Travel writer par excellence Dervla Murphy’s The Ukimwi Road: From Kenya to Zimbabwe chronicles her incredibly journey across Africa on her bicycle in 1992. During this time, AIDS was sweeping through Africa and as Murphy traveled, she learned how AIDS impacted the people of each country. Murphy talks with healthcare professionals, missionaries, corrupt border officials, health educators, prostitutes, feminists, truck drivers, and more.
Her plan, Murphy insists, was to have a pleasant 3,000 mile ride through Africa. Instead her ride is an intense education into the AIDS epidemic in which she seeks answers to what caused Africa’s epidemic and how can it be stopped in a place where so many men won’t use condoms or stick with one partner. One of Murphy’s strengths is that she judges herself as much as anyone else. She seeks to understand the people of Africa and critiques the role of foreigners who’ve colonized and now offer aid in forms that usually fail.
Murphy’s witty and perspicacious. She’s a keen observer and thorough researcher, who made me feel like I was right there with her listening to stories around a common dinner table as she also made me grateful that bedbugs or dirt roads on a rainy day were affecting me.
The Danish film In a Better World caught me by surprise. Compelling and intense, it weaves together the stories of Anton, a doctor who works for an NGO like Doctors without Borders in Africa and his family in Denmark and Christian, a boy who moves to Denmark after his mother dies. Anton’s son Elias is a victim of bullying until Christian defends him. The two boys become friends, but Elias is troubled by Christian’s violent streak. Christian believes might makes right and takes pleasure in revenge and plotting. He doesn’t know when to stop or that the unexpected can make a plot go awry in terrible ways.
Anton lives part of the year in Denmark, where he tries to reconcile with his wife Marianne, and part of the year in war-torn Africa where women are sliced open by a Chieftain called Big Man. Anton is a highly ethical man who tries to live non-violently and to teach his son the same.
Lonely and fascinated by Christian, Elias is too weak to refuse and stop his friend from his escalating violence. The film, which gets dark at times, depicts the consequences of missing fathers.
I liked the film’s tone and the opportunity to travel to two new settings, Africa and Denmark. Roger Ebert criticized the film for cutting between the two cultures of Africa and Denmark, however, as someone who splits her time between cultures I found no problem with that choice.