An African Looks at Africa: Cape Town to Cairo With Sihle Kumalo
An African Looks at Africa: Cape Town to Cairo With Sihle Kumalo
Review by Ariel Newman
In his new book ‘Dark Continent My Black Arse,’ Sihle Khumalo takes his readers on his trip from Cape Town to Cairo. Using his own money and motivation, he travels through Africa using buses, minbuses, trucks and other forms of local transport.
His journey takes us for an inspiring, exciting, intimate, and sometimes uncomfortable ride; talking about his appalling human encounters, self discovery, joy and disillusionment.
His writing is impressively honest, insightful, and hilariously irreverent. There is one warning:
“Reading this book might cause you to resign from your boring job, leave your nagging / ungrateful / insecure partner, stop merely existing and start living the life you have always longed and yearned for.”
Here is an excerpt:
When travelling in Namibia you are bound to go through Windhoek because, although Windhoek is in the middle of nowhere, it is right in the heart of Namibia. On the bus I sat next to a man who I was sure, judging by the size of his tummy, was a farmer. He was wearing a Springbok T-shirt. Just to break the ice, I said, ‘I see you are a great rugby supporter.’
He did not respond and the way he looked at me made me wonder why I had asked him the question in the first place. That was a good reminder of how behind the times some people still are.
I was obliged, thus, to spend most of the time looking through the window, trying to enjoy the scenery, which reminded me once again that Namibia is a really vast, dry, sparsely-vegetated and sparsely-populated country.
The four-hour trip to Windhoek felt more like 14 hours. After all, I was sitting next to a heavy-breathing, Klipdrift-guzzling, white racist pig whose dress sense stretched to khaki shorts and a small black comb held in place by a long grey sock.
At Windhoek bus station I noticed that the bus heading to Cape Town was carrying a number of beautiful young girls. I found myself re-thinking the question I thought I had answered long ago: was it better to do the Cape to Cairo or to start in Cairo and end in Cape Town?
At that moment, looking at those fresh, sexy things, I thought maybe I should have started in Cairo and ended in Cape Town. That was such a stupid thought, though, because if I had started in Cairo I would still be in Egypt at that moment.
Those are the kind of ideas men entertain when they start thinking with their second head, which was the case with me right then.
The bus left Windhoek at sunset, heading up Sam Nujoma Drive in a northeasterly direction to Livingstone. I was now seated next to a man who was obsessed with eating peanuts and was using a matchstick as a toothpick. I spent most of the time looking out the window.
I was really impressed, in transit, by the small and attractive towns of Otjiwarongo and Tsumeb, the capital city of the Otjikoto region in northern Namibia which is known as the ‘Gateway to the North.’
Tsumeb is the town closest to the Etosha National Park, one of the greatest reserves for wildlife in all of Africa and a major tourist attraction. Although Tsumeb was once a thriving mining town, owing to a rich ore pipe that has produced large quantities of copper, zinc, lead, silver and unusual crystals, it is now mainly a transit point for tourists.
When we stopped eventually in Grootfontein, named after its large hot spring, I had no sooner stretched my legs than a man came up to me and greeted me in Zulu, ‘Unjani mfowethu?’
Before I could respond, he began to tell me his life story.
‘You see, my broer, I was born in Kenya, grew up in Namibia and studied electrical engineering in Cape Town. I am now back and working for the Namibian Electricity Corporation.’ As to be expected of a coloured man who had lived in Cape Town, he had no front teeth and smelled of alcohol.
Why can’t you coloured guys leave the snoek fish and Black Label alone? I was about to ask, but he did not give me a chance.
‘You see, my broer, I can see the difference between Xhosas and Zulus by looking at their eyes. All Zulus have squint eyes. So that is how I knew that you are a Zulu,’ he continued, confidently.
That was a first for me. Nobody had ever told me that I have squint eyes. What is a well-known difference between Xhosas and Zulus, acknowledged especially among black South Africans, is that Xhosas are very manipulative, power-hungry people whereas Zulus are stupid, taxi-driving war-mongers who are capable of insulting you until you develop concussion.
After a half-hour break at Grootfontein, which also used to be a thriving mining town, we headed north again. My ‘broer’ had in the meantime wandered off in search of new companionship.
It was not such a comfortable night because, instead of cuddling with Laura the man-eater as on the Cape Town to Windhoek leg of the journey, this time I was stuck next to a peanut-eating black man who could speak only Afrikaans, his home language.
How weird. He clearly did not know of June 16, 1976, when more than 15,000 unarmed school kids in Soweto, on a march to protest against the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction, clashed with police and about 700 people were killed in the violence that followed.
Because of the peanut eater’s monolingualism we could not communicate and there was nothing to do but put my head back and close my eyes.
Even while dozing off, I was surprised by how wide and straight the tarred road through Ovamboland was – until I registered this was territory occupied until 1990 by the South African Defence Force.
We got to the rural border town of Kasane at sunrise. The majority of passengers, including the peanut guzzler, disembarked. The rest of us were stamped out of Namibia in a modern immigration office without any problems whatsoever.
To the woman I met on Swakopmund’s beachfront: For just one day, I regretted having thrown away your phone number.
Buy this book from Amazon:Dark Continent, My Black Arse
Ariel Newman is an editorial assistant at GoNOMAD and a student at the University of Massachusetts.
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