Fourteen

What is there to say about Africa, the second largest continent of the world, people of the richest colour, running the world’s longest river; Blue Nile, White Nile, Lake Albert, Lake Victoria, Lake Edward, each named in the mid 19th Century by Stanley, Speke and Baker. In the name of finding the source of Nile’s water, explorers paved ways for exploiters. Where did this massive quantities of water come from, asked Herodotus 2,500 years ago, so did Pharaoh Ptolemy II and most Roman leaders, in particular Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. Twenty years ago a Taiwanese documentary reported a trip to find the source of Yangtse River - the longest in China, and in Asia. The crew never reached the river’s source, the expedition was forced to abort because of treacherous weather. Around the time when the Taiwanese film makers in China were chasing the source of Yangtse, Christopher Ondaatje went to Africa, spent several months trekking along the Nile and travelling through the African Great Lakes, talking to and interviewing natives from border to border. He related his experience in the book Journey to the Source of the Nile, and had the opinion that the Nile is not by any single lake or any single river, it is fed by two large lakes - Albert and Victoria, and two mighty rivers - Kagera and Semliki. Joseph Conrad was nine years old when he saw Africa on the map, he had this boyhood fascination "When I grow up, I shall go there!”. I am a bit like him when I loom over the map of Africa; stout, vast and unfamiliar - I am going there! Surveying from above a continent of 54 countries, the second most populous and no longer unknown to the world, this vast land mass now clearly marked with borders, is still in the invincible grip of its late colonizers. I grab it with a hand-held, round glass magnifier, I look for the Congo River, places like Matari, Stanley Fall, Leopoldville (Kinshasa) and Zanzibar; I see black, then yellow, then white, then red, of gold, of diamonds, of blood, of ivories and rubber.