Sunday, October 23, 2011

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree....

...of Forgetfulness. Not that long ago I raved here on this blog about Alexandra Fuller's story of her African childhood and now she's going to force me to do it again! I read the new book about her mother, Nicola Fuller, in a record two days and, though I was fully prepared to be appalled at the arrogance of these people who go into Africa and expect to make it their own with no concern for the people whose lands they are adopting, I was surprised and pleased to discover that Tim and Nicola Fuller did finally come to terms with the new Africa and made their peace with black rule.

Ms. Fuller had to face her mother's wrath after she opened her family up to criticism in Don't Let's go to the Dogs.... Her mom continues to refer to it as "that AWFUL book." Yet, Ms. Fuller's respect and love for her mother's resilience glows from every page of her latest reminiscences. Some of the stories I remembered from the first book. I knew that Nicola Fuller suffered from extreme bouts of depression and mania that caused her to over imbibe in alcohol. I knew that she was tough on every one around her, including her husband, daughters, and servants. Still, she never expected more of any of them than she expected of herself.

Under the tree of forgetfulness the now grown up Alexandra questions her larger than life mother Nicola about her dreams and regrets. Nicola Fuller's Scottish family had settled in Kenya during colonial rule. Africa was in her blood from a very young age so that the prejudices that she developed over time had trickled down through generations and would require time to dispel. When she met the like-minded Tim there was no doubt that they would settle on a farm in Africa despite the hardships, of which there were plenty.

Besides being a book about her mother, this is also a clear, understandable, brief history of the end of colonialism in parts of Africa. As a land owner in the former Rhodesia, Ms. Fuller's father was drafted into the army, often gone fighting for months at a time while Nicola kept the kids, the cattle and the crops under control, fending off stray soldiers who wanted them off what they considered their land.

Rhodesia eventually gained independence, becoming Zimbabwe, but still the Fullers would not be moved. "People often ask why my parents haven't left Africa. Simply put, they have been possessed by the land. Land is Mum's love affair and it is Dad's religion," says Alexandra, and though she currently lives in the United States, one senses that she too is constantly struggling against the pull of that continent. She has penned a beautiful love story to her parents and to the land where humanity began, a place that has mesmerized explorers for better or worse for centuries.

As someone who's recently returned from Africa and from weeks of talking with native Africans and Afrikaners like our guides Henk or the gun toting Max whose families have also lived in Africa for generations, I've tried to put myself in their shoes. I love my home, my little piece of land that I've cultivated and made my own over the past nearly thirty years.

The question is, would I feel justified in fighting for it if I was suddenly confronted by the unfortunate truth that this land belonged to the Seminoles, who were pushed further and further into the Everglades by northern developers generations ago. Hmmmm - it gives one pause, does it not?

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