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The Ukimwi Road: From Kenya to Zimbabwe Hardcover – 23 Sep 1993
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Tells of Dervla Murphy's cycle journey through sub-Saharan Africa. She describes the beauty and ruggedness of the countries she visited, but also offers her own view of the concern of the people with Western development projects, AIDS, and the return of communities to traditional ways.
From the Back Cover
FOR TRAVELLERS WHO WISH TO REMAIN CAREFREE, AFRICA IS THE WRONG CONTINENT
Embarking on a three-thousand mile solo cycle ride across sub-Saharan Africa, Dervla Murphy, at sixty 'the toughest female travel writer of our age', had hoped to escape from the mental and emotional shackles of home. But as she pedalled and pushed her bicycle over some of the roughest roads from Kenya through Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia to Zimbabwe, inevitably the harrowing problems of the peoples among whom she travelled rose up to take their place. In particular, the mysterious threat of AIDS ('ukimwi' in Swahili) was talked about wherever she went, by both men and women.
Finding comfort in the beauty of the contrasting landscapes of the countries she passed through, in the space and the solitude, and entertained by the talkative, welcoming local people, Murphy survived starvation, a beating by paramilitaries and a bout of malaria. As ever, she was sustained by her extraordinary compassion, humour and sense of adventure. What emerges from her journey along the Ukimwi Road is a personal, often controversial, always compelling view of Africa, its peoples and its future.
''The Ukimwi Road' is at times a grim work. It is also illuminating and clear-headed'
MARK COCKER, 'Daily Telegraph'
'[Dervla Murphy] belongs firmly to that fine tradition of eccentric women travellers…endearingly self-deprecating'
ANTHONY DANIELS, 'Spectator'
'Wonderful descriptions of the varied landscapes spanning her six-country tour … the reader is given a flavour of the African sense of humour not normally found in travel literature'
JARLATH DOLAN, 'Irish Times'
Top customer reviews
If you don't have an (informed) opinion on Africa before you read this book, you will afterwards.
Murphy has never been one to worry about political correctness or rocking the boat. She makes some very trenchant comments in this book about well-meaning westerners, especially NGOs: the way in which they fail to understand the societies they are working in, the way they impose their own values on the countries they have supposedly come to serve and the way they live lives far removed from the people they have supposedly come to work with.
Part way through the book she's forced to confront the fact that this is true - in a different way - of her too when an African woman contradicts her interpretation of the bride price system and challenges Murphy over her lack of sensitivity to African mores in regard to marriage and religion.
The book is not just about politics or even about the terrible suffering of AIDS-stricken Africans however, it's also about the speed with which Africa was changing even then. The solitary traditional hunter she meets in Tanzania seems like a ghost from another world. It's a book about people much more than landscapes and about the present rather than history.
And of course it's a book about travel itself and its effect on your priorities. Murphy scoffs at young backpackers laiden down with packs they can barely lift as they attempt to carry their world with them. She makes a point of taking the bare minimum, partly out of a more realistic grasp of what it means to carry a heavy load for months but also from a realisation that one of the purposes of going somewhere else is to get a better understanding of the life you're leaving behind for the trip - to identify what matters and what really isn't very important at all.
It's not perfect - she doesn't really seem to consider the fact that Africans who speak English may not be a particularly representative group and may have reasons of their own for supporting tradition, not least because they are likely to be part of the existing elites. But it's an extremely good, funny and vivid account of a truly amazing bike ride.
So long as she finds somewhere to chain her bike "Lear", a bed of sorts and some place that sells her beloved "Nile" beer (or local equivalent) at the end of a hot day's pedalling, she is content and draws out whoever she meets into engaging conversations. I'm not well informed about the political history of these countries but that didn't stop me enjoying the thumbnail description of each person she encounters and caring increasingly deeply (as she does throughout the book)about the issue of AIDS or "this slim disease". She meets some women supporting each other in the previously unheard of action of not sleeping with their husbands if the mas has come home from travelling infected, another woman setting up a hotel which is "free of temptation" for the men. There are pockets of feminism in the most unexpected places and DM delights in it!
She is remarkable and so are many of the women she meets in this highly recommended journey.
By day, Dervla enjoyed the space and solitude of rural Africa; even the toughest terain did not deter her although on one occasion it nearly claimed her. In the evenings she usually stayed in villages where she found the locals talkative and welcoming. Hours of illuminating conversation ended most days.
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