Route 66 :: June '97 -- October '97

Subject: Africa—America
Date: Wed, 27 Aug 1997 05:23:05 -0700

05:17 Windy City Compound; Tinley Park, Chicago, Illinois :: 26 AUG 97

Conjure in your mind the shape of Africa, the continental contour. Hold that image in your mind. Now do this for me. Stop reading for a moment and do this: list mentally, or better, write down the associations which come to mind while pondering that shape. Type them out, if you like, as part of a reply to this message. Give yourself over to, oh, five minutes of contemplation. Stop reading now and do that for me.

OK. Clear your head for a moment. Stop reading and count to 10.

Now, put in your mind an image of North America. When you can see it, when you can hold the image, again, list the impressions. Do this now, for four or five minutes. Don't be lazy; don't read on; for me, please do this.

Third world; heart of darkness; deepest, darkest Africa; apartheid; slavery; pygmies; primitive; Idi Amin; White Rhodesia; jungle; Joseph Conrad; poverty; savannah; baobab; spear; thatch hut; drought; famine; Mandela; Biko; black/green/gold; the wilds of Africa; rhinos/hippos/elephants/lions/wildebeest/gazelle/hyena; diamonds; the Nile; pyramids; ancient; Sahara; desert; violence; revolution; chaos; dismay; disease; black; negro; hot; heat; corrupt; power; khaki; colonialism; rape;

power; freedom; wealth; prosperity; new world; individualism; poverty; democracy; capitalism; power; might; self-determined; beautiful; land of the free; American dream; violence; guns; corrupt; a different violence than Africa-not institutionalised but free flowing, a movement of individuals rather than a manifestation of power; similarly for corruption-not Africa's corrupted structure of society but rather the moral bankruptcy of the individuals within that structure; promise, hope, dream, self-fulfillment; self; rights; duties; Columbus; Clinton; Limbaugh; colonies; Franklin; Jefferson; Constitution; Bill of Rights; civil disobedience; America the Beautiful; Luis Riel; Trudeau; world's bread basket; multicultural; melting pot;

Rather than analysing these two patterns of associations, which would be as much self-analysis as fruitful investigation of real differences between two continents, consider these paragraphs:


Africa, as impression, as idea, lies deep in the labyrinth of human imagination. Often its shape is beyond the will of words and its silhouette below the strata of conscious recovery. It lives in us on a primordial level, inexplicable but undeniable. We are the spring boughs with only the vaguest memory of winter's ruthless treatment of the tree. Despite a spate of nature documentaries, and despite endless shelves of travel books, Africa remains for most of us a hazy and remote illusion.True or contrived, or possibly both true and contrived, African myths have wandered around the globe, half understood, half believed, half unbelievable, always adding to their mystery.

The unending human quest in Africa for treasure-that wild impulse toward the accumulation of precious metals, minerals and possession even of other human beings-can account for some of the misconceptions about Africa and the erroneous fantastic descriptions of the place and its peoples. People could plow the earth with impunity for its bright gold and its glint of diamonds without determining that those wonderful elements were free booty only because they were found on "the dark continent." The place of origin of Homo sapiens could not possibly have been stripped of its strongest sons and daughters for the purpose of satisfying greed unless one could name the place (and think of it) as not the First, or even the Second, but the Third World.

  graphical element Maya Angelou
from Art In Africa, in the collection of essays titled, Even the Stars Look Lonesome


~~~ Responses Sought ~~~
If it is true that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, isn't it also true a society is only as healthy as its sickest citizen and only as wealthy as its most deprived?
  graphical element Maya Angelou
from Poor Poverty, in
Even the Stars Look Lonesome