Paperback cover for <cite>Zanzibar Chest</cite>
Paperback cover for Zanzibar Chest

I borrowed this book from another volunteer and sped through it during my travels through Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda a few weeks ago. I’ve seen tons of books in this genre since I’ve been in Kenya. If you have been to a bookstore recently you know the type: it’s kinda like a “new age” travel writing, but instead of martinis and beach resorts you get rebel militias, cow dung, and grass huts. Last year I read Paul Theroux’s Dark Star Safari, where he spent a few months traveling by land from Egypt to South Africa (and every country in between). During Kenya’s post-election violence earlier this year I read Emma’s War, about a VSO volunteer in Sudan who married a rebel warlord and lived in the bush with him and his militia. Sara read one about a white European woman who ended up marrying a Maasai warrior and living in the bush with him (The White Maasai). There’s no shortage of this stuff, and I bet they are selling like hot cakes in Western book shops!

Having said that, if you’re looking for a foray into this genre, I will recommend Aidan Hartley’s The Zanzibar Chest. It’s a great mix of politics, history, and travel (in a weird sort of way). The author is a white Kenyan, the son of a long line of colonial British officers, who writes about his experiences tramping around Africa as a war correspondent for various news wire agencies. He’s a great writer and he has a decent sense of humor. Not the “Knock knock, who’s there?” type, but more like the way he perceives things and his matter-of-fact presentation of some pretty far-out situations. For example, he was walking through a remote village in Somalia and he sees an old man strolling into the market with a swarm of bees following him. His guide tells him that the old man had hid the queen bee in his turban so the entire colony was following him—a great trick to get your bees to the market for sale!

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Woo, long journey! I arrived in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali last night.  Holy crap, this place is clean, organized, and there are bananas everywhere.  Sureel and I entered through the Tanzanian border at Benaco and then walked across into Rwanda.  After some shady deals exchanging our Tanzanian money we bought some lunch and paid for a bus to Kigali (three or four hours).  We had been traveling for something like thirteen hours since the morning, and when I finally took a shower the water was brown from my dirty hair.

Last night we had dinner at our hotel and sat next to a Rwandan and a Ugandan.  We talked African politics for about an hour, had some laughs, and got some tips about Kigali.  The people here are very kind, honest, and like I said, this place is clean, organized, and beautiful.  Oh, it’s really freakin’ expensive too.  We had to visit several hotels before we found one with available rooms, and the prices range from like $30/per night to $70… Ahh!! I will hopefully get some pictures to capture the green hills surrounding the city.  Most of you know I hate to appear like a tourist :) Continue Reading