White Lies – from Zambia to South Africa

2016-07-06 14:32 - Anje Rautenbach
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The internet is abuzz with the memoir of Louise Linton, “an intrepid teenager who abandoned her privileged life in Scotland to travel to Zambia as a gap year student where she found herself inadvertently caught on the fringe of the Congolese War”. 

Her self-published memoir, In Congo’s Shadow, tells the tale of how she, a “skinny white muzungu”, fled from the Congolese rebels during the “hutu-tutsi conflict” in the savanna grasslands of Zambia during “monsoon season” with a “dense jungle canopy” covering her  “angel white hair”.

An extract of the 290 page book was published online and the Zambians were not pleased. They took the debate to social media with the hashtag #LintonLies, cracked a few jokes and talked about the untrue events, the non-existing “monsoon season”, the lack of a “dense canopy jungle” as well as the brand new news of the “hutu-tutsi conflict”.

Within hours her book was dubbed as a promotion of harmful stereotypes about Africa and her Amazon rating increased to an 81% 1-star score.

Ouch. Fame down the drain.

But if Lady Linton was right one thing it is that Africa is rife with hidden danger.

I don’t know how much time is left so please allow me to share my horrific South African experience before my house implodes into Hollywood stars and before the #LintonLies wiggle its way into my memoir.

So here goes…

I speak African – A Memoir of South African Encounters

- A journey of how one woman discovered the art of the African language on the gravel road highways and the dark rain forests of South Africa where tigers roam and lions roar in unison. One woman, one goal and a bucket of life-changing South African encounters.

Chapter 1 – A Parody

I arrived in South Africa, a city within Africa, to live the African dream. The camouflaged immigration officer at the African International Airport stared at my porcelain skin and long locks of beautiful pitch black split-end hair as he stamped my passport with a machete; he has never seen a white person, I was his first, a humbling privilege.

I had one dream: to be fluent in African and teach African to African kids in Africa, the biggest continent in the world where no rivers cuts through. 

I arrived in a small village called Johannesburg (but the African word for it is, Jozi). I’ve heard the rumours about the violent crimes and congested roads but I chose Jozi as a base for my volunteer work because of its remote beauty and unspoiled beaches.

My mud hut was small and reeked of beer, fire and meat.

There were no stoves in Africa; my family back home in their prestigious modern city warned me not to eat food cooked on a fire but it was the only food available. There were no bakeries; vegetables and dairy products only arrived at the store once a week and I was too scared to eat fruit because of the Malaria disease.

The tribe’s village chief greeted me in broken English and gave me a welcome gift on my first night in Jozi. It was a well-known delicacy named bullshit and in the country of Africa it was as a form of greeting. I took the bullshit with both hands and devoured it in front of chief Zumba out of respect.

In the distance I heard the roar of a tiger; my porcelain skin and long locks of beautiful pitch black split-end hair illuminated the African night sky and the sound of men sharpening their machetes sent chills through my body.

I thought: “I’m in Africa; I am living the African dream”.

I held on to my dream for a few more hours but soon discovered that Africa was not for sissies.

All it took was one night in the jungle of Jozi to realise that I was in the middle of an unspeakable war, miles from home with a porcelain body infected with zika fever and a heart dreaming of a simpler Africa; an Africa where I would teach the villagers African with an African accent and educate them about the rest of the world.

If only I did more research about Africa, if only I knew that my dream of speaking fluent African would be shattered.

A rebellious war broke out and I took centre stage.

The roars and machete sharpening continued throughout the night; every now and then I heard the screams of poor Africans, gun shots shocked the silence with drums beating around the bush. I crawled under my straw mat and stayed still, part of me wanted to run and help the Africans but a little voice kept whispering “don’t do it, they will eat your porcelain skin and long locks of beautiful pitch black split-end hair for breakfast”.

In the corner of my hut stood Spot, the village’s zebra; scared stripeless. He made his way through the thick forest and braved the claws of lions and blades of rebel’s knives. His mane was in knots, a real dreadlock dilemma, and he trembled under the first snowfall of the monsoon season. My first instinct was to cover Spot with a blanket, but then the reality of chicken pox came rushing over me.

As I shook and shivered under my straw mat in prayer Zumba appeared; I begged him for a divine intervention and a scoop of bullshit - my only hope and chance of survival - but it was all gone.

If only I did more research about Africa, if only I knew that my dream of speaking fluent African would be shattered by this horror and that I would become the central character of this nightmare.

Tears streamed down my porcelain cheeks, I knew what I had to do: the only way out was through.

I covered my face with mud, camouflaged my soul with white lies and fled the village. I traversed over the desert’s dunes, ducked from trampling elephant feet and predators’ teeth. I ran as fast as my two feet could carry me; past the rebels, past a hoity-toity conflict and past a plantation of bullshit until I reached the beach.

In the crocodile-infested shallows of the ocean a dugout canoe waited for me; I stripped down to my bikini, threw my blessing in disguise away and searched hastily for a paddle but the canoe only had the bare minimum, I was at the mercy of my own hands and paddled away into the dark black night.

After months of paddling and drinking fresh ocean water I finally arrived back home on my continent in my prestigious modern city.

I lost a finger on that boat, the piranha-infested waters gained my pinky when I gave my hand and in the murky bloody waters of the ocean my dream of learning African floated away. 

Today, years after my South African encounters, I’m a changed woman with only nine fingers. My two greatest and most treasured assets in life are my porcelain skin and my long locks of beautiful pitch black split-end hair, but a part of me will always dream about Africa.

A part of me will always wonder what happened to my village? What happened to Spot the stripeless zebra, to chief Zumba and all the bullshit? A part of me will always miss my left pinky finger.

My journey was short but the moments of joy live on forever, and if I had to sum up the whole experience in one African word it would be, eish. Wow.

Anje Rautenbach is the writer behind the blog Going Somewhere Slowly, find her Facebook,Twitter  or on Instagram!

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