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Great African Reads: Authors > Dan Morrison: The Black Nile

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message 1: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Hi all, Dan's book has been published! I am about to start reading it. I've also discovered that he is participating in an Author Q&A at Green Group which may be very interesting for many of you. It's a public group, so anyone can visit or join if they wish to leave comments.


message 2: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 660 comments It came into the bookstore where I work and was immediately snatched up by a customer, so I didn't even get to see it. We're supposed to have another copy coming in tomorrow.


message 3: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Tell that customer to join our group! :D


message 4: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 543 comments I actually just picked this book up from the library. I heard about it from my libray's weekly list of new acquisitions and since I love travel/adventure books that also looks into the culture/history of the area.
I read the first chapter when I picked the book up (habit I have with all books) and was interested in reading the rest of the book.
Not sure when I will get to it, but hope I do not have to return to the library unread.


message 5: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
I started it this morning and found his style moves really nicely. i think if you can squeeze it in, it won't take you long to read and then you can return it to the library not unread! :D

i am laughing at myself because i just finished Blood River: A Journey to Africa's Broken Heartabout his journey down the Congo River. What river should I choose next?


message 6: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 543 comments I so loved Blood River and thought this was one of the best books that spoke to the area and the history of the area and how it relates to the events of the today.


message 7: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 660 comments If you like river journeys Kayaks down the Nileis a "don't miss." I don't know if Dan has read it, but it's a journey similar to his, except three guys and done in the 50's I think. It was one of my favorite books as a kid.


message 8: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Andrea wrote: "If you like river journeys Kayaks down the Nileis a "don't miss." I don't know if Dan has read it, but it's a journey similar to his, except three guys and done in the 50's I think. ..."

that book looks awesome. i think it will make a nice trilogy alongside The Other Nile: Journeys in Egypt, the Sudan, and Ethiopia and Dan's book. i'll have to try to get that from work on monday. as if i don't have enough books checked out right now...


message 9: by Muphyn (new)

Muphyn | 816 comments Hey all, I just came across this interview with Dan posted on the GR website.


message 10: by Muphyn (new)

Muphyn | 816 comments Marieke wrote: "I started it this morning and found his style moves really nicely. i think if you can squeeze it in, it won't take you long to read and then you can return it to the library not unread! :D

i am la..."


You can be our river journey expert! ;)


message 11: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
River Journey Expert. hrrrmmm...should i change my title from "Chief Chatterbox?"
i did use to canoe on the shenandoah when i was young and fearless. i don't like leeches much, though. i think i would be terrified of the Nile and the Congo.


message 12: by Muphyn (new)

Muphyn | 816 comments Marieke wrote: "River Journey Expert. hrrrmmm...should i change my title from "Chief Chatterbox?"
i did use to canoe on the shenandoah when i was young and fearless. i don't like leeches much, though. i think i wo..."


*Laugh* What are you now, old and fearful? Nuh, keep your wonderful title "Chief Chatterbox", suits you too well. :)


message 13: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Yes! Old and fearful. We went canoeing, sort of, in a little inlet by the Chesapeake bay last year and I refused to paddle out to the bay because the wind was making the waves kind of choppy and I had this irrational fear that we would get caught in a channel and be swept out to sea hahaha...

So Dan, I'm just at the beginning of your book and you've mentioned a couple of your fears as you hammer out the details of how you intended to get to the Sudan...did anything that actually happened to you along the way match or exceed any of your pre-journey fears?


message 14: by Muphyn (new)

Muphyn | 816 comments Marieke wrote: "... So Dan, I'm just at the beginning of your book and you've mentioned a couple of your fears..."

I think you should just read the book - Dan's not going to tell you before you've read it! Don't be so impatient... ;)


message 15: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Are you sure he won't tell me? Perhaps. But I am reading reading reading and he and his friend have embarked. My favorite quote so far having to do with fear is, "my wife will be angry when I'm dead."

Muphyn, is this book available in Australia yet?


message 16: by Muphyn (new)

Muphyn | 816 comments Yep, it is out here too but only as hardcover and eBook. Might check out my local library and see whether they've got too.

Hehe, maybe if you say "please", he'll share some of what's going to happen!! ;)


message 17: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 660 comments I've started the book and am really enjoying it. And Dan isn't paying me anything to say this, I swear. But maybe if he did, I could say more:).


message 18: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
I'm really enjoying it too...i'm about half-way through.

dan, i'm really curious how you kept notes throughout your trip. how did you manage to take notes sufficiently to reconstruct conversations and impressions so clearly? do you have a special short hand?

so those are my questions so far without having finished the book: how did the scariness of actual events compare to the fears you had before you left on your journey? and how did you manage to keep track of things so you could write about them later? i'm blanking at the moment--did you take a laptop with you?


message 19: by Dan (new)

Dan (danmorrison) | 21 comments So: fear.

My fears at the outset of the journey were mostly abstract. The moments of actual mortal fear, when they did arrive, were quite concrete.

There was also a different kind of fear - maybe it's more appropriate to call it deep anxiety - and this was of getting hung up by police or border guards in a manner that would result in my being deported. I never thought the cops would put me in a secret hole; I worried I would be punched around and kicked out, and that I would fail to complete the journey.

And then there was my bullet-sweating concern that harm would come to my friend and traveling companion, Schon. I felt keenly responsible for him, despite his knowing of the dangers involved with rough travel in distant lands.

Best/Dan Morrison


message 20: by Dan (new)

Dan (danmorrison) | 21 comments Marieke asked about note-taking, and this was an important part of the journey.

I filled more than a dozen notebooks during those six months along the Nile - narrow-ruled reporter's pads; Moleskine journals; and locally-bought spirals.

The quantity and quality of my notes varied -- some days I was too tired to take notes, and there was a sense of accumulating exhaustion as I made my way from Renk to Khartoum to Wadi Halfa in the blastfurnace heat of the Sudanese summer. Your senses get dulled and you promise you'll remember things or catch up on the notes later. There's no telling what nuggets I lost in this sleepyheaded cloud. (It's also one of the downsides of traveling on the cheap. Sometimes nothing restores a man like a big, expensive, insanely air-conditioned hotel.)

At the same time, once you're back home, you have to discard most of what you have written down. The book is a narrative, not a journal, and a lot of good or interesting stuff simply can't or won't fit.

Not counting reference books and histories of the region, I had two other crutches when writing The Black Nile: Thousands of film and digital photographs (two dozen of which are in the book, including the cover image), and the notebooks of my friend Schon Bryan, which provided a different and sometimes very helpful perspective of events we had both experienced.

DM


message 21: by Dan (new)

Dan (danmorrison) | 21 comments Oh, and regarding shorthand: I had the rare distinction during my years as a newspaperman of being the slowest note-taker in the New York press corps. The fault lay in the mechanical drawing classes I took in high school. Draftsmen write using all capital letters, and once the course was finished I found I could no longer produce cursive script. Since then my notes have been a Mach 5 scrawl of slanted and broken capital letters, legible to no one by myself. DM


message 22: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Dan wrote: "Oh, and regarding shorthand: I had the rare distinction during my years as a newspaperman of being the slowest note-taker in the New York press corps. The fault lay in the mechanical drawing classe..."

that is pretty awesome. i used to make up codes for myself as a kid. i was a big harriet the spy fan and even made sure i could write with the wrong hand just in case i broke the right one. i think it's a critical skill for you if you are going to travel in war-torn places with suspicious armed people running around to have illegible notebooks. or...on second thought, maybe that's a dangerous thing? did you ever have any problems with guards and the like wanting to have a look-see in all those notebooks?


message 23: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Beverly wrote: "I so loved Blood River and thought this was one of the best books that spoke to the area and the history of the area and how it relates to the events of the today."

i can't stop thinking about blood river. i brought it home from work and now it's back in my office but i think i have to get my own copy. there were things i didn't like about it so i didn't give it five stars. however, it's really staying with me, so i might amend that rating.

and i keep thinking about tim butcher while i read about dan. especially when it comes to the out-of-date/inaccurate maps...sorry to bombard you with questions, dan, but i am really curious about your map. did you choose that one for a specific reason? was it the only one that existed that was available?


message 24: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Dan wrote: "Marieke asked about note-taking, and this was an important part of the journey.

I filled more than a dozen notebooks during those six months along the Nile - narrow-ruled reporter's pads; Moleski..."


oh yes, i have been wondering what might become of Schon's writing. by the way, how do you pronounce his name? i speak german so i keep pronouncing it like the german word "schon." and then i think that is maybe not right so i say to myself "shawn/sean." but then i think maybe it's "shone." btw, does he want to join this discussion?


message 25: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 660 comments I really liked Schon's comments about why things were as they were. He expresses that deep frustration that I think a lot of people feel when they encounter Africa firsthand for the first time. "Why do they do things like this? Why can't they get it together?" It might not be charitable or tactful, but lots of people feel that way. Have the two of you talked about things since then? Did you find Schon's voice a way to bring in a different perspective?


message 26: by Dan (new)

Dan (danmorrison) | 21 comments Despite the Germanic spelling (a long story, better told by him), Schon's name is pronounced Sean/Shawn.

Schon's observations have the potential to rub some readers the wrong way, but they were honest and unfiltered and I made a point of keeping them that way. It's also true that his perspective had changed or matured by the time his journey ended. (See Chapter Five.)

In general it's very difficult to avoid a judgmental gaze when looking at or visiting other cultures. In a recent Green Group Q & A, someone mentioned the terrible food hygiene in Egypt and I eagerly agreed that one can't be too careful when dining there. That same day the nationwide egg recall in the United States was widened to include half a billion salmonella-tainted eggs.

DM

Schon co-authored an article with me about Lake Victoria that appeared in National Geographic News in 2007. He has yet to debut his more expository writings on the journey.


message 27: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
okay, good; now i can continue to read Schon's name with confidence that i am pronouncing it correctly. ironic that my own name is problematic! for anyone wondering, my name is correctly pronounced basically like ma-ree-ka. if you are a non-English speaker, you can say the r however you wish. when i'm among europeans, i used a german/french r. when i'm among arabs, i use the r at the front of the mouth even though arabic has a french-ish r sound as well.

i agree with andrea; i really enjoyed Schon's honesty with his feelings and reactions. and that deep frustration is difficult to express. i did not find him off-putting; i think his reactions showed his humanity and concern for others rather than being some form of arrogance. and it IS hard to avoid being judgmental.

anyway, i liked the juxtaposition of the first-time traveler alongside the very experienced traveler. i felt a little sad for you, dan, when he had to return home, but at the same time i could feel the relief of only being responsible for yourself from that point onward.


message 28: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Dan wrote: In a recent Green Group Q & A, someone mentioned the terrible food hygiene in Egypt and I eagerly agreed that one can't be too careful when dining there.

ha! i think that was me. i'd been warned by arab and non-arab friends alike about the situation in egypt. i think there are dangers anywhere, even the U.S., of course (i'm not a big fan of dining out; Kitchen Nightmares is NOT a good show for me to watch!!); but for some reason Egypt is exceptional in this regard. however, as i learned, with caution you will be fine. and i was. and you don't have to be as insane as the guidebooks warn you! it's fine to brush your teeth with the water in Egypt. at least i did that and had no problems.


message 29: by Dan (new)

Dan (danmorrison) | 21 comments The place is a real conundrum. For example, the watermelons. It's so hot in the summer, and the watermelons are so red, so inviting. But more than one person warned me not to eat them. Why? Because they're sold by weight. Which means vendors will inject ditch water into the melons make them heavier. I remember my shock after taking a half-hour flight from Cairo to Istanbul and realizing I could eat anything I wanted. Even watermelon.


message 30: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 660 comments Off topic, but my kids have never had food poisoning in Kenya, but my son and my daughter each got it from KLM food on the way there, on separate occasions. Airline food is probably some of the most dangerous around:).


message 31: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
That watermelon story is really awful!! Wow.

I'll have to check but I don't think my dad and his wife had trouble in Kenya and they used to tell me about the best street food that they would get.

But back to Egypt--I fell in love with Alexandria and would have Cairo if we had had more time... despite a few unpleasant moments and deep food anxiety.


message 32: by Manu (new)

Manu (manuherb) | 165 comments Until someone produces supporting scientific evidence I shall continue to believe that that watermelon story has more to say about the prejudices of its propagators than about tropical health hazards. I first heard it from an American student guest who declined to share the watermelon we have for breakfast most days. He was convinced that there was cholera lurking in the red flesh.


message 33: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Manu wrote: "Until someone produces supporting scientific evidence I shall continue to believe that that watermelon story has more to say about the prejudices of its propagators than about tropical health hazar..."

such evidence would indeed be interesting to see. i'm not a scientist, but i am doubtful that cholera spreads through food, unlike e. coli. Unfortunately in recent years the U.S. has had some really nasty outbreaks of things like e. coli in produce, not just meat; this may have been part of your guest's wariness. I think the situation of food insecurity in the U.S. also explains a lot of Americans' extreme caution while traveling. Has anyone seen Food, Inc.?


message 34: by Muphyn (new)

Muphyn | 816 comments I have just bought my copy, so hopefully I'll be able to join in soooooon!


message 35: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Muphyn wrote: "I have just bought my copy, so hopefully I'll be able to join in soooooon!"

you better finish this book, Muphyn! lol...it reads well and swiftly so i think you'll have it done in no time.


message 36: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Dan, I'm curious about your arabic-language training...i saw in an interview that you are quite modest about your capabilities, which in my experience studying arabic and meeting others that do, means you are much more capable than you let on. but that's not really my question...when did you start learning arabic and have you focused on colloquial egyptian or do you read arabic as well? any time i notice a western journalist operating in a local language, or making a sincere effort to, especially one as difficult as arabic, i know i can trust their reports that much more. off the top of my head i can only think of one other who has made a strong effort (there are probably more) and that is lawrence wright. anthony shadid already speaks arabic, so he doesn't count! :D


message 37: by Dan (new)

Dan (danmorrison) | 21 comments I have to tell you, when I describe my Arabic skills as lousy I am being 100 percent honest. The little foundation I had came from studying Modern Standard using the (excellent) Rosetta Stone system, and I picked up a little Egyptian colloquial on the ground. I also tried to get a sense of Juba Arabic from a great dictionary of that dialect, but the effort failed. I think if you can picture a tourist from Shanghai wandering through Times Square asking for directions you would come close to approximating most of my Arabic language interactions.

There were of course moments when everything unexpectedly clicked and my limited vocabulary rose to the challenge of a real human conversation or a less-than-simple transaction, and those felt great. But I couldn't sustain it.

There are a lot of Western reporters in Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq and the Gulf states who speak fluent Arabic. Off the top of my head I can name Paul Schemm of the Associated Press, Hannah Allam of McClatchy (one of the best journalists of my generation), the great Maria Golia, who writes for the Times Literary Supplement and the New Internationalist, Borzou Daragahi of the LA Times, and Ursula Lindsay, who contributes to the National, a Dubai-based newspaper.

It's also true that language skills alone often aren't sufficient -- you need local context, local geography, local connections. Top-flight Arabic isn't going to get you very far walking alone into a village in eastern Lebanon, Upper Egypt, or southern Iraq. A foreign newsperson will still need a local guide. That would apply to an Egyptian reporting from the Bekka Valley as much as it would a Canadian reporting from the Bekka Valley.

Best/DM

Here's Maria Golia's book Cairo: City of Sand. The Black Nile opens with a quote taken from City of Sand.

Cairo City of Sand (Reaktion Books - Topographics) by Maria Golia


message 38: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
wow okay so before your book, i was unaware of or totally forgot about Maria Golia so i'm pretty excited to read hers. especially since i was in Cairo not too long ago.

also i was totally unaware, or i completely forgot, that paul schemm speaks Arabic. The others are new to me, which means i need to expand my journalistic horizons. but i can't tell you how many times i've read things from so-called top-flight analysts who even used to be involved with government agencies who do not speak arabic at any functional level and i am consistently appalled at the lack of arabic sources in their footnotes. i won't name names, but it really bugs me. this is a problem among americans; i don't see this problem so much among european analysts.

ANYWAY, thanks a ton for the pointers on people to pay attention to. and i completely agree that local context is vital and goes hand in hand with language skills. and if i myself were doing such work, i would definitely want a translator/guide/companion even if my own language skills were near-fluent (which they are not).

if it makes you feel any better, i can only function in MSA and when i was in Egypt, that was a source of great amusement because pretty much *nobody* speaks it. and when i tried to speak "colloquial", the colloquial i had been exposed to, and that i was trying to use, was really dated. i was basically speaking their grandparents' colloquial... "pray tell! Would you be so kind as to direct me to Montaza?"

AND THEN i also got stuck trying to cross the busy road next to Alexandria's corniche and a kind egyptian man on the other side, who of course wanted to marry me, indicated he would come help me get across. as he approached me i told him that i was scary when i meant scared. amusingly, the fact that i was scary did not deter him from wanting to marry me. but he was a kind man and did not harass me and really did just accompany me through the traffic and wished me well when we got to the other side.


message 39: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 660 comments Maybe "scary" sounded intriguing? I was once getting help in learning Swahili and Kalenjin from my husband's elderly uncle. One day, I forgot to bring him a fish he requested from the "big" market in town. The next day, the whole lesson was on conjugating the verb "to forget" as in "She forgot the fish. She is forgetting the fish. Yesterday she forgot the fish. Today she forgets the fish." And of course, negating as in, "We have no fish. Yesterday we had not fish. Today we have not fish." lol.


message 40: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
and i bet you never forgot how to conjugate "forget," eh?

today i'm wearing a bright yellow cardigan that has earned me the nickname "seyyida mouza," which is basically "miss banana." mouza is like banana or banana-colored. i bantered with my colleague who is a native arabic-speaker and he thought i said ma'aza instead of mouza. i got really nervous because i thought maybe i had said something really bad or inappropriate. so he had me google it in arabic so i could see what ma'aza means. hopefully that link works.


message 41: by Dan (new)

Dan (danmorrison) | 21 comments Dear Bananas:

A new review out, this one in Sundays's Los Angeles Times. I'm usually wary of reviews that include words like "dialectic" and references to Socrates, but in the end it looks like the author really liked The Black Nile.

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/...


message 42: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 660 comments I thought it was interesting that on entering Sudan, you note that some of the "familiarities" associated with British colonialism make it a little easier when travelling in other parts of East Africa, but aren't present in Sudan. Did you find this was true for social customs as well as infrastructure? Or were you mainly referring to roads, electricity etc.?


message 43: by Dan (new)

Dan (danmorrison) | 21 comments Heythere Andrea:

It was definitely a social thing. Southern Sudan, owing both to its underdevelopment during the colonial and post-colonial eras and the staggering privations of the civil war, had almost none of the English-speaking elites and middle class that are in easy evidence in other Commonwealth countries. The local shopkeepers, professors, bureaucrats and managers that a newcomer might expect to easily fall in step with were few and far between.

Missionaries were banned from southern Sudan after independence and the English-medium schools they operated were suppressed in favor of Arabic-language schools and Islamic religious instruction. Sudan was to have one identity, and it would be a Muslim one.

This policy had disastrous results for the entire country in terms of lives lost and trauma gained and coffers drained to warfare. It also made the social landscape distinctly unfamiliar when I first arrived in Juba.

I may be returning to Juba in January for the southern referendum on whether to secede from Sudan. It will be interesting to see how the town has changed, and how my impressions of it may have matured.

Best/DM


message 44: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Do you think you'll read The Other Nile: Journeys in Egypt, The Sudan and Ethiopia anytime soon, Dan? i'm dying to know what you think of his descriptions of Juba...it's been awhile since i read the book but i'm *positive* he spent some time there. if i'm mistaken, advance apologies!

wow re: referendum in January--do you plan to report from there or write about it afterward? i'm sure you have seen it already, but maybe others are interested, but crisis group just published a report about the north-south border. if that link doesn't work, let me know...


message 45: by Dan (new)

Dan (danmorrison) | 21 comments Heythere -- I'm afraid I won't get to "The Other Nile" before October. I'm on the road now and doing events for much of next week in NYC and Washington.

With luck I will do some on-the-ground reporting from south Sudan in January. There's also a chance of doing something more substantial as well.

The north-south border is an extremely knotty issue.

How knotty? Sudan and Ethiopia have allocated SEVEN YEARS to demarcate their international border and they currently have very friendly relations.

Friendly isn't a word I would use to describe relations between the north and south right now. The stakes on the border - in terms of oil, agriculture and identity - are very high.

I'll keep you posted on my upcoming Sudan travels.

Best/DM


message 46: by Muphyn (new)

Muphyn | 816 comments My copy arrived last night!! Woohoo, happy reading to me! :D


message 47: by Dan (new)

Dan (danmorrison) | 21 comments Groovy. I hope you like. Here's my most recent review, from the Abu Dhabi-based pan-Arab newspaper, The National: http://bit.ly/c9kgEK. It's written by Issandr el Amrani, who edits the well-regarded Arabist Network, http://arabist.net .


message 48: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
I love the national. Can't wait to read the review!


message 49: by Dan (new)

Dan (danmorrison) | 21 comments And, last, for the time being, a book excerpt from The Faster Times: http://thefastertimes.com/slowtravel/....

Still to come: Reviews from The Economist and the Washington Post.

Unrelated: My newest piece on the National Geographic website:
http://blogs.nationalgeographic.com/b...

Muphyn, I hope you're digging it.

Best/DM


message 50: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 660 comments Wow, Deb really keeps those cages spotless. Any pet owner has to respect how much work that is! I'm really interested to learn about all the kinds of small wild cats there are.


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