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Hardly Working will have you wanting to both travel the continent and devour its rich literary wealth, writes Tiah Beautement

Published in the Sunday Times

Hardly WorkingHardly Working: A Travel Memoir of Sorts
Zukiswa Wanner, Black Letter Media, R160

“If the African school my son studied in would not offer Africa to him, we would give him Africa,” writes Zukiswa Wanner in her travel memoir, Hardly Working. So Wanner, her partner Tchassa and son Kwame leave Kenya to travel to various literary events. They work their way through Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Uganda, Rwanda and Nigeria, using public transport as much as possible. They sleep rough, join a protest, ride on the back of a lorry, and at one point can’t access cash.

Yet the three remained upbeat. “I admit that there were times I thought ‘this adulting is hard’,” Wanner reflects. Her son brings comic relief to the trip, telling his uncle, “These animals would have looked the same on YouTube,” after being treated to a safari.

Even packing for the journey was tricky. Crammed in the family’s luggage were Wanner’s books. “Getting access to literature from a neighbouring African country tends to be tougher than it is to get books from abroad. I always try to take a suitcase of books across African borders. The security at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport no longer asks me what’s in my suitcase when they do a security scan. ‘Ah, it’s you and your books again’,’ she says.

As readers laugh, cringe, and ponder the tales, they may find their stomachs rumbling at the rich descriptions of food. Wanner is unapologetic about this: “Nigerian food is all the wows.” But hunger is the best spice; in one memorable scene, Wanner watches in awe as her son feasts on ulusu (curried tripe), a dish he would never have eaten at home. She writes: “A meal is as delicious as one’s hunger.”

She wanted to write the book for two reasons: “I hoped to highlight that writing is a real profession, and some of the struggles that come with it. I also hoped to highlight the wonder and beauty that is this continent and its people. I know many people who have been to Phuket or New York, for instance, but have never been to Zimbabwe or Malawi.”

Hang on to your wallets, as this book will have you wanting to both travel the continent and devour its rich literary wealth. @ms_tiahmarie

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