Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Soccer War by Ryszard Kapuscinski 

In November 1965 Ryszard Kapuscinski drove through five countries four of which were in a state of emergency. He had been checked 21 times and undergone four body searches, tension and gunpowder were everywhere.

The Soccer War begins with the appointment of Ryszard Kapuscinski as African correspondent of the Polish Press Agency. His arrival on the continent coincides with the birth of Africa after years of colonial domination. Kapuscinski in his own words says that he was not interested in reporting on crocodiles or head hunters, witch doctors or wild animal reserves.

Throughout "The Soccer War" we observe Kapuscinski as he engages with the people of Africa. He encounters political leaders, party apparatchiks, soldiers, local head men. Throughout it becomes apparent that Kapuscinski has a tremendous affinity for the people he meets. He sleeps in their cabins, he eats their food, he travels with them and talks to them by their campfires.

But his travels are not without hazards. He is imprisoned in Rwanda by Belgian paramilitaries and only regains his liberty thanks to a chance encounter with a Congolese pilot. While driving through Nigeria he his stopped at a road block, beaten and forced to hand over money. At the next roadblock he is stopped, covered in benzene and the remainder of his money taken. He smashes through the third roadblock much to the consternation of those guarding it.

The style in which Kapuscinski writes has been called magical journalism. His journeys and encounters read as if they were works of fictions, all of them however are true.

The Soccer War is not without irony. In 1969 he was in Honduras to cover the short lived which took place between that country and El Salvador. The war lasted 100 hours and would cost the lives of 6,000 people. He travels with a Honduran conscript through the jungle observing the war going on about him. At one point Kapuscinski and his travelling companion shelter in a small village plastered together from clay and straw. They encounter an infantry battalion and join their commander as he listens to the news on the radio. Reports contain the comings and goings at the front and the various efforts from world governments to end the conflict. The next report contains the news that the Apollo 11 rocket, with astronauts, Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins had been launched from Cape Kennedy.

Early in his wanderings Kapuscinski is asked why he was travelling.
He replies, "To look, to walk around, to ask, to listen, to sniff, to think, to write."


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