Africa is a Latin Name
By Fred Owens
Africa is a Latin name. Africa was the name of a province in the Roman Empire, an area that is now called Tunisia. Likewise Asia is a Greek word. Asia is the name of a province in the Roman Empire, an area that is now called Turkey.
Australia is Latin too, and America is really Italian -- the entire Western Hemisphere is named after a not-well-known Italian Navigator, Amerigo Vespucci.
So the Italians got naming rights for the whole world. Well, that doesn't bother me. Take Marco Polo, he didn't really discover China, but he did find out about noodles. "What shall we call them?" Marco Polo asked. But still nothing happened until the Spanish Conquistadores found out about tomatoes growing in the New World. Brought the tomatoes back to Italy. Combined them with the noodles that Marco Polo brought from China, and what do you have --- Pasta. And realize this, until the noodles from China and the tomatoes from the New World were combined by Italian cooks, there was no pasta in all of human history. That's why we call it progress and that's why we believe that discovery, adventure and exploration can lead to better things.
I discovered Africa in 1997. The very first minute that I got off the plane in Capetown I realized that it was a very old country, and the New World is correctly named, because it is new. America is much newer than Africa. You just look at the stones at your feet anywhere in Africa and you can see how old they are.
Precious and I visited a cave in Matopos Park near Bulawayo. Former inhabitants, many thousands of years ago, had painted hunting scenes with men carrying spears in search of antelopes. So, this is funny in a cosmic way, a Rhodesian farmer in the late 1890s came upon these cave paintings that had lasted for thousands of years, and decided, with the best of intentions, that what they needed was a good coat of varnish, which he did apply -- coated those ancient drawings with varnish, and thus ruining them. You cannot get any dumber. The dude was trying to help. That illustrates the downside of discovery as it devolved into tourism. So in Egypt some Turkish soldier fired a cannonball at the Sphinx and blew off his nose. Sic transit gloria.
But the Sphinx without his nose adds to the mystery. Because you need to imagine what he really looked like. The Sphinx is the gateway to Africa and his expression to a white man like me is blank. Precious had a look like that, about a thousand years deep. I used to call her Queen Nefertiti. "Who is this Queen Nefertiti, is she your queen?" she asked. "She is my queen and she is you," I told her. "So bring me a beer," she said, "because you must do what I tell you."
Masr is how the Egyptians name their country. Mitzrayim is how the Israelis name it, and that is quite nearly like Masr and that name goes back to the origins of the Bible, some 3,000 years ago. The Book of Exodus is what put Egypt on the map. Egypt was a bad place and you wanted more than anything to just get out of there. Thank God, we are no longer slaves in Egypt. I appreciate that sentiment but if you take Egypt as the gateway to the continent of Africa, it kind of puts a slur on things. Egypt is probably not such a bad place.
You can look on a map and understand the dream of the British colonials, to conquer and subdue all of Africa, from Capetown to Cairo. Let's look that up. Wow, it's 10,300 miles from one end to the other That's huge. Up the Nile, across the Great Lakes region, down through Malawi, down to Zimbabwe, then Botswana, across the fearful Kalahari Desert, and then Capetown at last. All where the first humans walked the earth. All where civilization began. And the place we call Africa doesn't get too much respect for that.
They had a lot of nerve, those British, dreaming of a railroad across the continent. I don't hate the colonial regime that preceded my coming to Africa. Our House on Shottery Crescent was built by the British colonizers --- called Rhodesians. It was built for the white people who managed the Zimbabwe Railway. Built strong, built to last a hundred years or more, and reserved for white people, until 1980 when the white people were shown the door. And they left, but they left behind the railroad, the highway and the house we lived in. It was a beautiful strong home, so how could I hate the people who built it? "Precious, do you hate the British people who lived here?" I asked. "No, I don't hate anybody," she said. "But they all left after Mugabe took power. Are you glad they left?" "Yes, but I don't hate them." "But what about me. I'm white. you don't hate me, do you?" "No, I don't hate you. People do what they do."
The only white people left on Shottery Crescent, besides me, were Bill and Mary Collier. He was a tough old bastard and so was she. They had a generous contempt for native culture and made no bones about it. Their swimming pool was empty except for a puddle of rusty, muddy water at the bottom. Mary grew nursery plants for sale and made a few dollars. Bill sat in front of the TV and drank gin. You'd think the new African authorities would throw out the Colliers and send them packing. But they were left cawing and crowing, powerless now, penny-pinched, but still wild. I disapproved of their attitude, so why was I in their living room drinking their gin? Precious would never go over there. Maybe that's why I went there, to get away from her, to get out of Africa for a while, to knock back the spell of Queen Nefertiti.
Precious was too strong for me. She had the power of 500 million African woman, going back many tens of thousands of years. She built the pyramids and crossed the Sahara. She swam with crocodiles ..... hold it, hold it, my imagination is getting away from me. Precious did not know how to swim. Like many Africans she was afraid of the water, for good reason -- crocodiles. Nothing romantic about crocodiles in the local swimming hole. you just don't go.
Or take elephants, please. Nothing funny about elephants if you own a farm near to Hwange National Park. What can you do if an elephant leaves the park and decided to wander across your field of corn? Elephants can walk through any fence. They trample your corn. You can't stop them and you don't love them. But you can kill them and eat them. Nature's balance. Nowadays, under the best circumstances, programs exist that compensate the farmer for the damage done -- better than killing the elephant. Progress.
So am I going to reform Precious, be Prof. Higgins to her Liza Doolittle? No. My plan was to stay out of her way. I went to Africa in search of a trophy wife. No, I did not, but who is going to believe me? People will see her and see me and think whatever they want to think in America, if we ever go there.
I was trying not to think about that. Except my daughter came to visit during her summer vacation form Oberlin College in Ohio. Because I missed her, hadn't seen her since Christmas, and she missed me. A nice reminder that I still had family obligations. I had earned an extended break, having gotten Eva and Eugene both landed in good colleges.
But there was Eva at our front door with her backpack (actually we met her getting off the plane) meeting Precious for the first time. Precious was too pretty, too young and in bare feet. I don't know what Eva was thinking. I don't know what Precious was thinking. They started talking to each other, probably negotiating a truce. Eva stayed for three weeks. She had been an outspoken opponent of the previous woman in my life, and she was right about Nira. Nira was simply not going to work. Eva knew it and I knew it. But Queen Nefertiti in the African-beautiful-barefoot flesh was another story. It was not approval from Eva, it was that things were beyond her 18 years and we were going over the waterfall.
Which we did. I rented a car, and we piled in, the three of us, to Victoria Falls, a day's drive. To see the falls of course, but the test was the wild rafting excursion down the Zambezi River at the foot of the falls. Continuous Grade Five Rapids, one of the toughest rides in the world of commercial rafting. We held on for dear life. Eva fell out of the raft. They fished her out. Precious was fearless. Afterwards I asked Precious if she would do it again. "Yes, I like it," she answered. And then it occurred to me, because I knew she couldn't swim, to ask this question. "Have you ever been in a boat before?" "No," she answered.
"That was your first boat ride. Force Five Rapids. The roaring Zambezi River. Were you afraid?"
"Yes, I was a little afraid, but I remembered what Mr. Mataka said. You only die once."
Note. Does Eva get a good introduction here? I don't even describe how she looks. But she is my daughter and to me she looks like the morning sunshine. And how do I feel about my daughter? Ask me how do I feel about being alive.