I left Zambia in 1982 having lived in Africa for the greater proportion of my life. In 1980 Robert Mugabe had been elected as Prime Minister of the new Republic of Zimbabwe. In the same year in June a car near my house in Ndola had three hundred rounds of ammunition pumped into it by a group of Joshua Nkomo’s returning guerrilla freedom fighters. Three young friends of mine had been ‘scribbled’. I recall the ghastly image vividly and have often thought of the waste and pointlessness of the fact that it was the car behind theirs that was then stolen.
Once you have lived in Africa the place runs in your blood like an itch you cannot scratch. Alexandra Fuller describes it as ‘how to belong to a place that does not belong to you’ I returned to Zambia for the first time when I read her acclaimed memoir Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, a child’s eye view of the continent she grew up in.
I am currently reading Scribbling the Cat: Travels with an African soldier. It spans the time when Fuller returns to Zambia from the USA as an adult and embarks on a harrowing but ironically hilarious journey into the past. She takes this moral journey with ‘K’, a white African veteran of the civil war. They travel through Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique reliving this devastating time in conversation with other war veterans.
‘Scribbling’ is the Afrikaans for killing and it is this casualness to violent death and the irrelevance of human life that strikes home. The book is hard and unforgiving, dealing with race, politics, war and self-justification. Fuller’s prose is clear, unsentimentally honest and strikingly idiomatic and atmospheric. Both of these books must be read in tandem and although they hold a poignant and personal significance for me you will certainly get a unique and realistic feel for the idiosyncrasies of Africa, even if you have never been there.