Dark Star Safari

March 12, 2009

by Naomi Henderson


Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux is an account of the author’s travels by bus and train form Cairo to Cape Town. He makes witty and scathing remarks about the ignorant tourists swarming in Cairo, and is glad to leave the city for the barren deserts of the Sudan. Although warned by countless people not to travel through the Sudan, these words of caution only peak his interest. This was before the recent genocide in Darfur, and Theroux found the people to be kind, relatively ambitious and educated. He reveled in the gentle desert landscape like “baked biscuits.”
Traveling by bus to Ethiopia, he passed through the xenophobic city of Harar that is plagued by hyenas and large birds of prey. It is here, where the author begins to question the efficacy of foreign aid. He observes that the beggars have a sense of entitlement to foreign money. Foreign aid has worked its way into the structure of the economy in such a way that people don’t feel the need to work. His views were only solidifyed when he reached Kenya. Theroux was familiar with the capital city of Nairobi, as he had worked in nearby Malawi as a teacher in the 1960’s. He remembered Nairobi as a bustling market town, not the dilapidated, crime-ridden city of the present. The corruption of city officials in Nairobi is notorious. They take large shares of foreign aid money for themeselves, and thus very little of it actually reaches the people in need. Moreover, Theroux noticed that none of these foreign agencies involve Africans in their affairs. He observed the old proverb in action; “give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime.”
In his familiar country of Malawi, Theroux experiences more poverty and crumbling buildings, which were almost nonexistent in the 1960’s. It becomes evient to him that foreign aid isn’t working. When agencies see famine as an opportunity to make money, those people shouldn’t be welcome. He proposes that countries get rid of all foreign aid agencies. In this way, the people would be forced to work, the economy would flourish. In Zimbabwe he sees how this could be effective. The tyrranical rule of their leader Mugabe has led foreign countries to sanction them, thus they don’t receive any aid. Theroux saw that this made the people resourceful. Their markets were full of produce, and generally they had a high stabdard of living.
When he entered South Africa, he was almost shocked at all the electrical lights. The darkness of the bush dissolved into the lights and commerce of a western city. He meets with several writers, among them Nadine Gordimer, who wrote extensively about the Appartheid. As his journey winds down, Theroux is sad to leave the wilderness and isolation of the bush. Although I found his book very engaging, he did not inspire me to go to any of the countries he visited. In fact I want to avoid them. His descriptions made these places sound so desperate and violent, so barren and cruel, I just than God I want’t born there.