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On Foot Through Africa : Hardcover – 8 Sep 1994
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When Ffyona Campbell vowed to walk around the world, she was only 16. Now at 26 she has only Europe left to conquer. By far the hardest stage of this incredible journey was Africa which took her two and a half years and which she completed in September 1993. This very personal account of this amazing achievement tells of her relationship with the women of the villages she passed through, how she learnt their traditions and skills; how she was nearly murdered, almost raped, taken for a cannibal spirit, stoned and mobbed when they suspected she was a slave merchant. It tells how her anger turned to contentment as she found peace within herself and how each evening her campsite became a home when she fell in love with one of her drivers.
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There were some bits that had me glued to the page, I almost missed my train stop on occasions - the parts where she wasn't sure if she would get authority to get into parts of the country, pulling off key coordinations by the skin of her teeth, the relationships she formed and the general group dynamics...but other parts that really just plodded and it almost felt like she had to included it to make a point of getting a rounded story (items included for the trips, waiting points etc), if at the sacrifice of novel's pacing.
Some parts really were annoying, I felt her attitude to the trip was often very western; 'we went out and got smashed'. It seems often that she could not truly get to the heart of Africa: there was something very overpowering about her own personal agenda and drive for 'her walk' and her implied background psychology and reasons for doing it, I found it kept her (and thus the reader) zoned out from what was happening around her. Her often ballsy, stroppy attitude came out with sarky, catty comments were just irritating and unnecessary. There were also points where it was clear she didn't have the literary skill to actually describe how it changed her 'it was private and could not be described'. That doesn't really engage the reader. And other points I really felt like she missed out really important parts because she just wouldn't bear her soul about it, a major anti climax.
That seems like I ripped the book apart right there but there really are some class moments in this book that really make the slog worth it, and some interesting philisophical concepts that you can take away with you... but you really have to think hard about them!
For example, enjoying the journey, not thinking about the ending and also what really matters to you and understanding your place in the world when challenged in a different environment, and existing in complete solitude. It's also quite fun seeing through her eyes the different and varying sights of Africa. It's is something few have experienced first hand and it's interesting to rip right through the middle of the country and see what kinds of organic circumstances it throws out!
At it's heart, the book was not much an unearthing of oneself in the context of new and raw surroundings as one might expect, rather its a descriptive story - diary almost - about a walk across Africa and the sorts of predicaments that entails. If you can accept it for that, you are in for an interesting ride!
Ffyona's descriptions of the African countries that she passes though are awe-inspiring, but some of the actions of the people she encounters are quite shocking. Their attitudes, particularly to lone women, were alien and disappointing to me and I found the 'donnez-moi un cadeau' episodes, the result of decades of western aid, disturbing.
What shines through this story is Ffyona's selfish determination to achive her goal. This is not meant as a slur as she could not have made it to Morocco otherwise. Reading of this remarkable woman who walked 40 to 50 miles daily, while being ill, and in the constant African heat was quite humbling for me, someone who is practically surgically attached to her car!
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