Two recent reads really hit the target for me. Classics, from authors who have stood the test of time – Joseph Conrad and Graham Greene.
Both tell tragic stories about white expatriate experiences in Africa.
Conrad’s story tells of the expatriate who “goes native”. Heads into the deepest parts of Africa, where he becomes hugely successful exploiting a native lifestyle. When the colonial ‘company man’ goes up the river to ‘save him’, he dies in transit, resisting the return to his formerly ‘native’ lifestyle. His African life had become his new world. Why go back?
Greene’s book finds an ethically pure British policeman working in western africa (Sierra Leone) during WWII. In a moment of weakness (trying to please his prissy and unhappy wife), he accepts a bribe. His wife leaves him to escape to South Africa and the depressing African lifestyle. In her absence, he takes up with a young woman. When his wife returns, he’s compromised badly. Seeking refuge in his religion (Roman Catholic), he finds he’s completely conflicted, being loyal to neither his profession, his wife, his mistress or his religion. In the end, he commits suicide, proving his disloyalty to all.
Not sure if there’s a message in here for me, but both of these books/authors are superb story tellers, capturing the African scenes vividly. Many themes are timeless, and are as powerful today as they were when the books were written (Greene – 1948 Conrad – 1896).
Africa still presents huge opportunities, threats and temptations to the white expatriate. And every time I look in the mirror, I see a white expatriate! So I take this stuff seriously.
It’s good to have fun, but not too much fun! As my father will tell anyone, I thrive on thrills and risks. Africa is a total Disneyland for thrills and risks. Keep busy, keep moving and stay away from too many simultaneous risk variables is the method I use to stay out of trouble.
So far, so good…….honest!