Why Africa? Novelist Tony Park on his Addiction to Africa

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?

© Tony Park

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’.

© Tony Park

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.

© Tony Park

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?

Tony Park

Australian writer Tony Park fell in love with South Africa on a short trip in 1995. He is a major in the Australian Army Reserve and has worked in journalism and PR, including six months in Afghanistan in 2002 as PR officer for the Australian ground forces. Tony and his wife Nicola now divide their time between Sydney and the African bush. For more information on Tony and his books, visit www.tonypark.net

  • Bongi

    I’m African born, yet I share your addiction. Many of my family have left these shores for safer and more prosperous surrounds, but I am stuck here. Despite Africa’s many flaws, my addiction keeps me here. Maybe I’m waiting to see what Africa has in store around the next corner. Whatever the reason, I fully understand what you mean.

  • Kelstarama

    When I’m not in Africa it feels like a vital part of me is missing. When I’m there it feels like I belong. Counting down the days until I return “home” next year…

  • Oh yes yes yes! Thanks Tony for the advice from you and Nicola. One day I too will get more of my fill, although like you it leaves me yearning for more! It’s one addition I don’t want to shake 🙂

  • Ana Zinger

    Oh yes! I’m addicted for sure!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Bushbaby 2710

    Tony brings Africa alive for me, and being a born & bred African, I can see, smell, hear and taste Africa through his writing. I will never tire of the way he describes home and his story telling is absolutely amazing and his attention to detail is amazing. Thank-you Tony, and I am looking forward to reading many more wonderful tales about our beloved continent as seen through your eyes.

  • Lyn and Dave

    Africa is something that you can never get out of your system. Having been forced to leave Zimbabwe after losing our farm and livliehood, we have made a new life in U.K., but never a day goes past that we don’t long for Africa. It is the laid back way of life, the friendliness of the people and their resourcefulness, the peace and tranquillity of the bush, the sunsets…I could go on, but it still hurts too much!

  • wildlox

    If you are born in Africa, it resonates with you forever. The bush is a place where you can find yourself and be grounded. Love your books and best of luck to you. I so get you.

  • Mike Williams

    I am not of Africa but I am in it. The reality of life in Africa has always led me to feel more human. I love the place, and it’s people.

  • Ness

    thanks Tony for putting it in words. as another Aussie i too am addicted, from my first trip to Kenya and Tanzania in ’95. haven’t made it every year, but i feel deprived if i don’t, and i spend a lot of time online looking at pictures and videos! occasionally going to youtube to listen to lions roar 🙂

  • Mike Boyd

    I am a 9th generation African, I recently started to visit again from Aus after 18 years, I was stunned, the beauty has so much power, the fantastic humour and exuberance of the people in spite of their lack of what we consider basic needs, the smell of a braai, the unexpected appearance of a magnificent wild animal, the contrasts of the flora and fauna, the rapidly changing scenery as you pass through it….the place has a vibrancy, it has a beat, the bush is alive, you are always alert when in it, …..if you have a soul you can’t not love it…………

  • Colleen

    Hi Tony – yes I am addicted !
    Even more so after reading your wonderful article and closing paragraphs – I long for my return
    Thank you

  • Lindse

    this is beautiful.

  • Nita Patel

    Tony, I deeply understand your passion in writing, photography, and living in Africa. Personally, I feel exactly the same about my mother country, Kenya. I absolutely love Kenya, and would like to return. Currently I am residing in USA and am a citizen since 1978. It does not feel the same as I do miss my country. My admirations about Kenya is the people, lifestyle. and the beauty. Even though we have no comparison between our careers and interests, my goals are very different than yours. My future plans are to go back to Kenya for volunteering and simply enjoy the life in different aspects and simplicity which will be gratify me the most.

  • Robert Livingstone-Ward

    Bitten quite badly. BTW, those last 2 photos look awefully familiar!

  • Therese

    Well said (but then that seems to be your trademark). Perhaps, too, the truth is in the details… “…grab the rusks…”?
    In all seriousness, I suspect that what makes Africa special is that when you’re in it, you feel more connected to nature than in any other place. It’s primal and yes, it’s addictive.

  • Simon Espley

    WOW, I have been trying to word this post for years. Could not have said it better. Thanks Tony, looking 4word to more from you, much more

  • Tony Park

    Thanks fellow Africa lovers for your great comments.

  • Assegai Rhodesian Ridgebacks

    Totally addicted from my first glimpse of the mine dumps around what was then, still Jan Smuts Airport

    • Ian Smith

      I miss RHODESIA

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