One thing I like do do before traveling to a new country is read as many books about that place as I can. I have to say there are a lot of really (really) tedious books about climbing Kilimanjaro. I’m begging you–if your trip up Kili was 1. hardly bearable, or, 2. the first time you ever slept in a tent, PLEASE don’t write a book about it. Because the climb & whine narrative has been done. I’m sorry I wasted several hours on books of that nature, and I’m not even going to mention them here.
Instead, let me talk about some books that are really wonderful.
First is a book my friend Kevin Haworth sent me. He’s the Executive Editor of Ohio University Press & Swallow Press, and he has an African Studies Series with a slew of great titles. He and I had discussed the trip and he knew I was looking for some more comprehensive and culturally sensitive books in advance of our trip. This book Race, Revolution, and the Struggle for Human Rights in Zanzibar by G. Thomas Burgess is a perfect fit. I could not put this book down. Burgess completed extensive interviews with Ali Sultan Issa and Seif Sharif Hamad–leaders in opposing parties during the revolution of 1964. Burgess then molded their oral histories into compelling first person narratives. This brought political struggles to a personal level.
Second is the book In the Dust of Kilimanjaro by David Western, who was a British ex-pat raised in Tanganyika (that was the name for Tanzania before the 1964 union with Zanzibar). David grew up hunting wild game with is father. When David was 15, his mother Bea moved the family back to England because David’s father was killed by an elephant and David’s best friend drowned in the Indian ocean. David stayed in England through college, but went back to East Africa as soon as he could, where he devoted his life to the study of ecosystems, conservation advocacy, and wildlife planning.
I was astonished by this biologist’s ability to fully render his personal experience with narration and description while also explaining complex cultural, ecological, and historical concepts in such clear terms. I especially appreciated his descriptions of interactions with the Maasai and with local governments. And though much of the book’s action takes place in Kenya (not Tanzania), the research and programs David discussed gave me great insight into what we will see on our own trip through the Serengeti.
I still have a stack of books to finish, though I doubt I can get to them all in the next two weeks. But I will look forward to seeing them when I get home all in one piece.
Culture, history, and identity : landscapes of inhabitation in the Mount Kilimanjaro area, Tanzania : essays in honour of Paramount Chief Thomas Lenana Mlanga Marealle II (1915-2007) / edited by Timothy A.R. Clack.
Thin ice : unlocking the secrets of climate in the world’s highest mountains / Mark Bowen.
Under Kilimanjaro / by Ernest Hemingway ; edited by Robert W. Lewis and Robert E. Fleming.
Lessons from Mount Kilimanjaro : schooling, community, and gender in East Africa / Amy Stambach.
Gossip, markets, and gender : how dialogue constructs moral value in post-socialist Kilimanjaro / Tuu.
Mount Kilimanjaro : mountain, memory, modernity / edited by François Bart, Milline Jethro Mbonile
Kilimanjaro : a regional history / Ludger Wimmelbücker. v.1