Another Tourist in Africa

What is probably Evelyn Waugh’s least read book is A Tourist in Africa (1960). Cyril Connolly proclaimed it to be “quite the thinnest piece of book-making which Mr Waugh has undertaken.” The hardback copies were remaindered after his death and there were no paperback reprints until 1986 (USA) and 1989 (UK). The first Penguin reprint, a hardback, did not appear until 2012.

It is ignored with good reason, as he wrote it quickly under a contract with the steamship company Union Castle Lines to pay for his voyage on their ship the SS Rhodesia Castle as well as a fee and expenses. Much of it reads as if he adopted some passages from Union Castle’s promotional material. Another travel writer has, however, used Waugh’s description of his 1959 trip to East Africa as a springboard for a description of his own trip to the same area 8 years later in 1967. This appears in the recent article by John Fox in the Kenyan paper Daily Nation:

[Waugh’s trip] was in early 1959. And I came out (as a very young man, let me add) on the SS Uganda eight years later. So he came to Kenya four years before independence; I came four years after. But I should be talking about our impressions of the voyages rather than our impressions of Kenya in transition.

Both the Rhodesia Castle and the Uganda were one-class boats. This made watching interesting for both Waugh and myself. On my ship, for example, a retired General and his wife made their own first-class by choosing to always have their meals on a small raised platform in the corner of the otherwise non-segregated dining room.

Waugh was struck by the way men, particularly the upper-class English, who wore shorts as soon as the ship entered the tropics. It made them look, he suggested, like overgrown little boys. He also pondered whether the loss of European prestige in hot countries was connected with this craven preference for comfort over dignity.

However, Waugh was old enough and a more frequent voyager than I, to notice a marked difference about the passengers. The majority were no longer adventurers or empire builders but, as he described them, ‘young, returning to work employees of governments and big commercial firms, taking up secure posts as clerks and schoolmasters and conservators of soil — sons of the Welfare State, well qualified, well behaved, enjoying an easy bonhomie with the stewards.

John Fox is apparently only a part-time writer and seems to have made a career in Kenya as a business executive rather than visiting the country as a tourist. He is said to have recently written a book about railroad journeys but no further information is provided. His 1967 trip to East Africa was more arduous than Waugh’s because, at the time he travelled, the Suez Canal was closed due to a war between Egypt and Israel, and he had to travel around the Cape of Good Hope, stopping only in Cape Town. Waugh’s ship proceeded directly through the Suez Canal, stopping in Port Said and Aden. The article concludes:

Waugh compares the privacy and spaciousness of a cruise ship to what he calls the squalor of a flight. There is something else too. In a plane, you can be whisked in only a few hours from the winter cold of Europe to the enduring warmth of the tropics. The journeying is more natural by ship. You have time to acclimatise to the changes in culture as well as in the weather. You have time to prepare yourself for the destination by talking to those fellow passengers who have experienced it. And there is also time to make friends — as well as enemies.


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