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Westerners writing about their gap year in Africa should be aware of the risks by now. After Gap Yah guy’s satire of his time in “Tanzaniaaa”, “Africaaa”, where he actually saw someone contract “Malariaaa”, travellers have had to think carefully about how they talk about their year abroad.

At best they risk ridicule. At worst they will be accused of colonialism, cultural blindness and perpetuating an outdated narrative of the developing world for their own means.

But no one seemed to have warned Louise Linton, whose article “How my dream gap year in Africa turned into a nightmare” appeared in the Telegraph this week to promote a book about her experience.

Despite being in Zambia, she writes about becoming a “central character” in the Congolese war of the late 1990s – terrified of what the rebels from across the border “would do to the ‘skinny white muzungu with long angel hair’”.

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She goes on to rattle through the dictionary of “white saviour in Africa” cliches: from 12-inch long spiders, “brutal tales of rape and murder”, “close encounters with lions” and helping a “smiling gap-toothed child with HIV”.

The response on social media was immediate. One tweeter known as Mr Aye Dee, said that Linton’s piece had “echoes” of Rudyard Kipling’s poem The White Man’s Burden – except of course that in 1899 people couldn’t tweet Kipling to complain about his imperialist overtones.

Zambians and Africans from around the continent were furious as Linton’s piece started to circulate online. “Hell hath no fury like an African scorned,” tweeted BBC presenter Sophie Ikenye.

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People questioned the accuracy of her account as the hashtag #LintonLies started to trend.

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Many also shared the account of Gerard Zytkow, who wrote on Facebook that he owned a fishing lodge near where Linton had volunteered. He questioned her dates and how close she was to the danger zone.

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As the article started to trend her book, In Congo’s Shadow, racked up 65 predominantly negative reviews on Amazon where it currently has a one-star rating.

Linton responded to criticism on Twitter, saying that Zytkow was mistaken and that she was “genuinely dismayed” to have offended people trying write about the “country’s incredible beauty”.

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Our Zambia?
But Zambians said they simply didn’t recognise the country Linton described.

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Her account of a child called “Zimba”, who apparently led Linton to “risk her life” by staying in the country, raised particular objections.

“Even in this world where I’m supposed to belong, I still sometimes feel out of place. Whenever that happens, though, I try to remember a smiling gap-toothed child with HIV whose greatest joy was to sit on my lap and drink from a bottle of Coca-Cola,” Linton’s wrote.

Zimba soon had her own parody Twitter account, @LittleZimba, which put forward a different narrative of events.

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Source: The Guardian

 

 

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