Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The doctor who read Chinua Achebe

Originally from: José Naranjo | 04 de noviembre de 2013 in http://blogs.elpais.com/africa-no-es-un-pais/2013/11/el-m%C3%A9dico-que-le%C3%ADa-a-chinua-achebe.html

Translated By: MªRosa Pérez Herrero

Elmina Castle, cannon and Cesar Perez

Can you imagine a trip carrying only a rucksack with you, departing from South Africa, passing through Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia to then jump to Senegal and continue travelling through Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Nigeria and beyond? A trip in which  you meet hundreds of people, you discover incredible cultures and enjoy the best (and also the worst) of Africa? Well, stop imagining because I am going to introduce you to César Pérez, the doctor from Burgos, who fell in love with African Literature and started his romance with this continent, from where all good love stories should begin, form the passion of discovering it life, without intermediaries.

But let’s start from the beginning. As he says, “I was born in a cold 18th Decemebr, in 1980”. After studying Medicine in the Complutense University of Madrid and specialising as a Family Doctor, he started off working in the Guayaba Healthcare Centre. Always restless, he got involved in the movement “Yosí Sanidad Universal”, where he attempted to promote health care attention for illegal immigrants, against the Government measures. But Cesar, a literature lover, found the time he did not have to study a Masters in Comparative Literature at the Complutense University of Madrid. An avid reader of African writers such as Chinua Achebe, “the great pioneer” as he calls him, Ben Okri or Mia Couto, his favourites – the idea of travelling to Africa as soon as he finished his specialisation haunted him. “I was fascinated by this continent, its traditional culture and I wanted to travel without a fixed return date”. My previous big trip, when I graduated, was to India. I loved it, but I missed a lot not having a return ticket. So, the idea was born then”.

I met him in Bamako, at halfway of his trip. A common friend who lives in Senegal wrote me one day and told me that César was arriving that week, and that I should be his Cicerone. We went to have a beer and a brochette sandwich at Zira, a place located in the Hippodrome quarter. And he started telling me. And I couldn’t stop listening to him. “What is the best thing that has happened to you?”, I asked him. “Everything”, he said, “from the saxophonist from Cape Town, who from the first day invites you to a barbeque at his house, watching the whales congregating in the South tip of the continent, a hippopotamus that calmly enters in your hostel by the edge of Okavango Delta, a leap into the void  at the Victoria Waterfalls, to swim with dolphins in Mozambique after leaving behind the street painter who has hosted you at his house, see the lions in their infinite space of the Serengetti, scape from a delicate situation surrounded by masais carrying machetes - thanks to friends, as always – sleep in the same bed as a tutsi soldier from the ones who freed the city during the Rwanda genocide, being offered to do industrial espionage…or that a pharingytis turns into an adventure in the middle of the tribes of South  Ethiopia, without electricity, no network, where the children ran away scared when I took off my t-shirt because they had never seen a white man with hair on his chest”.

And he kept talking and talking. “And the change in West Africa, with the sensuality of its warm sand that cuddles your feet, your hands that get together in the big bowl of shared food and the sun and the gods who seem to bless you in a ritual bath at the Sacred Baobab…Mali, with its mysterious mask dance in the Dogon country and the fascinating history about its three empires, where I had the privilege to be the first tourist reaching Gao since 2009. And after the visa nightmare  in Burkina Faso and Benin, discover the day-to-day existence of the voodoo in Ouida or Togoville with the children jumping among the  statues of the gods and the orange seller lady telling me in between the roots-roped trees that she is still awaiting for that song that never comes…And all the writers that have opened me the doors of their homes and the soul of this mysterious and beloved continent that hits you and embraces you in equal measure. That moves you inside and makes you think, like Itxaso, a Basque Masai, who I met in Tanzania, What will happened to me when I am far from Africa’s immensity...? 

He speaks about writers because his trip is not only for pleasure. Hi is idea is to get/make contacts at universities and interview different authors, wherever he goes, for a future thesis of African literature on magic realism. In his blog, Lolyplanet, César writes the diary of his trip, he uploads short videos where he shows, from an Ashanti party in Koumasi (Ghana) to the Djingarayrber mosque in Tombuctu (North of Mali). His log book, which gets closer with curiosity and enormous respect to the dozens of cultures that César has the occasion to share, also compiles some negative experiences, like the one in which he was assaulted at the beach and they tried to rape his companion. However, except for this tough experience, in his opinion “the most difficult thing has been to learn how to manage the difference that Africans and Westerners have in dealing with money”.

According to César, “the feeling that anyone might be nice to you because he thinks that you will give him some money in the end, even if it is not only for that reason, it is very unpleasant. Above all, when the best thing they have is their genuine and legendary hospitality. We are more “Cartesian”, either I do it out of friendship and it is completely free or it is a business and we set the price beforehand. They are more flexible or relativistic, as you are my friend I only hope that you give me a little bit of money; but they even give money to their grandmother when they go to visit her and if they don’t have, they don’t go. In West Africa, mainly in Senegal, this is mixed with that beautiful culture of sharing that they have. It is the country where I have seen most clearly that anyone can enter someone’s house and eat from the common bowl from which all the family eats. But they expect you to do the same, and since you are white and you are supposed to be rich, in theory you have to contribute with more”.

 He travels just with what he needs. He tries to spend as less as possible , he stays in cheap accommodations or with people he has previously contacted through couchsurfing.  He has a good conversation, excellent I would say, and a terrible taste when it comes to choose a shirt. He will go back to Spain soon, but in his small backpack he will bring many wonderful sensations and memories from this trip that will leave a trace for his entire life. Sharing with him a small stretch of his amazing experience was a real pleasure. Sharing with you the adventures of César - the doctor from Burgos who read Chinua Achebe – means opening you the door to an extraordinary trip. Take a look to his blog, and see it with your own eyes.

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