Category Archives: Tanzania


Where is paradise?

The Tanzanian writer Abdulrazak Gurnah (Zanzibar, 1948, now living in the United Kingdom) wrote a book with the title Paradise. This book was shortlisted for the 1994 Booker Prize. I do not know if Abdulrazak has reached the gates of paradise, I do not even know if Yusuf, the protagonist, has reached paradise, but I am sure he tried to find it.

We meet Yusuf when he is twelve years old. He lives upcountry with his family, his father runs a small hotel in the town alongside a railwayline. The story brings us back over a hundred years, during the days before the Great War that also reached East Africa. The father of Yusuf has dealings with uncle Aziz, who takes the boy with him to his house at the coast. Aziz is a trader who has a shop and he organizes safari’s to the interior to trade, even beyond the Great Lakes.

Yusuf thinks Aziz is his uncle, but Khalik, another boy who works at the shop is of the opinion that Yusuf has been traded for the debt his father had with ‘uncle’ Aziz. Yusuf will work for many years for Aziz and the debt of his father will disappear in the end. It is just a form of slavery. Just leave your heart here (baga moyo).

First Yusuf learns the trade in the shop next to the house of Aziz. A next step is his time with Hamed Suleiman, a trader upcountry, near Kilimanjoro. Another step in his life is travelling with a safari to the interior to trade, to learn new places and people. Later he travels with Aziz to make an even further journey.

All the time Yusuf chases a happy place, a paradise. He has been forced to leave his family. He is on his own. At times he thinks he has been in paradise, for instance when he works in the beautiful garden of Aziz and his wife. The word ‘paradise’ means ‘garden’ so he gets near. But he is still on his own. He does not belong. He no longer belongs to his family. He does not belong to the trader near the mountain. He does not belong to Aziz.  

Some people like Yusuf for his beautiful appearance, but all to no avail. It does not help him in life. It even at times portends danger, for instance in his contacts with the wife of his master Aziz. Here the story is linked to the Joseph story in the bible and the quran.

Gurnah has written a beautiful book, an attempt to reach paradise. The book itself is beautiful, but it describes a situation far away from paradise. The loneliness of the boy (and later man) is clear, but he still tries to make the most of his life. At the very end of the book he makes another attempt to belong. 

Abdulrazak Gurnah – Paradise – 1994Afbeeldingsresultaat voor abdulrazak gurnah paradise



Susanne Hart was a vet who was based in Nairobi, Kenya, and who worked in different parts of the country. She was trained in London, United Kingdom, and got her first experience in South Africa where she settled with her first husband. 

After the breakup of her marriage she continued working in South Africa where she met up again with an old student she knew from her London days. This man, Toni Harthoorn, was born in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, trained as a vet in London and specialized in immobilising animals. He got a job at the University of Nairobi as a lecturer and he continued his research into immobilising animals. Their house in Nairobi became a meeting place of people involved in care of wildlife and wildlife itself. This was largely a white community (except for the animals).

In this book Susanne tells about her work in Nairobi as a vet, her help needed at out of bounds places like Meru and the places where George and Joy Adamson worked and Daphne Sheldrick and Douglas Hamilton. She got involved in writing stories for children about wildlife, she noticed that often Kenyan children did not know about the animals in their own country. She presented a program on the Voice of Kenya where children met all kinds of animals. 

This book views a world that has passed by. Life in Nairobi has changed, many of the people mentioned in the book have passed by as well. Many more Kenyans are now involved in protecting wildlife. But the book gives an insight in another world, the days of the white hunter are almost finished but the new era is still on the way.

And by the way: ‘Daktari’ is the Swahili version of the English ‘doctor’, but you might have guessed that by now. 

Susanne Hart – Life with Daktari – 1969 

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor life with daktari

Molly Mahood obituary

Molly Mahood was professor of English from 1954 – 1963 at the University College of Ibadan, an important town in Nigeria. So in colonial days and independent days she was involved in teaching. She already foresaw an uprise in national literatures in the countries that were English colonies. One of her students at Ibadan was Wole Soyinka, who later gained the Nobelprize for Literature. She had obtained a scholarship for him.

From 1963 to 1967 she worked in Tanzania, also a country with a part English heritage (after the German one). In 1967 she moved back to the United Kingdom.

You will find an obituary here.

In 1954 Molly Mahood was offered a post at the University College of Ibadan, in Nigeria, where she was professor of English for nine years


Every accent is thick

Maybe it happened tou as well, just as it happened to me. You speak a language that is not your native language ans some tries to guess your accent. I can even happen when you speak your mother tongue that people try to guess where your cradle stood. You do not speak like people from town A nor town B, so where are you from? 

The Tanzanian writer Stephen Swai tells about his experiences and his ideas about his and other accents. 

Read about it here


Where do I start with a review on this book ?

There is this nuclear family. Father, mother and young son. Owen (47 years), Miriam (37 years) and Martin (primary school age). He is an international negotiator, from Irish descent, and working for the government of the United States and for the United Nations. She is a lawyer and of Dutch descent. The boy is enjoying life.  

The story starts during a holiday on Hawai, where the three have a break and have a swimming incident, in which Miriam nearly drowns. The story takes shape on the African continent, where we enter the rollercoaster of international negotiations concerning a peace-settlement in Mozambique, international criminal organisations, with Russian, Libyan and so on backgrounds, childsoldiers on the rampage and refugees of all ages and blood diamondfields and NGO’s. During a holidaytrip in Southern Africa the family is being captured by one of those maffia-type groups. The three of them are being seperated , so no one knows where the other two are. This capture is part of an international setup to delay the progress in the peace negotiations, for there are always people who benefit more from war than from peace. 

The plight of childsoldiers and children on the run (or walk) has been painted clearly. To me that was the best part of the book.  

There are sections in this book that have a very slow progress (like the start of the book) or depend on too many coincidencies (an American embassy not being aware of a missing international negotiator and his wife and child). But still, not even these bits could keep me away from this book. 

Anne de Graaf – Into the nevernight – 2003


mabati cornell kiswahili prize

Mohammed Khelef Ghassani

Mohammed Khelef Ghassani

It was long overdue, but still kudos for those who initiated this prize for KiSwahili writing. Now the names have been made known for the first winners. Congratulations.

meet mabala the ticklish tale writer

This your chance to get to know about a prolific Tanzanian writer. He is a diaspora writer, for he was born British, but now is a Tanzanian citizen. His name is Richard S. Mabala. He has a wide experience in education and activism and writing books. Here you find an interview with him.