A Bicycle for the River GodsBirgit Virnich
München: A1-Verlag, 2010
This book by Birgit Virnich, former Africa correspondent of the ARD, sums up her travels across the continent and mainly tells stories about her encounters with various people: She meets strong women and activists – like Jane Anyango, who wrests dignity and pride from the slum Kibera, and like the politician Connie Nwiza, who is fighting for reconciliation of the Rwandans who have been traumatized by the genocide. She reports about her encounters with survivors – with street children in Matonge, the former artists’ quarter of Kinshasa, with the former child soldier Kitenge, who makes his first tentative attempt to re-establish contact his family, and with the Nigerian Saffiya Husseini, whose impending execution by stoning for adultery is making headlines around the world.
Her reports are always full of empathy, even if at times Virnich noticeably finds it difficult to show understanding for certain situations, for example, when mothers in Kinshasa let their children be abused by dubious healers because they are considered “witch children”, or when she accompanies two former female fighters in Asmara, who refuse to accept that their country is moving from revolution to dictatorship. Birgit Virnich does not shy away from any inconveniences and dangers; in Mauritania she interviews arrested refugees from Senegal as well as the people who smuggled them across the border, she visits refugee camps in Chad and rape victims in Eastern Congo.
In her reports she does not always just focus on great disasters. She gets a virtually poetic dimension out of everyday life, which is often troublesome and full of hardships. The result is a book which gets to the bottom of the spectrum of African life – marked by beauty, brutality and misery, which in Africa appear to be linked more than anywhere else in the world.