I’m an Australian who writes novels set in Africa and I spend six months of every year travelling in Africa, researching and writing my books.
Not surprisingly, the second question most people ask me (after ‘how long does it take to write a book?’) is ‘why Africa?’ It’s a good question, and the answer is simple: I don’t know.
But, for my first blog for Africa Geographic I thought perhaps it was time I gave this some serious thought. My wife Nicola and I first came to southern Africa in 1995 on a three-week once-in-a-lifetime trip. We decided to travel through South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana and ‘do’ Africa. It was supposed to be our last big trip (we’d already ‘done’ Asia and Europe) and the plan was to go home to Australia and settle down and have children after Africa. We never settled down and we never had children.
Did we eat something or breathe something in? Were we bitten by something that infected us with a passion for this continent? Sounds good, but not possible.
Was it what we saw; was it the people we met? Was it the wildlife; was it the landscape? Was it all of the above in some measure?
And how, as a foreigner with no birthright or family ties to Africa, can you explain the nature of your relationship with this amazing, beguiling, beautiful, tragic, messed-up continent?
Is it a love affair? Finally, some answers; no, I don’t think so. I think it’s more an addiction. I cannot ‘love’ the political and economic mismanagement I see in my travels; I cannot be beguiled by unacceptable levels of crime and corruption. But I can admit these as side effects of an addiction.
I am addicted to Africa. Fortunately, that’s not always a bad thing, although like any addiction it has consumed increasing amounts of my time and money and slowly taken over my life over the past 17 years.
I met a safari guide in South Africa several years ago who described game viewing as an addiction. He diagnosed people like myself with the same disorder that affects problem gamblers; it’s called the ‘intermittent reward syndrome’.
Just as the problem gambler does not walk away from the table after a big loss, or a big win, so too does the problem game-viewer (i.e. Africa addict) keep coming back for more. If I drive for four hours through the bush and see nothing of note I don’t get back to camp, hang up my binoculars and say; ‘well, that was a waste of time, I’m going back to Australia’. Nor, if I’ve just seen mating rhinos or a cheetah and four cubs or lion taking down a buffalo do I proclaim; ‘great, I’m quitting while I’m ahead and I’m going to Paris for my next holiday’.
No, I set the alarm for some ungodly, cold hour, spring (or drag myself) out of bed, fill the thermos flask, grab the rusks and set out into the pre-dawn for another dose. I need my fix. I need my Africa. Every day.
It’s the promise of one more reward, one more life-changing experience, that keeps me coming back, because such sightings, such experiences, can happen in Africa.
You see, (but then if you’re reading this on this website then you probably know), Africa is never the same on any two given days, or even any two hours or years. Drive the same stretch of road in the Kruger Park or the Serengeti twice and you’ll have completely different experiences both times.
The same goes for countries. Zimbabwe, where I set my latest book, ‘African Dawn’, was a prosperous, happy, go-ahead country when I first visited in 1995 and Mozambique was just emerging from a bloody civil war. Today, Zimbabwe is struggling to come back from years of economic mismanagement and the criminal misrule of a corrupt, oppressive regime; Mozambique, on the other hand, is powering along.
Africa. You make me laugh; you make my heart ache with your natural beauty; you make me cry at your excesses; you make me believe; you make me want to wake up and write every day.
Your people fill me with inspiration, with the way they meet and tackle problems that would defeat most of the people I know back home (including my ‘other’ self). You give me endless joy and sorrow to fill a hundred novels, and you keep me coming back.
My name is Tony and I am addicted. Are you?