On a clear day, Lake Victoria’s islands are agreeably symmetrical at their waterlines. They float like furry green blimps across a hazy grey scrim shaded only by wispy clouds blown in from the Serengeti and pockmarked by the burps of tilapia.
Things are less placid upstream.
The White Nile, the largest river in the world to flow away from the Equator, becomes contrary as soon as it leaves the lake. There are the rapids and the crocodiles, sure, but the real hazards of the river are the human conflicts that define it as constantly as its shores.
In 2006, Dan Morrison, a freelance journalist with experience in Afghanistan and Pakistan, arrived at the mouth of the White Nile in Uganda, boarded a wooden boat he’d had made for the occasion and set off for Cairo. The Black Nile is his account of his journey, which took him through lawless areas patrolled by the child soldiers of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, the heart of then united (and intensely divided) Sudan, and a little bit of gunfire
Similar books about Africa too often become disquisitions on either European greed or the beauty of African culture. Morrison’s book, far more even-keeled than his boat, skips the post-colonial hand wringing and offers instead a series of profiles of the chronically chatty people who live there.
“John poured some ouzo and drank deep,” Morrison writes, describing his Sudanese-born roommate’s reaction to a firefight outside their bedroom. “Then he walked into the dark kitchen, probably the safest room save the toilet, and sat there on a lawn chair in gloomy darkness, surely thinking of [his daughter]. He came back twenty minutes later, slumped into bed, and was soon snoring."
Though Morrison is an enterprising journalist capable of discussing broad social changes, his skill as a miniaturist is what allows him to create an intimate portrait of region too often painted with broad strokes.
Morrison relentlessly emphasizes experience over prose and the book is both blunter and better for it. Now out in paperback with a new afterward about South Sudan’s independence, The Black Nile is ideally suited for those looking to dip a toe into chaos without bathing in the horrors of African history.
HuffPost Travel's Andrew Burmon recently talked with Morrison, who is currently researching a new book about the Ganges River in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Dan Morrison spoke to Huffington Post Travel about his book and his journey.
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