BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Paul Theroux, author of "Dark Star Safari," in the middle of your book, you have this sentence. "I do not want to be young again."
PAUL THEROUX, AUTHOR, "DARK STAR SAFARI: OVERLAND FROM CAIRO TO CAPE TOWN": Yes. Well, today`s my birthday, and it so happened that I went to Africa at a different period, 40 years ago, and I felt that I was entering a world that I had very, very little knowledge of and that I was stumbling through it. I was not prepared for it, though I was game. And when I think of -- and that was 40 years ago. When I think of what`s happened in the intervening time, I don`t know whether I`d want to go through all of that again.
LAMB: If I read correctly, this is the 32nd book you`ve written -- at least, the ones listed in the front of this book.
THEROUX: Yes. I lose count, but some are long and some are short. Those books represent, to a large extent, places that I`ve been, places that I`ve thought about. A lot of fiction writing is pure fantasy, or it`s "what if." It`s giving yourself the second chance that life denies you, and when I wrote "The Mosquito Coast" in the `70s, late `70s and finished it in `81, I thought I`d always like to take my family to Honduras, but I didn`t -- my family was in London. Instead of taking them to Honduras, I wrote about it and so it`s a little family. It was me and my little family. My children were those ages. So it`s having that and working through the problem of -- the fictional problem of what would it have been like had I done that, confronting that, all the complexities, I think.
LAMB: Early in the book, we find out from your dedication that your mother was 92 when you wrote this book. Is she still alive?
THEROUX: My mother read this book, yes. She read it just the other day, when it came out, and liked it very much. She lives alone. She cooks for herself and is very self-sufficient, very strong woman and a great reader. She made me a reader. So did my father. So I mean, she is a literary person.
LAMB: (:05 AUDIO LOSS)
THEROUX: ... or with "Dark Star Safari," people have said, How many miles did you go? And I really have no idea because no trip is a straight line. I think that -- in this trip, I was going from Cairo to Cape Town, but there were plenty of detours.
LAMB: I want to ask you about some people. I`ll just pick out one -- Susanna.
THEROUX: This is a woman I met -- changed her name. It wasn`t Susanna. I was thinking -- I spared her the -- the name -- in many cases, I change people`s names just so they`re not subjected to ridicule. But Susanna and I met on a train in Mozambique. She was an evangelist. She believed that all Africans were -- that were not praying were sinners and they could be saved by grace. She was also doing a little bit of social work, but mainly -- mainly, it was the Bible.
Africa is a place where you meet people like this, who -- there`s a bit of mythomania in it. I supposed I`m a mythomaniac myself in going to Africa. Tarzan, Ernest Hemingway, Mr. Kurtz, Joseph Conrad -- you know, you name it, people who are doing good -- teachers, Peace Corps -- all of them see themselves in Africa as a theater. And Susanna was -- just looked upon -- she looked at them -they`re all sinners. They`re all sinners. I said, Haven`t they got enough problems?
LAMB: You did, on occasion, take on missionaries.
THEROUX: Yes, I...
LAMB: What do you think of them?
THEROUX: You know, they come in all shapes and sizes, but for some, it`s purely the desire to convert and get them saved. Are you saved? Now, Africans have been through -- in the case of this missionary in Mozambique -- Mozambique has endured 25 years of civil war and 450 years of colonial -- of Portuguese colonialism -- theft, rape, pillage, floods, recent floods, famines, recent famines and a lot of social disorder. Do they really need to be told also that -- having endured all this, that they`re sinners? I don`t think so. I don`t think so.
I think it`s -- just the idea of imposing religion on people who have all of their own problems, I`d say no, that`s not...
LAMB: How long were you in Africa for this trip?
THEROUX: This trip took about five-and-a-half months. And I set off from Cairo in January, came back in late May of 2001, and then later went back -- after 9/11, I wanted to see various places and see what had changed, see the attitudes of people. I was in a lot of Muslim parts of Africa, and I wanted to see how energized, how politicized, how angry they were, and how would they would respond to me.
LAMB: What did you find?
THEROUX: I found that they -- they responded to me as a person, not as an emissary of a foreign enemy hostile government. But they`re still angry about -- I mean, people in the Sudan and Egypt tend to say, “Don`t forget, Palestinians, Arabs generally, who`ve been persecuted have children and grandchildren, and they`ll hate your government” -- didn`t say hate me, but hate -- they will hate America, is what they said.
So they think -- Americans tend to underestimate how strongly weak people, oppressed people identify with the Palestinians. The Palestinians are the martyrs for the cause and have been very badly treated. We can see that, you know, all the time. And I think we underestimate how they`re -- the symbolic value of Palestine.
LAMB: You said in your book this is the last time you`re going to do one of these road trip things, where you`ve got -- you know, you`re running around in trucks and all the ways that you did it in Africa. Why? And then tell us how many different ways you traveled from Cairo to Cape Town.
THEROUX: The "never again" was a bush taxi, with 20 people crammed into a minivan, or an old bus. A standing headline in American newspapers is, Many killed in bus plunge horror in Kenya or, Many killed in Kenya, bus plunge horror. I had a standing headline, I thought, Travel writer killed in bus plunge horror. It just is too many people. The roads are bad. The drivers are -- they go too fast. They`re inexperienced. So it`s -- I don`t want to subject myself to that. Also, if you end up in an African hospital, you never come out.
The modes of transport -- I went down the Nile by train and boat. I went through the Sudan by train and bush taxi and rented a Land Rover with a guide because I wanted to go on a camping trip in the Sudan. I took a train in Ethiopia, bus, hitched, cattle truck. The only way you can get from the Ethiopian border to Isiolo in northern Kenya -- the most dangerous part of my trip -- I was shot at -- was cattle truck. That sounds like bad news, but if you`re in a cattle truck, you`re going to arrive because cattle have to get to market. If you`re in a truck with 20 people, you may not make it -- 20 cows, you`ll definitely make it down the road.
More buses, more trains, the old German train in Tanzania, ferry across Lake Victoria, you know, little bush taxis to Malawi, got stuck in the mud. As you go south in Africa, once you pass the equator, roughly speaking, travel gets slightly easier. And I went by canoe down the Chari and the Zambezi River. Then buses, trains, wonderful trains in South Africa. I went from Johannesburg to Cape Town on a train and liked it so much, I went back and forth several times. I didn`t write about it in the book, I was just sitting there reading, looking out the window and thinking, This is fun.
LAMB: Did you total up how much it cost you to do that whole trip?
THEROUX: No, I brought $2,000 with me, and I still had money at the end, which was stolen...
LAMB: After five-and-a-half months?
THEROUX: Yes. Yes. And with credit cards. I bought tickets with credit cards, air tickets, but I only had an air ticket there. And the most expensive thing was in the Sudan, I had to pay cash for everything. There -- no credit cards there. In Kenya, things were cheap, and I paid with credit card at some hotels. You know, I was thinking hotels would cost $10. In Ethiopia, I remember the man said -- he said, Do you want the $2 room or the $4 room? I said, I`ll take the $4, you know?
LAMB: Did you travel with anyone?
THEROUX: No, no. I was alone the whole time. The way I travel would be so wearing for a traveling companion that they`d -- if it was my wife, she`d leave me, or I`d leave her, I`d say, because you know, you get to a place, if you`re with your spouse, they say, Well, let`s go to the hotel and freshen up, or Where`s the hotel, or they say things like, Where are we going? Or What do you think, are we going to be OK? You know, it`s 4:00 o`clock in the afternoon and you`re heading for a place, and you don`t know whether there`s a place to stay. Well, if you`re alone you can stand under a tree or just, you know, say, Can you take me in, whatever it is. You don`t know what`s going to happen. Traveling with someone, they`re constantly asking questions to which you don`t have the answer.
And then there`s the writing part. If you travel alone, the whole day is yours to write, to make notes and write. And I spent five-and-a-half months in very intense either difficult travel and uncomfortable travel or else writing about it and -- you know, making notes and then in the evening, spending two or three hours just copying everything out. I come back with a lot of notes. A person traveling with me wouldn`t like it.
LAMB: What do you take with you?
THEROUX: I take -- I have one of these -- it`s called a Patagonia, MLC, maximum legal carry-on. You can take it on any plane. And a little beat-up briefcase. So a change of clothes, a shortwave radio, no electronics, no tape recorder, no computer, no phone, no pager, nothing like that, a cheap watch, and that`s about it. And then when I -- see, I didn`t have any high-level meetings. Mine`s not a fact-finding mission or red carpet or -- you know, nothing official. I`m the connoisseur of the low-level meeting and -- so although I saw ambassadors, I had a safari jacket, I would just put on my best shirt and safari jacket -- I didn`t have a tie -- and try to look my most decent.
But most of the time, if I needed clothes, I went to the market. And you may have given clothes at one time or another to Clothing for Africa Fund. If so, I was wearing them because you get them and launder them. But I had T-shirts saying Top Notch Plumbing and -- you know, the Saskatchewan Blue Bombers and things like that. I tried -- it`s protective coloration. I tried not to stand out.
LAMB: This book has no index. It has no photographs. It has no source notes. Is that on purpose?
THEROUX: I`ve never put an index in a travel book that I`ve written, or any book that I`ve written, although I must say, I love indexes. I love them. And I love the most detailed ones. And when I`m reading a history or a biography, if the index is bad -- they usually have them, but sometimes they`re very poor -- deliberately no index. Doesn`t need one.
Sources you can see. If I quote a book, I quote the author and the title of the book, and anyone can find them. With the Internet, you just put in the name, you go to a Web site, a used book Web site, put in the name and the title, you`ve got the book.
Sometimes people have said to me, Why do you have no acknowledgements? Well, it would be -- there`d be too much. No one wants to read acknowledgements, and it`s kind of self-serving. You know, I`ll never forget Jane on the train, or whatever it is, or this rental car company, whatever -- you know, they always look to me like -- that they`ve been -- that it`s a form of patronage, you know. So I haven`t done that.
And the pictures -- I`d like to think that with a book like this that you don`t need pictures or that the pictures would not measure up to my purple prose, or whatever.
LAMB: How many foreign languages do you speak? And how many languages did you have to speak on this trip?
THEROUX: I can speak Italian pretty well. I studied it in school, and I worked in Italy. So, Io parlo Italiano. Miwana jua Kiswahili. It`s not bad, it`s more in the range of kitchen Swahili, but I do. Chichewa is a language that I -- it was called Chinyanja at the time. They changed the name because they claimed that it was the president`s tribe. Chichewa is a wonderful language, and I can speak that fluently. Probably, I could speak it to some taxi drivers in Washington. In the Western hemisphere, it`s not widely spoken, but anywhere in Malawi, in Zambia, in Zimbabwe and parts of South Africa, Chichewa -- and Mozambique -- Chichewa is related to a lot of local languages.
I can understand French. I can mumble my way through Spanish. That`s about it, really.
LAMB: How many actual miles is it from Cairo to Cape Town, do you know?
THEROUX: I have no idea. Because of the kind of detours I took, I don`t know. You`d have to measure it with a ruler. But I try not to think about the miles. Sometimes in Africa -- you know, to psych myself up for this trip, I didn`t want to think about distances. I thought about difficulties, bottlenecks, borders. The Sudan -- we have no embassy there. A very kind man named Tim Carney, who was former ambassador to the Sudan, helped me get a visa. He has very good contacts in the Sudan. He was very, very nice about it. And he has tremendous interest in our becoming more acquainted with the Sudan. I would have put him in acknowledgements.
So I thought about the -- travel is a problem with solutions, but you need information to solve it. It`s not so much the miles. Sometimes 20 miles can take -- you know, it`s like war, really. It can take a week, or 100 miles can take a week. And then you might find a bus or a train that`s going for days and days. You just get on and travel an enormous distance, as it is from Lake Victoria to the coast, there`s a -- that train that was built one spur by the British, one by the French. You get on the train and you say, When is it going to arrive? And they say, Maybe Sunday. Maybe later. But you know you`re on the train. You`re there and -- and it`s very beat-up, but you`re going to make it eventually. And so I try not to think about miles.
LAMB: Who`s the strangest character you met on the trip?
THEROUX: This is a very difficult question. When you travel in Africa, you meet all sorts of people. Strange? I would say -- I`d have to -- I`d say strange in the area of how wonderful was Sadiq al Mahdi, who was the former prime minister of the Sudan. Someone said that they -- I met a journalist in Khartoum, and he said, I`d like to -- he said, I just saw Sadiq al Mahdi. He`s a grandson of the Mahdi who decapitated General Gordon, and he was himself decapitated by Kitchener in a punitive expedition, the battle of Omdurman.
So this guy -- wonderful, gentle, intelligent, handsome, hawk-nosed romantic, straight out of "The Arabian Nights" fellow, invited me to his -- to a soiree, really. There were some writers there and one of his wives and his daughter and some friends. And we sat there drinking tea and talking about Africa and the Sudan and politics in general, literature, poetry, music. It was just wonderful.
It was one of those evenings which could have taken place at any time in, let`s say, the 19th century, where the chief of a people, the leader of a people, invites the foreigner, Richard -- Sir Richard Burton or Speke or Livingston. The chief says, you know, Come. Here`s tea. And they just talked about the world, the West and what they know of it, and they ask questions. Sadiq al Mahdi was a great listener. And one of these days, I suppose, he`ll be back in power. They have a military government at the moment.
LAMB: Sudan, you say, is the largest country in Africa?
THEROUX: Is the largest country in Africa and embodies all of Africa`s greatness with all of Africa`s problems. I mean, there`s been a war in the south ever since I lived in Africa. I lived in Africa in the `60s, and in the `60s, they were fighting in the south, in Juba, Malakal. And there was liberation armies, and so forth. The south is Christian and forested and jungles and swamps, the Sud. It`s the -- you know, the Upper Nile provinces. And then the north and central are Islamized and I wouldn`t say Arabized, really, although they are somewhat, but different people. There are Nubians, and so forth. And so it has war. It has peace. It has oil. It has poverty. It has hungry people. It has wealthy people. You know, it`s got all of it. It`s a wonderful place.
LAMB: What day would you say, or period, was your most exhilarating period in the five-and-a-half months, and which day would be the low point, where you thought maybe you may not even make it?
THEROUX: There`s always a low -- many low points. There were days -- I can think of northern Kenya, going through the desert in northern Kenya. You wouldn`t have thought -- you would have thought upper Egypt or Sudan -- that`d be tough going. And yet it`s not a piece of cake, but I made it through. But there were days -- I remember a day when I was on a cattle truck, and the road was so bumpy, the cattle had fallen down. They were on their side, and the men were twisting their tails to get them upright. Then the car got a flat tire. They pulled off the tire. It was an inner tire. And the car was propped up on a very rudimentary jack that was sinking in the sand. There was no shade for -- I mean, I could see 20, 30, 40 miles. I guess I could see 50 miles. There wasn`t one patch, not even a postage stamp of shade that I could see. The road wasn`t a road. The landscape wasn`t a landscape. It was just raw sand and gravel. It looked like an immensity of kitty litter everywhere, as far as you could see.
And so we`re sitting by the side of the road, and I said to the man -- the driver, Mustafa -- you know, Fanya nini?, What`s happening here? He said, This blankety-blank road. I said, Well, do you have a -- have you got a pump? You got another tire? Nah. And I thought -- you know, it was 2:00 o`clock in the afternoon, very hot. What now? What now? And then they were kicking the tire to pull the tire off.
I`m making a meal of this, I realize. But I was thinking, I need a miracle here. And then you get a miracle. If you wait long enough, miracles happen. About an hour later -- I was pretty hot, actually -- another truck came down the road. I said to the -- I waved to him, and I said, Can I get in? He said, You can get in if you ride on top. So I climbed up to the top of the truck, sort of thing -- Dad, aren`t you a little bit too old for this, my children are saying. Climbed up, and off we went. And I thought, This is great. But then about 20 miles around -- down the road, we got shot at. There were bandits and -- but the driver floored it. On we went.
And eventually, I made it to a town called Masabit, which is not the end of the line, but it`s in the middle of the desert, and had a night`s sleep there. So it wasn`t so bad.
LAMB: When you say the top of the truck, what do you really mean?
THEROUX: Holding onto the -- the rails on top of the cab. So you`re standing on a pipe overlooking the cab of the truck, looking forward. And there`s a man beside me. It turned out that that man had a gun. I think he might have been a soldier or an escort of some kind. So I`m standing. He`s there with his gun. And other kids holding on. And then below me, on the flat bed of the truck -- or you know, there were rails around it -- were 20 head of cattle.
So it`s -- yes, the wind in your hair, you know, all the wonderful -- all the features, all the comforts! It wasn`t bad. To tell you the truth, it`s the only way to go by road. There is no other way. If you don`t do that, you don`t go by road. I suppose you could rent a car -- well, no, you can`t rent a car, but you could import your own SUV. I don`t know. There are charities that go up and down that road from time to time, but they didn`t pick me up. I asked them for rides. They said no. You know, We`re not running a taxi service.
LAMB: As a matter of fact, while we`re on that, I just have -- I happened to open to a page that you`re in Malawi at this point, and you say, "I was not surprised when they refused to give me a lift. I knew from experience that they were the last people to offer travelers assistance. Still, I was annoyed. I analyzed my annoyance. It was that the vehicles were often driven by Africans, the white people riding as passengers in what resembled ministerial seats. They had CD players, usually with music playing loudly. And now and then, I saw the whole deal, an African or a white person driving in his white Save the Children vehicle, one-handed, talking on a cell phone with music playing, the happiest person in the country. For every agent of virtue I saw slogging his or her guts out in the field, I saw two of them joyriding."
But many times -- I don`t want to overdo it -- you don`t like these charity people.
THEROUX: I don`t dislike them, but I question their motives, and I think, in many cases, they`re like everybody else. They`re self-dramatizing, rather priggish, on their own version of Africa, doing whatever they`re doing. You find -- I mean, there are -- some are saintly. Some aid workers are very hard-working. To see the aid worker, though, as a figure of salvation is something I -- unpersuasive. It`s a very unpersuasive figure.
I think aid is a business. These people are on salaries. They`re looking -- in the most literal sense, they`re looking for trouble. When there is trouble -- a serious famine, a serious massacre -- they can raise money. I don`t say that they welcome such things, but it gets -- it`s easier to raise money if there`s serious trouble. If it`s just humdrum, you know, ordinary aid, I think they`re less interested.
I can`t run them down because they`re doing something. But 40 years ago, such people were pretty thick on the ground in Malawi and Zambia and Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, countries that I know pretty well. They`re still there. The NGOs are like a parallel structure, a parallel government.
LAMB: What is an NGO?
THEROUX: Non-governmental organization.
LAMB: Can you name one -- give me an example? Save the Children -- would that be one of them?
THEROUX: I suppose Save the Children is one. Oxfam is one. They have -- the Hunger Project.
LAMB: People to People, Mission Against Ignorance and Poverty, the Food Project, Action Aid -- you have a whole bunch of them listed here.
THEROUX: Sure. And World Vision, whatever. And they`re running things. They`re pumping water. They`re disposing -- dispensing food. They got a clinic. They tend not to have schools. They tend not to be involved in education, although some are. And some of them are faith-based initiatives. So you might say, Well, God bless them. But they`re there, many of them, with a Bible in one hand and food in the other, saying, If you want this, you got to have that.
Meanwhile, we have pin-striped morons pretending to run a government, driving around in Mercedes-Benzes, politicians, who are getting on with the thing and going to big, important meetings while the charities are running the essential services in the country. That would be OK if they were run well, but they`re not run well. I think it`s sort of -- it prevents people from seeing the true failure of their government. And you might say -- I mean, the worst thing you can say about them is why are they still there? Or let`s say, the plainest question. No problem has been solved. Some lives have been saved. That`s a good thing.
I can`t say that they shouldn`t be distributing emergency aid. But you understand, they`re doing the government`s work. And they`re doing it, I suppose, for their own purposes. Africans should be doing things for themselves. They should be co-opted. They should be helping. They should be volunteering. They should be sharing the burden, sharing the sacrifice. But they`re not. They`re paid hacks for most of these agencies, most of these charities.
LAMB: How often are they Americans?
THEROUX: The agencies? The charities?
LAMB: The aid people you see there, when -- you know, people buzz by in their SUVs and you...
THEROUX: Plenty of Americans. Plenty of Americans.
LAMB: And did they have any idea who you were?
THEROUX: No, no, no. I am -- I`m just a guy -- I`m just a middle-aged guy in a dusty T-shirt, saying, Hi. You know, although I did say -- I said to one -- he said, We`re not going to pick you up. Well, no, we can`t give you a ride. I said -- I was stuck. I said, Well, I`m going down the same road as you are and I`m in a truck that`s being fixed. If I see you by the side of the road, I`m going to go right straight by you. And if you`re in a ditch, you`re going to stay in a ditch. I said, I thought we were supposed to -- I thought we were supposed to help each other. If you`re not going to help me, then I`m going to drive by. I`m going to tell the driver to drive by you. This was in a desert, also in Kenya.
LAMB: Were they Americans?
THEROUX: Yes. Yes. Medical people. God bless them. But they`re not there to help -- they would say, Oh, well, he`s a backpacker. He`s a hitchhiker. Who`s he? He`s a bum. But I`m there -- you know, this is the best thing. The caliph Harun al-Rashid used to go around Baghdad in a disguise to find out what life was really like in Baghdad. And I feel that`s what I do. I don`t want to go as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, author of a number of books and family favorites. I don`t think that I`m a household name. But I wasn`t advertising myself. I would -- that`s a story. I came back -- I don`t want people offering me patronage and help and then refusing it to other people. I`d like to think, OK, this is the story. That`s how you find the story, I think.
LAMB: How were you treated as a white man?
THEROUX: You know, this is a really interesting question because 40 years ago, when I traveled in Africa, if I got on a bus or a train or if I was standing by the side of the road, people would wander up and say, you know, Hello, Mister. Hello. Jambo, Habari gani, Moni, muli bwanji and where do you come from? Are you American? Yes! Elvis! I like Elvis. They like country music, too, country and western music. And they would ask searching questions, in some cases, or just about, you know, whatever it was -- cowboys. Have you ever seen a cowboy?
Four years later, I`m in Africa. I get on a bus. People move over, give you a seat. Hello, nod, Hello. The fact that I`m white or a foreigner doesn`t get anyone`s pulse racing. I was very interested that I could sit on a bus and be completely ignored as a foreigner, as a Muzungu, a white man, a Ferringhi, as they say.
And so, that`s a major difference. They`ve seen plenty of my kind and dressed, you know, the way I was, I don`t look like official. I don`t look like I have any money and so a white person is often, or a foreigner, less conspicuous. They`ve seen so many aid people.
Even when you offer, as I did, I called the embassy in Malawi and I said would you like to give a lecture? Well, we`re pretty busy. You know they got plenty of people. You want to give a lecture. You want to give some money. You want to help out. You know, take a number. We`ll call you.
We gets lots of people who want to do things like that and in my time people are very grateful. Oh, you`re going to give a lecture? Are you offering something? Or, even you`re from the other world, the big world, the first world? Come, have a seat.
But there`s less interest now. People have been jaded by it. They`ve seen me. They`ve seen my type so many times before they`re not interested and also officially a lot of embassies, a lot of agencies, you walk in and you say I want to volunteer. Well, they got plenty of volunteers, foreigners. We`re not exotic anymore and it`s not news and there`s plenty of aid.
LAMB: Back to the question I asked you earlier. You talked about the low point. What about the most exhilarating time?
THEROUX: I think the most exhilarating thing that could happen to you in travel, it happened to me many times in Africa, is to make some kind of discovery about myself, about the place I`m in. Someone tells you something. I always think it has a human dimension.
So, in Kenya, I met a man. I knew him by name. He`s a journalist, and we were talking just in general and then he confided the fact that he had been in prison not that long ago and started talking about his time in prison.
So, I said you know I`d like to hear about it and we sat down. This doesn`t sound like exhilarating stuff but for a person to spend a whole day listening to someone`s story of how he was arrested, how he was tortured, how he suffered, how he wrote about it after his release, what he`s doing now which is still writing.
That`s a whole - it`s a biography of a man in the country and he becomes like a representative of the country for me and you begin to understand much better what the country is when you see how they persecute a man like that. That was in Kenya.
LAMB: Is that Makonnen?
THEROUX: Mutahi Wahome and -- Wahome Mutahi and other kinds of exhilaration are I tell you it`s just the riding in a truck, looking at the land going by, seeing animals.
At sunset on a train looking out and seeing as the sun sets, you know, when gold is very, very hot it turns pink, so this pinkish, gold-yellow sunset and then you see an animal, an elephant I saw looking out of the train, pink, golden elephant just drinking in a pool out the window of a train, sort of the classic image of Africa.
But I`m on a train writing my notes and thinking this is heaven because I`m on the train. There are Africans on the train. I`m talking to them. Look out the window and, you know, off we go into the night, wonderful, wonderful experience.
LAMB: The other ex-prisoners, this fellow, I don`t know how to pronounce it, Makonnen?
THEROUX: Yes, Nebiy Makonnen in Ethiopia.
LAMB: Yes, the reason I bring it up is I wanted to ask you about the fact that he had translated "Gone With the Wind."
THEROUX: Not just translated "Gone With the Wind" in prison but he was in prison for two years with nothing. He`s a very intelligent man. It`s misery. We know the misery of being without a book, with being without a printed word, to just be alone.
You can be alone with your thoughts but for two years if you`re a literary person you just crave the sight of print. And, a man came into the prison. They hadn`t searched him thoroughly. He had a copy of "Gone With the Wind" and this was a barracks, or you know a prison block with 150 people, guys, and they had nothing to read.
So, they passed this book around. Each person had it for an hour or half an hour I think and he had it and he had the idea of translating it and then reading it at night to the other prisoners so that`s what he did but, of course, he had no paper. So, they used the foil, the back of the foil of a cigarette pack as paper so they just smoothed out this little square and he wrote and translated the entire text of "Gone With the Wind."
And then when he got out - and they smuggled him out of the prison and he said they just - they folded them and as a man went out he would have a couple in his shirt pocket. No one checked them. They`re flat.
And then for two years after he got out, he was in prison for seven years, Nebiy Makonnen, and when he got out he rounded this, I think he said it was 3,000 pieces of paper and put them together, typed it up and there`s the translation of "Gone With the Wind" but that was his entire prison term was Margaret Mitchell, pretty good story. In Ethiopia, I was told, if you meet five men in a room, four of them will have been in prison at one time or another.
LAMB: You talk a lot about your - weave in and out little tidbits about your own personal life including the fact that Graham Green was one of your favorites and there are others and Ernest Hemingway was not one of your favorites.
THEROUX: Ernest Hemingway is I think clearly a mythomaniac of the type that I`ve described him before. He went to Africa, had no interest in Africans, none in the politics, none in the society, no even ethnographic interest and he was among people who, you know, he was there in the `20s, the `30s, the `40s, `50s, but he was only interested in shooting animals.
So, for him to be in a place where in many cases the people were well not exactly untouched, their culture was still intact. He could have found out so much. If he had been curious about Africans he could have said so much.
But it`s part of his narcissism and he`s a very strange man. The psychology of - there`s some epicene. There`s something homoerotic about Hemingway and his work, not to his disparagement but that`s never - he`s always seen as kind of macho figure but I don`t believe he was.
I think he had no interest in women, no interest in African - the Africans that he was among. He was merely a safari type, a very familiar kind, who had enough money to hire a gun bearer and to go and kill animals.
Some of his stories set in Africa are quite good. “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" and "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" are obviously very good but they`re not about Africa. They`re about tourists.
LAMB: You learn that you have at least two sons, is it Marcel and Louis?
THEROUX: Yes, Louie.
THEROUX: Louie has his own TV show in England on BBC2. It`s called "Weird Weekends." He does a lot of traveling and interviews. He`s been to South Africa. He interviewed Eugène Terre ‘Blanche, a White supremacist who`s now in jail for murder. So, Lou travels a lot.
Marcel, also, Marcel`s expertise is in the Russian language and in Siberia. He`s been to the northern part of Siberia, the Even people. They have a shamanistic culture and he`s done a number of documentaries there and has written two novels.
LAMB: How many children do you have all together?
THEROUX: I have four all together and one in Hawaii and another in Boston. So, it`s a big family.
LAMB: Two marriages?
THEROUX: Well, those were with three women we would say, three mothers and two marriages, yes.
LAMB: And I also see Medford, Massachusetts, and Cape Cod and Hawaii. What role did Medford play in your life?
THEROUX: Medford was - Medford, well you know there`s a book by - about James Thurber. It`s called "The Clocks of Columbus" and do you know the expression the clocks of Columbus? Thurber said whenever I hear a clock`s chimes in my dreams it`s a clock of Columbus, Columbus, Ohio.
And, Medford, you know, Medford made me. I was a boy scout in Medford. One of my fellow Eagle Scouts was Mike Bloomberg who is the mayor of New York. We both went to Medford High School. He was a year behind me, Mikey. He was a good kid actually and a very good scout in the most literal sense. He was an Eagle Scout. So was I.
So being an Eagle Scout, Medford is a place where I went to public schools. They were multi-racial schools so in the 1950s I had many Black schoolmates as well as many, you know, White, Jewish. They went in all directions. We even had a future mafia hit man in our class.
And so, Medford being a very mixed community just outside of Boston, one end of it very urban, the other very rural, was a wonderful place to grow up and so I could go - we had access to the woods. So, I shot my first gun there, built a fire, used to go on camping trips in Medford Fells, Middlesex Fells it`s called, and I still go. I mean you can still go in the winter. You can go cross-country skiing. They have bridal paths and so forth. It`s still a good place.
And we were, you know, it was a very short ride into Boston. So, we had the best. It was just wonderful being able to have the historical tradition of Boston, which we all knew. You know Paul Revere had come from Medford and Fanny Farmer was a Medford figure, and Medford High School, we had a good school system. It was very happy. Medford made me I think.
LAMB: Where did you get interested in writing?
THEROUX: I began writing, I suppose my parents reading to me filled me. You can`t read a lot without being the least bit curious about wanting to be a writer. You read stories and you think well I have stories. You read stories about secrets and you think I have secrets. I could tell those secrets.
Things have happened to me. You fantasize when you`re young but you think they`ve never happened to anybody else. You know the recesses of my mind have these strange and wonderful tales. And so, reading -- my father used to read us "Treasure Island" and read Dr. Seuss books for that matter when we were much younger.
And I thought from a very early age I wanted to write but I grew up in a period, the `50s was such a period. It`s news to a lot of people, not to you, but writers were magical people. Writers were inaccessible. They didn`t appear on television very often. The television programs at the time were entertainment shows.
You would not see John O`Hara or James Jones or James Michener or Sloan Wilson. Thos were the sort of popular writers at the time. You`d never see J.D. Salinger on a show and yet you wouldn`t see him now either for that matter.
But a writer was a very powerful figure. The only equivalent now would be a pop star. They had reputations and an aura of - a mystique around them that is hard for someone now to grasp but it was true.
And so wanting to be a writer was also wanting to be initiated into a community of people who were still very, very ambiguous. I mean we didn`t know all the details. We`d just know if they were remote and wonderful people.
So, if I said I wanted to be a writer, I wasn`t quite sure of what I was saying. So, I used to think I want to be a – not, I want to be a writer but I`d like to get what I have printed and then see what happens after that.
It`s very difficult to say you want to be a writer anyway. Nowadays, I suppose people do say I want to be a writer. At that time, it was a forbidden wish. And I wanted to be a doctor, too, I mean and so it was easy for me to say I want to be a doctor, much harder to be a writer.
LAMB: You mention in the book your brother Peter. Where does he live and he was mentioned for translating a book, I believe.
THEROUX: Peter is in Washington, right here, and he`s with the State Department. He`s an analyst. He`s an Arab scholar and travels the Middle East in a problem solving capacity. He`s a wonderful, very smart guy.
I have four brothers. I have another brother in Washington, Eugene, who`s a lawyer with a large law firm here. I have a brother in Hilo who`s a school principal. And, Alex, who`s a novelist, and I have two sisters Ann Marie and Mary. One`s a nurse. One`s a teacher. I come from a family of seven children.
LAMB: Where did you go to college?
THEROUX: I was at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and I should say also that coming from a large family it`s easier to think of yourself, to fantasize about becoming a writer if you come from a large family because you are inevitably trying to find a space.
You know in a big family there`s not a lot of space, so you think well what am I going to do? And so, you`re looking for a role to play. It`s not like someone`s not breathing down your neck saying what are you going to do? What are you going to do?
You kind of have to work it out for yourself because there are too many people around and you`re looking for your place in the world, and I think to a large extent you want to leave. You want to leave the big family and have a place of your own.
LAMB: You said that you read "Heart of Darkness," Joseph Conrad`s book, 12 times.
THEROUX: At least. I had a copy with me the whole time through Africa. It was the book - I had two books with me, "Heart of Darkness" and Montaigne, three essays by Montaigne, "Of Thumbs," "Of Cannibals" and "Of Reading". And "Of Cannibals" is about how other people can seem very barbarous but be very civilized and there`s lot of wisdom in it.
Conrad wrote two interesting short pieces about Africa, "An Outpost of Progress," and "Heart of Darkness." "Heart of Darkness" is like a prose poem and so you have to read it and read it. It`s very enigmatic and full of ambiguities but at the bottom of it is a story of a high-minded man who becomes a cannibal.
In the book, Africans are referred to as cannibals. There isn`t a cannibal in Africa. I mean, cannibals you need - to find cannibals you need to go to the Pacific. You go to a place like Vanuatu; it used to be New Hebrides or Fiji. Then you find a tradition of cannibalism not practiced today I dare say. Now they eat Spam or corned beef. I suppose they nearly approximate the taste of human flesh. I don`t know.
But Conrad is constantly talking about -- Marlow is referring to or people are alluding to cannibals. But Kurtz has indulged in cannibalism. I think you get there. After 12 or 13 readings I saw that.
LAMB: Where would you say you wrote most of this book?
THEROUX: That`s a good question. I write when I travel so I have a small notebook. I don`t have a tape recorder. I take notes all day in a small notebook, this notebook, a notebook just like this.
This is unobtrusive. I have it on my lap or I`m talking to a person like yourself and afterwards I would make some notes. In the evening I have a larger notebook, much larger one and it`s a student notebook, and so I copy it might be 1,500, 2,000 words, in the notebook. And then at the end of it I have six or seven large notebooks which I bring back. So, where did I write the book, en route and then afterwards.
LAMB: And where do you write afterwards? Is there a place? Is it Cape Cod or is it Hawaii where you find a better atmosphere?
THEROUX: I wrote this book, I was very ill at the end of the trip. I got seriously ill. I had some sort of stomach parasite. The doctors said there were parasites. He said let`s try this. Let`s treat this empirically, and I must say I went through quite a lot of sturm und drang trying to get rid of it.
Then I had some sort of inflammation, they said then a kind of intolerance, fat intolerance, mal-absorption syndrome. This is serious stuff but the worst of it is you can`t write about it. You can`t write about ailments in a book. They`re not interesting. A really exotic ailment, maybe, but this sort of thing is not interesting to people.
Getting robbed, being delayed, and being sick are not subjects for a travel -- you mention them but the people reading the book have had the same experience.
LAMB: Why did you travel just down the East Coast of Africa and how many countries total did you visit?
THEROUX: Every country from Egypt to South Africa, which is Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, then South African and Swaziland.
When I got to the end of the trip, I thought - I was so invigorated in South Africa. I could easily have taken off and gone north through South Africa, Namibia, Angola, the Congo, Brazzaville, then Chad and then through Niger but I had to come back. It would have been another six months and I would have been away a year.
And, I thought maybe I`ll do that sometime. It`s simpler to go through north to south or south to north on the right hand side of Africa. West Africa is much more difficult. There are more wars. Angola has difficulties. But in general I was thinking if you choose your route and if you`re not in a hurry you can go anywhere.
LAMB: Who`s standing in the middle of this picture on the cover?
THEROUX: I have no idea. They are some people in the desert. I didn`t take this picture and even said to them it looks like a Mariachi band but it`s some women with some things on their head that looked like sombreros.
LAMB: Where did you get the name for the book, "Dark Star Safari"?
THEROUX: That was an image that kept occurring to me when I was traveling. I was thinking I`m somewhere out of this world, to coin - use an expression of Charles Baudelaire, “anywhere out of this world,” and it seemed to me that a dark star embodied all the ambiguity of glitter, beauty, light, and yet still with a lot of shadow in it because there are so many wonderful things in Africa that I saw that I experienced that I know exist and so many difficulties, so many problems.
And so, I was thinking - and it`s a place that is ignored. There aren`t a lot of journalists, foreign journalists in Africa. There are some that report on it but on the whole people go to Africa only to look for catastrophes.
The first part of my book is all news out of Africa is bad. It made me want to go there, not for the horror, not for the massacres, but to see the other parts, to connect the dots and to cross borders, not to fly from one capital to another or from one catastrophe to another.
LAMB: What does your wife do during the time you`re away?
THEROUX: She does like Penelope, like Ulysses` Penelope. She knits. She has work and she waits for the phone to ring and sometimes it rings, not often because in Africa of course I didn`t have a phone. I didn`t have a computer but I tried to reassure her when I could.
It`s worse for the wives of sailors and soldiers, much worse. They`re in much greater danger and they have a lot of pain and sorrow and for them it`s a whole marriage, in a way a whole lifetime of waiting for the husband or the wife to come home.
LAMB: How many people do you think there are in the world, and I know you can`t know, but there aren`t - I guess a better way to say it there are not many people that have been to as many places as you`ve been and stayed for that long a time I guess.
THEROUX: I`ve deliberately tried to do it. I don`t know. No, there must be. There must be. When you travel, you see there are a lot of humble anonymous people out there just traveling. They`re just moving and for them it`s a lifetime, very nomadic people, Americans, Europeans. You meet, you know, Germans on a bike.
You know you meet a German guy and he`s got a bicycle. You say where and he says well, you know, traveling the world. I just took the - you know I`m a - I got a pension or whatever it is or I got some money and I`m just going. And so, I can`t take credit for being such a, you know, flying Dutchman but I`ve - the difficulty I suppose has been writing about it.
In the early part of my life, I thought I`m only going to find out about the world by living in it so I was in Africa for six years. I was in Southeast Asia, in Singapore for three years. I lived in England for 17 years and, you know, try that.
So, when people say gosh, you know, England must be hard, and I said well I lived in Uganda. They say what`s the worst place you`ve ever been? Try, you know, the outskirts of Manchester on a wet Sunday afternoon. That makes, you know, Bundibugyo look like Paradise. So -- Bundibugyo is on the Congo border.
Writing about it I had a mission of just seeing as much of the world as I could and I think of myself as a novelist and the process of writing novels can only be done uncertainly indoors and this is an indoor occupation. It gives someone like me tremendous sense of confinement, of enforced solitude.
So, after I finished writing a novel, I feel like getting out, but I`m programmed to think that if I travel I have to turn it into something, sing for my supper, make it pay. I had to pay for this trip myself actually. I couldn`t get any magazine to send me to Africa. None was interested.
Other things were happening in the world. Africa is not on everyone`s mind but I thought it`s a wonderful place. It`s a strange place. It`s a worthy place and, although there are a lot of thieves stealing donor money in Africa, the donor money is not - it`s not large and it`s a place that keeps changing. It`s the source of humanity.
LAMB: This is today, the day we record this, your 62nd birthday and in this book we get a lot of references to growing older and the fact that you were turning 60 in the middle of this book. What`s age mean to you?
THEROUX: Age is, I suppose, something - when you`re young, when you`re 20 or in your late teens, 25 can seem old. When you`re 20, 30 seems old. When you`re 30, 40 seems pretty old and 50 seems like very old. So, it`s this shifting perspective of 60 is the new 40 I`m told. OK, I`ll buy that.
What age means to me is that it`s a fraud, that age means nothing. That`s what it means, nothing, that it`s inside you and it`s your vitality, your intelligence, your sense of creativity, your imagination. Those are the things that count.
So, it`s offensive to be considered old if people are only looking at your face. Of course you think I still got it. I can cut the mustard. I can ride on a truck. I`m not trying to prove anything but don`t think by looking at me that you`re looking at someone that has seen the world and don`t think I can`t do it again.
So, you also - people - young people can say a lot of stupid things and they believe, particularly in Africa, they believe that history started last year or, you know they say things like in a couple of years this could happen, and you do sound like a fogy when you say look for 40 years people have been saying that and it hasn`t happened.
It probably is going to happen in two years, you know. I don`t want to destroy your illusions but it probably isn`t going to happen. Why don`t we try it this way? And, people used to say that to me when I was young and impetuous and now I see what they were driving at.
LAMB: What`s next?
THEROUX: I`m working on a novel at the moment and correcting the proofs of a book that I started. When I was traveling in Africa, I wrote a -- to keep busy I wrote a novella. I thought I`d be -- in Africa I didn`t go out at night. It`s not a good idea. You have to think of yourself as prey and other people as predators. It`s not to demean them in any way but not a good idea to go outside when it`s dark.
Get up early. That`s the thing. At night, I worked on a story and the story grew and grew, and in a way I missed my wife and with so many women fluttering around inevitably the story became erotically charged. So, it`s an erotic novella which will be published in a few months in England and early in January, 2004 here. It`s called "The Stranger at the Palazzo d`Oro."
LAMB: We got to a tiny bit of this 472-page book. It`s called "Dark Star Safari," a lot more in here about our guest`s time as a Peace Corps volunteer and a teacher in Africa, Paul Theroux our guest, again the book "Dark Star Safari." Thank you very much.
THEROUX: Thank you very much, Brian.
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