Posts Tagged ‘Southern Sudan’

Michael Asher: In Search of the Forty Days’ Road

June 14, 2013

Two very different reasons got me reading this – firstly, it’s about travel through deserts, specifically in Southern Sudan, and secondly, it’s by someone from my home town, and who went to the same secondary school as I did for a while, though we were separated by a year or two (I never knew him).

Very quickly it became clear that Asher had fallen in love with the desert, and the ways of desert people: he lived and travelled with them, spoke their language and wanted to learn from them – in short, someone in the footsteps, at least, of Thesiger and the like, although I learned, from an interesting article in wikipedia, that Asher would not agree with this. At first, I felt he was romanticising the desert tribes and their way of life in the way that a (relatively) affluent westerner could, in that at any time he could leave, and return home to our way of life, whereas those who came from the desert and lived there could not.

However, there developed a deeper understanding, it seemed to me: he was drawn to explore (illegally at times) territories that were a war zone at the time (late 70s/ early 80s) looking for ancient travel routes across the desert, although ultimately thwarted in that search. He learned as much as he could about camels, in order to know how to buy the most suitable ones for his purposes. And he sought to share all aspects of the life of the desert.

He writes well, and carefully, with an eye to explaining what the uneducated western reader will need to know to understand what he has to say, as well as describing the beauty (as he perceives it, in contrast to those he travels with) of the desert. And he is drawn deeper, to reflect on the inevitable changes that technology and globalisation are having and will have, on these societies, which he refuses to see as ‘primitive’ in our terms, recognising that, although their life seems harsh and basic to us, they have (or had, until recently) all that they needed to live and survive. There are messages for us, here, about the nature of sufficiency, and contentment.

I’m really glad to have come across Michael Asher, and will be moving on to other of his travel writings shortly…

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