Book: Through a Black Iris
Author: Alick Chingapi
Genre: Memoir, Travelogue
In his debut book, this Zimbabwean author (currently based in Johannesburg, South Africa) set off on the popular Cairo-to-Cape Town route in a bid to explore his home continent, searching for what it means to be African and perhaps curious to find out if he would be embraced the way white travelers often are.
At the start of the book are two chapters, which give insight into this writer’s philosophy: I don’t spend money on travel; I consider it an investment in myself — Marta Vagas; and, “If you don’t like someone’s story, write your own” — Chinua Achebe.
On his journey, he befriends everyone, from tourists, locals and volunteers, through which he gains further insight into the history, politics and economy of each country.
His opening chapter in Rwanda sets the precedent for much of the book. His passport is taken by the authorities and he is detained and questioned for hours after he shows up unannounced at a refugee camp to volunteer, but no one believes that that is actually his true intentions. They go through his camera and ask him the same questions over and over again, until he is all but ready to leave, and when they finally let him, he heads off relieved.
Still, other than questionable immigration officers and the individuals trying to con him, he was largely welcomed around the continent and even into people’s homes. He found Africa to be a warm-hearted, open-minded and friendly place, although it is curious that most people assumed he was Nigerian.
Alick tries to use public transport as much as he can, but he also has to deal with dishonest taxi drivers. His long road trip takes him to Egypt, where he is excited to see the pyramids; Sudan, whose visa application process is nothing short of arduous; Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, where the people are hospitable; Tanzania, Zambia, Namibia, where he checks out the Skeleton Coast; South Africa, Lesotho and back to his home in Zimbabwe.
Best of all, you will see yourself in this book, and it will make you want to set off to explore the beauty of Africa for yourself, given the apt perception of Africa from an African.
This is certainly a worthy read, although the book could have used a thorough editor to clean up the narrative and monitor the pacing.