African Hayride
by Margaret Ryan

“I've done it several times before in Africa -- gone to bed in a dark hotel room fighting depression, if not downright hysteria, and then wakened to sunlight and beauty and thoughts of what a fool I had been. Within the first ten minutes of strolling down Main Street toward the water front, I was in love with Zanzibar.”

“Several Tuareg caravans came through those first days carrying salt up north. Usually the caravans arrived in the afternoon. They would unload the camels way off on the sand and then hobble every one before bringing them up to the well, so they wouldn't scatter too far in the night, or take off when it came time to reload them.

“I think camels are terrifically photogenic anyway, with their immense eyelashes, pursed upper lips, and half-stupid, half-supercilious expressions -- but add to that the prissy, mincing step of the hobbled camel as it hastens to water with its hump wriggling and its head bobbing, and you really have a sight.”

- from Margaret G. Ryan's African Hayride

I picked up this book (copyright 1956) at a used book store, and it's an unusual but entertaining piece of work. The author, Margaret Ryan, was a wealthy widow who decided on a lark to visit some diamond mines in the Congo in which she had an interest. So she bought a specially outfitted four-wheel drive Jeep-like Alfa Romeo and set off with her dog and her long time servant Chico (nowadays, we wouldn't call him a servant; we'd call him an "assistant").

They started their trip in Algiers, drove across the Sahara desert by way of Tamanraset, then continued on to Kano, Nigeria, then on down to Stanleyville, across to Luanda, then on to Kampala, Nairobi, and Dar es Salaam. Ryan's attitude towards the trip is summed up by the book's title, but she experienced some serious hardships, and demonstrated remarkable resiliance.

I found this book to be an interesting historical document. Written in the last decade in which the continent was still largely colonized, one gets a vision of an Africa in many respects quite different than it is now. In reading this book it is difficult at times not to be dismayed by the author's lack of sensitivity to the negative aspects of colonialism, and by her lack of interest in making any real connection with the people of Africa. But the book is also an intriguing and entertaining look at the Africa of another age, through the eyes of an unlikely but honest observor.

I expect the only place this book is to be found is at a well stocked library. It's too lightweight for me to rate highly, but it is nonetheless worth seeking out. I give it *** (out of ****).

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