Saturday, January 10, 2015

Graham Greene, John Peel and Tim Butcher

Following one foreign foray by Graham Greene (see this post a week ago), I'm now reading about another - though not by his hand. Greene's first trip outside of Europe was to Sierra Leone and Liberia, of all places, in 1935, three years before his Mexican trip. Ostensibly it was to write a travel book (Journey Without Maps), but on the quiet he was reporting back to a charity - and the government - on the continued practise of slavery. He brought with him his cousin, Barbara Greene, and together they ventured deep into the heart of both countries by rail, foot, road and boat.
But I'm not reading his book, I'm reading a contemporary account by the journalist Tim Butcher who retraced Greene's footsteps in 2009. This was actually a more dangerous task now than in Greene's time, thanks to the chaos that persists there even after war of 1990-2002 ended.
I visited Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown, in 1989, just before the country plunged into anarchy. It was for work, bringing with me an exhibition about pop music, plus John Peel, his wife Sheila and a BBC World Service producer. It was a fascinating trip: partly because Freetown was so very different from anywhere I'd been before, but also simply to hang out with someone who'd been a long-time hero. The exhibition proved popular, but it was really context for working with some local musicians and donating a portastudio so they could record their own music. Butcher's book is very good and exactly traces the Greenes' adventure. Must read his first book, Blood River, which follows in the footsteps of another intrepid explorer, Henry Morton Stanley, in the Congo.

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