assigned there. He lived there for a few years and returned as often as possible over the next 40 years. He didn’t use official routes or rub elbows with the high rollers. Instead, he spent time with nomads, visited homes of ordinary people and hitched rides with truck drivers. During his time in Africa, he covered 27 revolutions and coups; he died in 2007 an internationally decorated writer.
“The Shadow of the Sun” is a collection of memories from his time in Africa – observations, historical vignettes and interactions, all written with a poetic flare. He liked to call it “literary reportage,” according to The Guardian’s obituary. (It’s a great book. In particular, the chapter describing the story of Rwanda and its descent into genocide is one of the most concise, well-written essays I’ve ever read about that conflict.)
A friend recommended the book, but it wasn’t until I read the opening that I was hooked.
He captured the essence I hope to convey in my work as a communication coordinator/backpack journalist with SIM in Kenya.
Africa is enormous, as the image below conveys. It is filled with a beautiful diversity, heart-breaking storylines and uplifting accounts. It has mountains, deserts, grasslands, rivers, cities, jungles, villages, exotic animals and not-so-exotic ones. It is home to countless people groups.
All too much for one journalist to convey – and I wouldn’t wish to. Those who write history’s first draft don’t have the luxury.
Instead, if I am able to put a face to the people I encounter in Kenya and possibly in places like South Sudan, Tanzania and elsewhere, I will consider it a job well done. It’s my goal to open a window into their lives, with an approach tempered by godly love and compassion for the story they have to tell.
The Guardian’s obituary recalls one of Kapuściński’s comments:
Without trying to enter other ways of looking, perceiving, describing, we won’t understand anything of the world.
I couldn’t agree more.