Kapuscinski’s last journey

From The LA Weekly:

In The Soccer War, he recalls how, in Nigeria in 1966, he was “driving along a road where they say no white man can come back alive. I was driving to see if a white man could because I had to experience everything for myself.” At the first roadblock, he was beaten and allowed to drive on after he had paid a toll. At the second road block, he was beaten again, doused in benzene but, after handing over the rest of his money, allowed to drive on rather than being set alight. Which meant that by the time he came to the third roadblock, he was penniless and highly inflammable.

From the II Journal:

The limitation of sources under the Communists had a very political effect on reading. People had just one book, and nothing else — no television or other diversions — so they just read the same book very carefully several times. Readership was high, and very attentive. It was people’s only source of knowledge about the world. You have to understand that the tradition of Russian literature — and Russians are great readers — is also an eastern tradition of learning poetry and prose by heart. This is the most intimate relationship between literature and its readers: they treat the text as a part of themselves, as a possession. This art of reading, reading the text behind the text, is missing now.

An extract from Shadow of the Sun:

I asked John and Zado to take me to a hotel. They drove me to a shabby, two-storey building. The entrance was through a bar. John opened the door but could go no further. Inside, in the artificial coloured twilight and hot stagnant air of the small room, stood about 100 prostitutes: sweaty, exhausted, and so tightly pressed together, jammed in, that one could scarcely push one’s hand in, let alone enter. It worked this way: if a client opened the door from the street, the pressure inside propelled one of the girls, as though from a catapult, straight into the arms of the surprised customer. Then another girl took her place near the exit.

From an acceptance speech for a prize:

It was enough to be familiar with European culture – enough just to be a European, born or naturalized – to feel oneself the master, lord of the house, the world’s custodian. For this European needed no qualifications, no additional knowledge, no particular qualities of mind or character. I observed this still in the 1950s and 1960s in Africa and Asia. Some European, in his own country very average, even incompetent, and held in law regard, right away became a high commissioner, the chairman of a great concern, director of a hospital or school when he arrived in Malaysia or Malawi. The locals meekly listened to his injunctions, eager to absorb his remarks and theories. In the Belgian Congo the colonial authorities created a category, the so-called évolué, comprising those who had left the state of tribal “savageness” behind but did not yet deserve to be called Europeanized people. The évolué were something in between, on the way – Brussels attached the hope to them that thanks to effort, investment, patience and good will they would someday succeed in scaling the heights of Europeanness, and that meant the heights of humanity. In this excellent book Portrait du Colonisé précédé du Portrait du Colonizateur, Albert Memmi described the whole painful and humiliating process to which the évolué were subjected.
The 20th century was not only a century of totalitarian systems and wars. It was also the century of decolonization, of a great liberation. Three quarters of the residents of our planet freed themselves from colonial subjugation and – at least formally – became fully entitled citizens of the world. There never had been such an event in all history, and never will be again.

Ryszard Kapuscinski (1932-2007), one of the finest and most honest writers of our times, is done with his travels.





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