Transcendental Bloviation

Politics, Space, Japan

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Green Tunnel of Rot

Perhaps it's something in the air--the accelerating decay of the situation in Iraq, the midterm elections, East Asian rumblings over North Korea, but I was reminded of a passage from The Soccer War, by indefatigable Polish correspondent Ryszard Kapuscinski, a collection of stories about his Third World travels through coup-ridden, revolution-scorched nations in the 60s. Here's the passage, from a fragmented chapter entitled "Plan for a Book that Could Have Started Right Here", part of a section about his experiences in the Congo.

At daybreak we start towards Stanleyville: a thousand kilometres of muddy dirt road, driving the whole time through a sombre green tunnel, in a stench of decomposing leaves, entangled branches and roots, because we are travelling deeper and deeper into the greatest jungle in Africa, into an eerie world of rotting, proliferating, monstrously exaggerated botany. We are driving through a tropical wilderness that fills you with awe and delight, and every so often we have to pull the Ford out of the rust-coloured clay or out of a bog overgrown with brownish-grey duckweed. Along the road we are stopped by gendarmerie patrols, drunk or hungry, indifferent or aggressive--the rebellious, undisciplined army that, gone wild, has taken over the country, robbing and raping. When stopped, we push our driver Seraphim out of the car and watch what happens. If he falls into an embrace with the gendarmes we breathe easy, because that means Seraphim has come across his tribal kinsmen. But if they start punching his head and beating him with the butts of their rifles, our skin crawls, because the same thing--or worse, perhaps--awaits us. I do not know what made us want to keep going along that road (on which it was so easy to die)--was it stupidity and a lack of imagination, or passion and ambition, or mania and honour, or our folly and our belief that we were obliged now to do it even though we had imposed an obligation on ourselves?--and as we drive on I feel that each kilometre another barrier has come down behind us, another gate has been slammed shut, and turning back becomes more and more impossible. After two days we roll into Stanleyville.


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