Just to let you know, I know Heather Andersen, the author of this book. We’ve attended a number of writers’ workshops together, one of which was at Lake Tahoe at her father’s house. I blogged about it: Beginnings, Endings and Crackling Grass. One more thing I must tell you, I’ve been dreading this review, you know, a fellow writer, someone I like. But the thing is, I couldn’t not review it. I would feel awful if I didn’t. But what if I didn’t like it? I can’t lie. Well, I won’t lie. So here goes. Nice knowing you Heather.
Here’s the official blurb. After her service as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, Heather Andersen sets her dream of exploring southern Africa by bicycle in motion. Her group dwindles to just two before the trip even starts and she finds herself traveling with a man she’s never met before. Tension between them builds until the inevitable split, and Heather continues on alone through unfamiliar lands. With great appreciation and understanding, she vividly describes her surroundings, the colorful people she encounters, and the adventure of traveling in foreign cultures as a solo woman on a bicycle. With the question of whether it’s safe never far from her mind, she forges her own path through southern Africa—and life. Along the way, she trusts her intuition and the kindness of strangers, appreciates the rhythm of an unscheduled life on the road, and rediscovers her commitment to leading the life she wants. If you’ve ever wanted to go somewhere completely unknown to you, or just want to experience it through someone else’s eyes, I Never Intended to Be Brave will take you there.
So, here I am, having been born and raised in Africa, I knew Americans as an idealistic lot (hey, that’s why I emigrated here), but also impractical and sometimes too probing for their own good. Well, Heather qualified on two out of the three: she was idealistic, I mean you have to be to enlist in the Peace Corp in the first place, and she was probing, but cautiously and with respect. And then evaluating everything with great deliberation, always mindful of her effect on the land and on the people. Like this scene with a beggar who keeps pushing when she turns him down:
“After two years in Africa, I’ve come to believe handouts don’t really help people. They turn them into beggars, which doesn’t help them . . . Rather than getting an education and an opportunity to break the poverty cycle, they spend their childhoods learning only how to beg.”
And she’s respectful to the locals instead of being rude and dismissing them, like this scene when a black African, who along with his second wife, hosted her for dinner and then on the ride back to the resthouse where she’s staying, says, “You could be my third wife.”
“I’m not into husband sharing,” she replies and everyone laughs.
But she was never impractical. Well, she did bicycle through Zambia, Botswana and South Africa. ALONE. But as she said, she never intended to be brave. She wanted to live life on her own terms and that is what she chose to do. I admire that. Most of all, I admire how she managed to capture her inner and outer journey in such a skilful way. One more thing. While I was reading this book, I realized just how much I didn’t know about my own country.