How many people have travelled from Cape to Cairo over the years? Some have become famous, some have stayed in the background. Some have travelled on foot, some used a pushbike, others used a car. Ton van der Lee has joined the long list of travellers.
For the writer of this book Africa was not a new continent. For several years he lived at a junction in Namibia. This place is called Solitaire. He wrote a book about his stay in the middle of nowhere. There were barely any facilities at that place, at that time. You could get some petrol (if you were lucky), you could get some food (if you were lucky), you could stay for the night. Now it has turned into a tourist hotspot. Ton lived for several years in Mali, where he build a mud house in the traditional way along a river. But diseases made he move on. He also wrote a book about his time in Mali.
Now his ready for a new adventure, to be on his own, on this continent where he lived for so many years. He makes his start at cape Agulhas and he wants to finish his journey in Alexandria, the famous port in Egypt. He takes a bottle and fills it with water at the Cape and he wants to take it to the Mediterranean and fill the sea with the southern water. He travels by car, sleeps in his car, stays overnight in the bush or in small lodgings on the way. It seems that somewhere in Kenya or Sudan he gets rid of his car and moves on with public transport.
He travels with a question and he will be looking for an answer. He will not meet the high and mighty, the politicians and the captains of industry. He will not meet the professors of economics. He will not meet the famous. He will meet and talk with the common man. The lady at a small hotel in Botswana. Old friends at Solitaire. A priest of a Jewish tribe in Zimbabwe. He notices the growing Chinese influence. The decline in old hotels where the colonial mighty used to reside and party. An old woman who collects traditional sayings. The young man who wants to go for political change, while living in a mockery of democracy. He talks with a subsistence farmer and so on and so on. His question is: Why are things going so bad in Africa? I was a bit surprised by this question. Why such a negative start for his journey? Are things only going from bad to worse on this continent with such an diversity?
Ton van der Lee comes to the conclusion that African traditions will give a new/old perspective and new ways of doing things. But he does not elaborate. So the journey has been a nice journey, and the story has been well written, but the answer to the question he asked himself and others is not satisfying. ‘African tradition’ sounds nice and kind to all his hosts on the way and all the people he met on the road (and in previous years in Namibia and Mali). There are so many traditions. Some have survived. Some have perished. Some need an overhaul. Some seem to survive globalization. So what next?
Ton van der Lee – De Afrikaanse weg. Van Kaapstad naar Caïro – Uitgeverij Balans, 2008