By Ryszard Kapuscinski, Vintage, April 9, 2002, 978-0679779070

Ryszard Kapuscinski is a master journalist. He lived in Africa off and on over four decades, starting in 1957. He was there for most of the revolutions. He got malaria and then tuberculosis. He was almost killed by a dictator.

The Shadow of the Sun is his story of African independence, cultures, religions, geography, and most of all, individual people. While I learned a great deal, I think the best part was to feel (a very tiny bit) of what it was like for Kapuscinski to be there during those times. His description of his malaria was so vivid, I got the chills.

Needless to say, I loved this book, like the others I have read.

[k355] [During World Word II] African soldiers in the French army witnessed their colonial sovereign, France, defeated and conquered. African soldiers in the British army saw the imperial capital, London, bombed; they saw whites seized with panic, fleeing, pleading, sobbing. They saw ragged, hungry whites, crying for bread.

[k364] The veterans of World War II who returned from Europe to Africa shortly reappear in the ranks of various movements and parties fighting for national independence.

[k407] In all of Africa, each larger social group has its own distinct culture, an original system of beliefs and customs, its own language and taboos, and all of this is immensely complicated, intricate, and mysterious. That is why anthropologists never spoke of “African culture,” or “African religion,” knowing that no such thing exists, and that the essence of Africa is its endless variety.

[k486] (In Europe, the bond with a cousin is by now rather weak and distant, whereas in Africa a cousin on your mother’s side is more important than a husband.)

[k488] Individualism is highly prized in Europe, and perhaps nowhere more so than in America; in Africa, it is synonymous with unhappiness, with being accursed.

[k882] “Yes,” Doyle said finally, and lightly squeezed my arm, “it’s definitely tuberculosis.”

And he fell silent.

My legs buckled under me and grew so heavy I could raise neither one.

“I can’t go home,” I replied.

[k888] I explained to him that this stay in Africa was the chance of a lifetime for me. That an appointment like mine was the first of its kind in my country: Poland had never before had a permanent correspondent in sub-Saharan Africa. That it came to pass thanks only to an enormous effort on the part of the editorial department, which is poor, for ours is a country where every dollar is precious.

[k893] The doctor listened to all this in silence. We were walking again among the palm trees, shrubs, and flowers, amid all that tropical beauty, poisoned for the moment by my defeat and despair.

[k897] Your case is fairly typical: a strong malaria so weakens the system that you then easily succumb to another illness, frequently tuberculosis.

[k920] Nothing creates a bond between people in Africa more quickly than shared laughter–for example, at a white man jumping up because of a little thing like an injection. So I began to play the game with them, and despite the pain from the needle that Edu plunged into me with such dreadful force, I laughed with them.

In the disturbed, paranoid world of racial inequality, in which everything is determined by the color of one’s skin (calibrated by shades of difference), my illness, while physically incapacitating, had an unexpected benefit. Rendering me weak and defective, it diminished my prestigious white status–that of someone formidable, untouchable–and put me on a more even footing with the black men.

[k1535] After a day of heat and hunger, one is weak and listless. But a certain stupor, an internal numbness, has its benefits: man could not survive here without it, for otherwise the biological, animal part of his nature would bite to death everything that is still human in him.

[k1815] A million people died in Ethiopia during this time, a fact concealed first by the emperor Haile Selassie, and then by the one who took his throne and his life, Major Mengistu Haile Mariam. They were divided by their struggle for power, united in their lies.

[k1827] His school was closed, everything was closed–there was famine. People were constantly dying in the village. Tadesse said that he hadn’t eaten anything in several days, but there was water, and so he drinks that.

[k1991] Museveni’s divisions were too weak to control the rebels. Therefore, the president had extended an olive branch to them. He was the first Ugandan leader in twenty-five years to turn to his enemies with words of accord, understanding, and peace.

[k1994] I sometimes read stories about a child in America or Europe shooting at another child. A child killing one of his contemporaries, or an adult. Such news is usually accompanied by expressions of horror and outrage. In Africa, children kill children in enormous numbers, and have been doing so for years. In fact, modern wars on this continent have been, and still are, largely wars of children.

[k2267] Belgium is among those powers whom the independence movement has caught most by surprise. Thus, Brussels has no game plan, its officials do not really know what to do.

[k2700] For years now the regime in Khartoum has availed itself of the weapon of hunger to defeat the South’s inhabitants. It is doing today with the Dinka and the Nuer what Stalin did with the Ukrainians in 1932: it is starving them to death.

[k2704] Whoever has weapons, has food. Whoever has food, has power.

[k2799] The dry season becomes a time of fever, tension, fury, and wars. People’s worst traits surface: distrust, deceit, greed, hatred.

Hamed tells me that their poetry often recounts the drama and destruction of clans who, walking across the desert, were ultimately unable to reach a well. Such a tragic journey lasts days, even weeks. First, the sheep and goats perish. They can go only several days without water. “Then the children,” he says, adding nothing more.

[k2813] “The man and the camel die together,” Hamed says. “It occurs when the man can no longer find milk–the camel’s udders are empty, dry and cracked. Usually, the nomad and the beast still have enough strength to drag themselves to a bit of shade. They are found later lying lifeless in that shade–or where it had seemed to the man that there was shade.”

[k2926] Life here is a constant struggle, an endlessly repeated effort to tilt in one’s favor the fragile, flimsy, and shaky balance between survival and extinction.

[k2930] And one always eats the same thing. In Abdallah Wallo, as in this entire region, it is rice with a sharp, spicy sauce. There are rich and poor in the village, but the difference in what they eat lies not in the variety of dishes, but merely in the amount of rice.

[k2951] Dawn and dusk–these are the most pleasant hours in Africa.

[k3461] International relief for the poor, starving population is an inexhaustible source of profit to the warlords. From each transport they take as many sacks of wheat and as many liters of oil as they need. For the law in force here is this: whoever has weapons eats first.

[k4071] My driver was called Omenka and belonged to the shrewd and crafty people raised among the riches of the local oil fields, people who know what money is and exactly how to extract it from their passengers. On the day we first met, I gave him nothing as we parted. He walked away without so much as a good-bye. I dislike cold, formal relations between people and I felt bad. So the next time I gave him 50 naira (the local currency). He said good-bye, and even smiled. Encouraged, I gave him 100 naira the following time. He said good-bye, smiled, and shook my hand. At the subsequent parting, I gave him 150 naira. He said good-bye, smiled, wished me well, and warmly shook my hand, grasping it in both of his. The next time I raised the rate again and paid him 200 naira. He said good-bye, smiled, shook and squeezed my hand, asked me to pay his respects to my family, and with concern in his voice inquired after my health. Without stretching this story out any longer, suffice it to say that I ended up showering him with so many naira that we were simply unable to part. Omenka’s voice was always trembling with emotion, and with tears in his eyes he would swear his everlasting devotion and fidelity.

[k4202] At many a turn, if you don’t suffer from fear of heights, you can look down and see lying far, far below you, at the bottom of the chasm, the shattered remains of buses, trucks, armored vehicles, and the skeletons of all sorts of beasts–probably camels, perhaps mules or donkeys. Some are already very old, but others–and it is those that are most disturbing–are quite fresh. The driver and his passengers are in sync, clearly a well-practiced and smoothly functioning team: when we enter a turn, the driver calls out a protracted “Yyyaaahhh!” and at this signal the passengers lean in the opposite direction, giving the bus the counterweight it needs to keep from plunging headlong into the abyss.

[k4210] Every kilometer reveals different vistas, a different landscape emerges from behind each mountain; ever new panoramas compose themselves before our eyes, the earth showing off the abundance of its charms, wanting to overwhelm us with its beauty. Because, indeed, this road is at once terrifying and beautiful. Down below, a village submerged in flowering shrubs; there, a monastery, its pale walls shining against the black of the mountains like a white flame. Over there, a gigantic, one-hundred-ton boulder, split in half as neatly as if by a thunderbolt–and thrust into the middle of a green pasture.

[k4217] As we descend lower and lower, constantly spinning around on the frenzied carousel of turns, ever balancing on the border between life and death, we feel it getting warmer, and then very warm, even hot, until finally, as though we’d been tossed with a giant shovel, we are thrust into a blazing furnace–Massawa.

[k4223] We enter the ruined city. On either side of the road, mountains of artillery shells.

[k4303] No one can say, “Read our history in books.” For no one has written such books; they do not exist. History does not exist beyond that which they are able to recount here and now. The kind of history known in Europe as scholarly and objective can never arise here, because the African past has no documents or records, and each generation, listening to the version being transmitted to it, changed it and continues to change it, transforms it, modifies and embellishes it. But as a result, history, free of the weight of archives, of the constraints of dates and data, achieves here its purest, crystalline form–that of myth.

[k4328] Shade and water–two fluid, inconstant things, which appear, and then vanish who knows where.