Title : Abyssinian Nomad
Author : Maskarm Haile
“If Africa doesn’t kill me, it will heal me”
Have you ever wanted something so bad that you are willing to tear oceans apart to get it? Or rather, are you a dreamer with the kind of dream that raises hairs?
If your answer is yes to both then you will relate so easily with Abyssinian Nomad, if it’s no then the book will push you to all those uncomfortable edges you have been avoiding all your life.
Abyssinian Nomad is a travel memoir by the Canadian based Ethiopian writer Maskarm Haile. The title is inspired by her home country, Ethiopia which in ancient times was called Abyssinia and her travel life style which relates with the Nomad life style of cultural Ethiopians. The book encompasses the escapades of an African woman traveling through Africa alone on foot, taxis, buses and trucks.
I have struggled with calling this a travel memoir because some of the experiences Maskarm shares are beyond your usual scope of a travel memoir.
At the start of the book she gives the reader a little background to the dream that birthed her Cape to Cairo journey. She tells of her childhood as an anomaly, as one that always wanted more, believed for greater and above all disagreed with the cultural definition of what a successful woman should be like. In a culture that discouraged diversity, taking this journey was a way of protesting against her own fears and ideas she grew up listening to.
She also recalls how reading On Foot through Africa, by Ffyona Campbell propelled her to want to take the journey even more (like hey if another woman can did it).
“One is never afraid of the unknown;
one is afraid of the known coming to an end.”
~ Jiddu Krishnamurti
Of all the quotes shared in the book (Yes, spoiler alert… each chapter starts with a quote or a fact about that country) this resonated differently with me and I could tell it did with Maskarm too. We usually give excuses for not traveling new places or talking to new people because we are presumptuously afraid of who we don’t know they are. The book addresses the idea that we can not use stereotypes to describe and define people. Throughout her journey it was a stream of people being kind to her which she notes that her then Canadian boyfriend was very awestruck by. It was like God, the universe and Mother Nature were all constantly working for her good.
Maskarm Haile’s Cape to Cairo journey is divided into two because somewhere a long the adventure she is called back to Ethiopia because her mother who had previously been cleared of cancer was sick again. This is that part of the book that is one of the reasons I struggled to call this a travel memoir.
Throughout the book it is clear that Maskarm has a very sentimental attachment to her mother. She expresses great admiration for her achievements and her selfless nature that saw her constantly reaching out to those around her, especially her children.
“But no matter what I did, I always came back to my mother, seeking her guidance, love, and approval. She was always there, like my dive buddy or dive master, who I looked for to hold my hand when I was in the middle of a panic attack underwater”
Maskarm Haile takes the reader through the struggles of cancer patients and their families. Through her writing it is clear that she seeks to connect with whoever may be experiencing or has gone through the same. She also jokes about her ignorance of the reality of the disease especially in Africa.
“There was cancer in Ethiopia? I remembered all the movies I watched growing up and crying my eyes out when a woman was diagnosed”
But even through these light words the reader is not prepared for whatever happens after. No one is ever prepared.
The second part of her journey always gets “it’s not over, it’s not finished” by Israel Houghton playing in my head. That as long as you envision yourself somewhere, doing something it’s just a matter of time before it materializes (The inspirational speaker in me had to add that). At that point so much had transpired and she had just ended a long term relationship.
I am really struggling not to throw in spoilers but how does one review a travel memoir without spoiling?
I want to tell you about the car breakdown in South Africa, the venomous snake in Namibia, the well dressed bus preachers in Zambia, tomy the tortoise (etc) but my kindness won’t let me. Just that some of those encounters were really hilarious (especially that thing about doing it in the open) and made me consider taking the journey for myself too.
Maskarm Haile also shares her experiences with the locals she met in the sixteen countries she traveled through. Most of them were very kind and welcoming even if many of them were perplexed by her.
“I could see by the look in their eyes how helpless many people felt when confronted with my unusual lifestyle, and that they were lost in thoughts, trying to determine my sanity. Some went to the extent to say there was a devil inside me that made me do things like this, and all I needed was holy water to fix it.”
My attempt to review this beautiful book is definitely futile. I have tried to point out the so many things that stood out for me and yet I feel there is so much more that this book seeks to draw the reader to. There were points as I read where I stopped and pondered, some times I nodded in agreement and other times I simply disagreed. Yes you will find yourself having similar debates as you progress through the pages.
Abyssinian Nomad is a book I recommend that everyone gets a hold of because there is something for everyone. It is a carefully written book, with relatable experiences. I was personally humbled by how she allows herself to be vulnerable before the reader, something not many of us are willing to succumb to.;
This book review has been long over due. My very sincere apologies for taking my time but this girl is doing her examinations that will last one month. Probably the next time I appear here more actively will be in June. Oh Boy how I miss all you my beautiful people. Thank you for making this place worth living in. Thanks to all those that have sent me beautiful emails on how to add life to this place. Girl!! If you knew how I am dying to implement all that advice here. Otherwise I hope we are all well.
Have you read this book? What stood out for you? Also let me know how you found the review in the comment section
You can get the book at turn the Page Africa which delivers allover Africa.
Bellows of Love
©Tales of a Curious mind