I happened to glance down at the book on the shelf underneath the coffee table. The pages were weathered, its front cover a portrait of a giant desert sand dune. I opened the first page of Paul Bowles’ novel The Sheltering Sky and was riveted by the first paragraph. Suddenly I couldn’t hear the bustling outside the open office door. The rickety cars passing by on the barely paved street became silent and I didn’t notice the dust and immense heat floating into the office. It takes a true work of carefully crafted art to absorb my entire being like that and I somehow knew the second I found the treasure that it would be one of those life-changing books.
I had only a few days left in Ghana when I started the book but the Ghanaian Light for Children director Mike told me I could keep it. The story took place just after WWII in the deserts of North Africa where three American travelers found themselves in a symbolic land of pure psychological terror. As I fervently read each page, it was just me and the author, Mr. Bowles, along with the fascinating characters of his imagination. There’s something special about starting a book about Africa while you’re in Africa. In fact, it had happened to me each time I visited the continent, and always toward the end of my stay. I had no part in the matter, the books seemed to fall in my lap. I remember the first one clearly, while in Kenya in 2006 I came across A Distant Grief by Kefa Sempangi, a Ugandan who had survived under the reign of Idi Amin. The true story was incredibly moving, the words and the account leaving a mark on my life forever. The second time in 2007 was The Last King of Scotland by Giles Foden, another story that took place in Uganda under Idi Amin but this one was fiction. Foden’s perspective helped shape my own. In 2012 I came across The Media and the Rwanda Genocide. It was in my journalism prime and the book opened my eyes in ways I had never known. All of these books somehow met me exactly where I was, both physically in Africa and mentally in whatever place in life I happened to be at. I should have expected a book to show up in Ghana, but each of these instances had been unexpected. Continue reading “Tourists and Travelers” »