Saturday, 28 May 2016

Bill Bryson's African Diary by Bill Bryson Review

In 2002, CARE International invited Bill Bryson on an eight day trip to tour its humanitarian work in Kenya with him writing it up into this, Bill Bryson’s African Diary (something of a misnomer as Bryson only visits Kenya). The entire proceeds of the short book will go to help the kinds of people depicted inside it - and it’s a wonderful read too!

As you would expect, the horrors of the country’s widespread poverty aren’t ignored as Bryson visits Kibera, a shanty town on the outskirts of Kenya’s capital city Nairobi, with a population of between 700,000 and 1 million people. The conditions are appalling and thousands are HIV positive and yet the place officially doesn’t exist and is ignored by the Kenyan government. He also visits a refugee camp where the people there are stuck in a bureaucratic limbo, stateless, just existing, with little chance of a future. 

But the book isn’t all a sobering guilt trip as Bryson also takes in the wonders of the Kenyan National Museum which houses 500 of the roughly 5000 fossilized human bones in existence, and Olorgasailie, an area where early humans made tools for a million years! There are also gently humorous passages in Bryson’s inimitable style involving the dangerous and poorly maintained railways and the nightmare of flying in a light aircraft during a storm. 

The most interesting and inspiring part was seeing a bank called Wedco give loans to develop small businesses, helping give some of these people a shot at a real life that they wouldn’t have without it. And the small village of Ogongo Tir where CARE installed a new well for them but gave them responsibility over it underlining that, while they need a hand to get the ball rolling, the people there want to take control of their own destinies rather than depend forever on the West. 

I hesitate to use the word but Bill Bryson’s African Diary is entertaining, as well as informative, with Bryson serving as a genial conduit to learning about CARE International and its outstanding work in Kenya. It’s a quick read but a memorable and moving one with an excellent cause at its heart - well worth picking up especially as the purchase price goes to help these people’s lives become a little better.

Bill Bryson's African Diary

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