Africa · Books · South Africa · Taiwan

Baseball, South Africa, and lions

Last night I did something for the first time ever- watch almost an entire game of baseball and in a bar, nonetheless, with rowdy coworkers and ecstatic Taiwanese. Taiwan (Chinese Taipei) played Japan in their first game of the World Baseball Classic’s second round and it looked like Taiwan would pull out an upset up until late in the game. As against South Korea in the last game of their group stage, Taiwan was unable to hold onto a lead and gave away the game in the end. Japan came back in the eighth inning to tie the game, and then take the lead for good in the tenth inning of extra time. I actually don’t care much for either team, or baseball for that matter, so the end result doesn’t affect me. Taiwan will play Cuba tonight for another chance to move on. It was decent watching the Taiwanese and a few colleagues get so amped up, cheering wildly every time a Taiwan hitter got on base, or pitcher struck out a Japan hitter. On the other hand, people took the loss in stride (with the surprising exception of one coworker), clearing out quickly and silently after they lost. One sour note is I got conned by the bar, though I forced them to remedy it. I’m still a little upset about this so I will write about it later.

Michela Wrong is the author of one of my favorite books- I Didn’t Do It For You, about the African nation of Eritrea that won its independence from Ethiopia after a bitter war against the odds, and then proceeded to become one of the world’s more oppressive, authoritarian societies. Wrong also wrote two other intense, hardhitting books on Africa- one, which I also read, about the violence in the Dem. Rep. of Congo (that giant country in the middle of Africa that has suffered millions of casualties from wars, violence, and disease) and the most recent about high-level government corruption in Kenya.

I was surprised to chance upon her latest article in Conde Nast Traveler. What the hell was this former war and investigative journalist doing in the pages of a luxury travel mag, I thought, presumably writing about high-class traveling and dining. Then again everyone has to make a living, I thought. Yet I read her article and it turns out I was wrong because this if far from a puff piece. She wrote a fine article about South Africa, examining the social and racial divisions in post-Apartheid South Africa by traveling to the three main cities to see how the new rich (wealthy blacks) live. She visits expensive restaurants and hip upscale bars, but in the process highlighting social and political issues and whether South Africa is truly moving forward. This is a very good read, and a great example of a feature travel story that blends the fresh knowledge and thrill of new destinations in travel writing with serious social and political commentary. I wish more travel magazines (and other kinds) can feature these kind of articles.

I’d never realized humans could freely be around and interact with lions without any weapons or protection until I read Born Wild and saw the many photos of the author caressing, playing with, and hanging around adult lions in Africa as if they were household pets. Tony Fitzjohn spent most of his adult life running two wildlife centers in Kenya and Tanzania, where he raised and looked after lions, leopards, rhinos, wild dogs, and even an elephant and a tiny serval cat. As a young man, Fitzjohn came to Kenya from England and found his way to Kora to work for George Adamson and his lions. Adamson became famous after his life was portrayed in the 1960s movie Born Free. What is remarkable is that these men looked after lions without any protection, freely walking around and playing with them whilst helping them grow up and reintegrate into the wild. Life isn’t a bed of roses, with bureaucratic obstacles, bandits (shifta) and poachers, the constant search for funding, and logistical problems. Also, despite their remarkable interaction with their lions, risk is still there, as Fitzjohn learns when he was attacked by a lion who he had helped raise. He survived this when another lion came to his rescue, though not before having his shoulder and neck bitten through. Yet it would not be an animal that causes Adamson’s death, but human poachers. There is also a startlingly high number of acquaintances of Fitzjohn’s who would be murdered by bandits, poachers, or sabotage, which illustrates how dangerous Kenya could be, despite its status as a safari paradise.

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