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When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa by Peter Godwin
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“I feel to that the gap between my new life in New York and the situation at home in Africa is stretching into a gulf, as Zimbabwe spirals downwards into a violent dictatorship. My head bulges with the effort to contain both worlds. When I am back in New York, Africa immediately seems fantastical – a wildly plumaged bird, as exotic as it is unlikely.

Most of us struggle in life to maintain the illusion of control, but in Africa that illusion is almost impossible to maintain. I always have the sense there that there is no equilibrium, that everything perpetually teeters on the brink of some dramatic change, that society constantly stands poised for some spasm, some tsunami in which you can do nothing but hope to bob up to the surface and not be sucked out into a dark and hungry sea. The origin of my permanent sense of unease, my general foreboding, is probably the fact that I have lived through just such change, such a sudden and violent upending of value systems.

In my part of Africa, death is never far away. With more Zimbabweans dying in their early thirties now, mortality has a seat at every table. The urgent, tugging winds themselves seem to whisper the message, memento mori, you too shall die. In Africa, you do not view death from the auditorium of life, as a spectator, but from the edge of the stage, waiting only for your cue. You feel perishable, temporary, transient. You feel mortal.

Maybe that is why you seem to live more vividly in Africa. The drama of life there is amplified by its constant proximity to death. That’s what infuses it with tension. It is the essence of its tragedy too. People love harder there. Love is the way that life forgets that it is terminal. Love is life’s alibi in the face of death.

For me, the illusion of control is much easier to maintain in England or America. In this temperate world, I feel more secure, as if change will only happen incrementally, in manageable, finely calibrated, bite-sized portions. There is a sense of continuity threaded through it all: the anchor of history, the tangible presence of antiquity, of buildings, of institutions. You live in the expectation of reaching old age.

At least you used to.

But on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, those two states of mind converge. Suddenly it feels like I am back in Africa, where things can be taken away from you at random, in a single violent stroke, as quick as the whip of a snake’s head. Where tumult is raised with an abruptness that is as breathtaking as the violence itself. ”
Peter Godwin, When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa
“As we get ready to leave, Georgina announces that she wants to keep the kitten. But of course she can't. We walk up and down looking for its mother, calling for its siblings. But the nearby kraals are deserted, of both people and animals. And eventually we have to leave it at the gate of an empty kraal, the closest one to where it found us, hoping that this might be its home. As we start to drive away, the kitten totters down the dirt road after us, a furry ball of khaki with irregular black spots, and Georgina bursts into tears.

'Over the kitten? Really?' I ask, gesturing around the ruins of the torture base and the mass graves. 'With all of this?'

'No,' she sniffs. 'It's not just the kitten. It's everyone here. They've all been abandoned. No one gives a **** about what happened to them. They're completely alone.”
Peter Godwin, The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe
“It's always instructive to observe the life cycle of the First World aid worker. A wary enthusiasm blooms into an almost messianic sense of what might be possible. Then, as they bump up against the local cultural limits of acceptable change, comes the inevitable disappointment, which can harden into cynicism and even racism, until they are no better than the resident whites they have initially disparaged.”
Peter Godwin, When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa
“You must remember how many years we weren’t even allowed to talk about AIDS here,” my mother reminds me. “It was all a dreadful secret. Herbert Ushewekunze, the minister of health, issued an edict, a ministerial fatwa, that there was to be absolutely no publicity at all. And later he died of it himself.”
Peter Godwin, When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa
“The occupiers spend much of their time drunk or stoned. They squabble incessantly, contradicting themselves from one day to the next. They live parasitically, depending on the farm for their survival even as they destroy it. Their behavior plays to every colonial prejudice about the chaos and hopelessness of Africa.”
Peter Godwin, When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa
“And he pointed out that Shona (his native tongue) in its written form was covered with the white man’s fingerprints — it was, after all, missionaries who standardized it and rendered it onto the page, largely to facilitate their Christian proselytizing, which often functioned as the Trojan horse leading to full-blown indigenous cultural servitude.”
Peter Godwin, When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa
“In 1980, at independence, a man might expect to live to sixty and to see his children grow up strong and have children of their own, and if he was fortunate, a man might even live to see his great-grandchildren bring him gourds of beer before he died. But life expectancy dropped to fifty, and now it has collapsed, all the way down to thirty-three. It is hard to comprehend. At thirty-three, just as people should be in their prime, they suddenly sicken and die.”
Peter Godwin, When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa
“families. Most of the women are from Women of Zimbabwe Arise! (WOZA), and they had been trying to march into the city center when they were attacked. They are middle-aged black ladies — the pillars of society, normally to be found at the Women’s Institute or organizing church teas. Yet here they are, their arms in casts, patches over their eyes, and bandages around their heads. And still they are spirited and indignant. This, it seems to me, is true courage. These women had a pretty good idea of what would happen to them and still they marched.”
Peter Godwin, When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa
“Bronte ends with a warning, " says Mum, and goes to the last verses. "Then did I check the tear of useless passion -- Weaned my young soul from yearning after thine; Sternly denied its burning with to hasten Down to that tomb already more than mine. "And, even yet, I dare not let it languish, Dare not indulge in memory's rapturous pain; Once drinking deep of that divinest anguish, How could I seek the empty world again?" "That's the danger of grieving, " she says. "The dead can become more real to you than the living.”
Peter Godwin, When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa
“Dad. Mum is confused by the pull tab on her Diet Coke, so I open it for her. She has never drunk a soda out of a can before.”
Peter Godwin, When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa
“For my children. For you. So that you could be safe. So that what happened to them,” he nods toward the photo of his mother and his sister, “would never happen to you. Because it will never really go away, this thing. It goes underground for a generation or two, but always reemerges.”
Peter Godwin, When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa
“And despite being married with four children, it was rumored that President Banana was partial to men, a somewhat precarious position given that Mugabe had denounced gays as “lower than pigs and dogs,” declared them to be “a colonial invention, unknown in African tradition,” and passed laws punishing consensual homosexuality with ten years’ hard labor.”
Peter Godwin, When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa
“She compares up, to the First World, where privileges are treated as rights. I compare down, to the apocalyptic Africa that presses in around us, where rights are only for the privileged. After covering wars in Mozambique, Angola, Uganda, Somalia, and Sudan, Zimbabwe feels to me like Switzerland.”
Peter Godwin, When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa
“sauvignon blanc and turns to look out the window. “Africans can’t do governments,” he suddenly announces. “We are useless at it, disorganized.” I close my newsmagazine and nod noncommittally. “And our institutions never work because we never pay our dues.” He reaches up and presses his bell for more wine.”
Peter Godwin, When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa
“When I reach the head of the line, I hand my passport to the black official and greet him in Shona, Zimbabwe’s main vernacular. He ripens in smile and demands, “Why don’t you stay here? We need people like you.” By “people like you,” he means white Zimbabweans.”
Peter Godwin, When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa
“NEARLY A THOUSAND white-owned farms have now been invaded by the wovits, but the CFU has told their members to sit tight while they negotiate with Mugabe. The CFU has warned the farmers that any of them named in the media will risk being singled out for reprisals by the government. And the wovits themselves are very hostile to strangers coming onto the farms, especially anyone suspected of being from the media. Photographing farmers is hugely problematic; photographing war vets is almost suicidal.”
Peter Godwin, When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa