Moments of Weakness: Meditations on Africa

I am down for a slow count his week. My annual head cold has forced me under the covers for a few more days rest, and triggered the usual comments: “you are always sick”, “you are weak” and “god, you sound awful!” Yes. Yes, I am, but is that such a terrible thing; to be sick and worn down from living in a hard, brisk world? I spent last night reading Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and found it to be far more compelling than in either of my previous two reads. The river and the jungle now made sense to me after my two weeks in the Peruvian Amazon. I understood the closeness of the air, the moving of the living jungle beneath one’s feet. I also understood the illness and disease that Marlow, Kurtz and the other Pilgrims fall from. These “hollow men” become filled and then consumed by the newness of the real world; a world where there is not a police officer or butcher shop on every corner to appease our needs and safety.

When one travels it is impossible to share either the brilliance or the strain found on the road. Those who live their lives in a relative safety zone of shopping malls and Starbucks have no way to understand a world that is not sanitized, safe and homogenized. You only have to check the lines at a Parisian McDonald’s to see how uncomfortable people are with even the slightest difference in their creature comforts. Now I will certainly admit to walking in blinding heat to reach a McDonald’s in Marrackech, through insane traffic in Saigon to eat Kentucky Fried Chicken, and there was a Hard Rock Cafe in Cairo, but those were always places of refuge when the real world had chewed me up for a few weeks and I needed processed evil to replace the unprocessed evil found in unhygenic foods.

What does any of these meanderings have to do with my head cold? Perhaps I feel slighted that a sinus infection is seen as weakness is a world filled with people who cannot show restraint or bear the burden of their desires. While I now read Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, as a counterpoint to Conrad’s colonist view of Africa, the BBC warns of Greek debt, of Afghans in rage over burned Koranic texts and of Google’s new augmented reality technologies for glasses, and I have to wonder how those omens connect to the real world jungles or to my own world.

For today’s blog entry, I went back to my digital files [I am too sick to handle negatives without putting smudgies on them] and processed four photographs of wild animals I took while on safari with V. in South Africa to give them a Victorian hunter look. While I am no wildlife photographer, travelling through game parks in the little, rented Yaris was breath-taking. To see such beasts in their natural habitats was a dream I never thought could be fulfilled until I was an old man. For days on end we drove through the little tracks and would spot insects, mammals and birds that were candy-coloured to striking beauty.

Shooting film would have been a nightmare in Africa. Lighting changed constantly, animals appeared and disappeared, and I had just started learning how to shoot in Av [Aperture Priority] instead of Auto.  With film, I now only shoot in Manual mode, which at that time was so far beyond my skills…funny, who things can change. Sadly, I need to take the time to print records of my travels. In the past three years I have not even sat long enough to look at many of these images, and it takes a head cold to slow me down enough to do just that. Ironically, it was on the South African adventure that I was healthiest.

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