Out of Africa

30 Mar

This continent (Africa) is too big to describe. It is a whole ocean, a planet apart, a heterogeneous cosmos and of extraordinary richness. Only out of a reductionist convention do we say: Africa. In reality, save for the geographic name, Africa doesn’t exist.

So screams Ryszard Kapusinski’s book: Ebony. It is not about Africa, he goes on to explain, but about some people he met there and their experiences together: life with the nomads, revolutions, Zanzibar, the clan structure, Amin Dada, living in the slums, catching malaria, the little histories of the people’s fight to survive day after day, etc. Each of the paragraphs composes the vivid mosaic of a world pregnant with expectation.

The author is a renowned journalist who has travelled on many occasions to many countries in Africa: Ghana, Zanzibar, Rwanda, Uganda, Benin, Tanzania, Nigeria, Kenya, Sudan etc. He had the rare chance to witness the handover of power from the European colonizers to the natives. In his journeys, he avoided the official routes, the palaces, the beaches and the hotels, important figures, welcoming ceremonies and politics. He has lived with the nomads and in slums, suffered thirst in the Sahara and caught the much feared malaria, and survived.

Kapusinski, who has been called the best reporter of the century, thus emerges with an extraordinary work that confirms his profound and penetrating look at the so-called Dark Continent. In the words of Lawrence Wescher, this work is somewhere between Kafka and García Márquez.

And this book is in my hands. I wanted to share a small section of what can be named as

The notion of time: European vs. African mentality.

“The European and the African have completely different and opposed notions of time, they perceive it in different ways and their attitudes towards it are equally distinct.

The European is convinced that time functions independently of man, its existence is objective, and in a certain way, exterior to him. Man is its slave; he depends on it, and is its subordinate. In order to function, he has to observe all its laws, principles and norms. He has to respect terms, dates, days and hours. He moves within the structure of time; which imposes on him its rigor, norms and exigencies. Between man and time, a broad conflict is produced, that ends with the defeat of man: time annihilates him.

The African, on the other hand, perceives time as something open, elastic and subjective. Man is the one who influences it, its course and its rhythm. It is perceived as a consequence of our acts and disappears if we ignore it. It is something under our influence, it is a passive reality and above all, dependent on man. In reality, that means that if you go to a village where a function was to take place, look around and see no one, the question “when will the event take place?” is useless. The response is already known: when the people come.”

Interesting. I wonder what you make of it.

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