Sihle Khumalo delighted his audience with his dry sense of humour at the launch of his second travelogue, Heart of Africa, at the Melrose Arch Exclusive Books last week. The event doubled as The Citizen newspaper’s first Citivibe book club do of the year, and CitiVibe editor Bruce Dennill was on hand to welcome guests and introduce the author.
Khumalo took centre stage as he quietly shared the joys of travelling in Africa – particularly in Uganda and Rwanda. Saying he grew up wanting to “have each leg in a different hemisphere”, he was thrilled to find an actual white line demarcating the equator in Uganda where he could do exactly that. Khumalo shared the story of trying to travel by ferry from Mpulungu in Zambia to Kigoma in Tanzania. The ferry’s day of departure kept changing, partly courtesy of it being unexpectedly hired by the UN to move refugees. First it was leaving on a Friday, maybe Saturday, and then Monday – possibly. Noting that the best way to travel in Africa is without planning or expectation, he laughingly told how he diligently went to the authorities to report that his visa would run out while he waited for the elusive ferry. The immigration officials were unruffled about it and told him to return to them once it had expired. Khumalo took it all in stride and all was resolved on the Monday. The ferry arrived on Tuesday.
Khumalo also related the dubious joys of accommodation in Africa – including a room with low walls allowing for some sharing of his neighbours’ more intimate moments. Also, a stay above a night club where Lucky Dube’s Remember Me was played again and again – welcome at first but perhaps a little too much at two in the morning.
One of the highlights of this trip around Central Africa was a night in a pub perched 30 metres above the river Nile with a thousand stars in the sky above him. He remembered thinking, “Wow! No amount of money can buy this!”. Another highlight was his third bungee jump in Jinja, Uganda (also above the Nile) with bare feet feeling “the breeze through my toes”.
One of the saddest moments of his trip was visiting the Kigali Memorial Centre in Rwanda. He realised that the Rwandan genocide could have been prevented and that the response could have been “far more swift”. However, he found the country itself beautiful and definitely recommends that other travellers put Rwanda on their itinerary. He said, “It truly is the land of a thousand hills”.
Guests were treated to a Q&A session: asking about his travel budget ($60 a day should do it); paying bribes in Africa (most of the time he didn’t have to pay officials); the idea of a “United States of Africa” (maybe in the long term but definitely not now); women in Africa (beautiful!); and whether he felt conspicuous while travelling (“No, after all I am a brother!”).
Saying his journey through the heart of Africa was not about getting to destinations but about exploring, he told how a security guard he met said that he was not in South Africa, that he was in the “real Africa” now.
Enthusiastic fans can probably look forward to a third book in Khumalo’s Africa series, as the author plans to travel to the continent’s northwest sometime in the near future – time, and his wife, permitting of course!
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