Acclaimed by Rian Malan as "full of mystery, magic and strange coincidence," The Healing Land is a moving account of a remarkable personal journey through the Kalahari desert. Although brought up in grey, drearily ordinary London, Rupert Isaacson s links to Africa have always been strong. His mother was once a South African and his father was raised in what was then Rhodesia. Isaacson senior fled to England with no regrets, but Polly, Rupert s mother kept her memories of Africa alive, and handed them on to her children via the Bushmen nursery stories and remembrances of her early life there. Thus, from an early age, Isaacson was fascinated: Long before I ever went to southern Africa, its names and regions had been described to me so many times that I could picture them in my mind s eye.
Isaacson s relatives, mostly his grandfather Robbie, a Rhodesian farmer, frequently visited with exotic gifts and stories in tow, leaving the little boy wide-eyed and curious to go to the land of his ancestors. At eight, Isaacson finally visited Robbie in Africa, and found the place as seductively, intensely exciting as all the stories had led him] to expect. He also witnessed the other, less pleasant side of Africa. The war for independence was still being fought, and his grandfather s farm was fenced in with barbed wire and guarded by armed men. This first visit, however, sealed his connection to the African continent, and from then on he considered himself part English, part African. His curiosity now knew no boundaries and by the time he was twenty he embarked on his first solo trip to Africa.
This marks the de facto beginning of the book as Isaacson, now a grown man, finds himself restless at home in England, yearning to be united with the Kalahari which he has made central to his identity as a young man. He visits Botswana s capital Gaborone where he meets his cousin Frank Taylor, a rather atypical white African, living in an austere home where he moved with his family, quitting his prosperous farm in South Africa, in order to help Botswana s rural poor. Isaacson learns of the plight of the Bushmen. Due to an upsurge in cattle ranching, the territories traditionally used for hunting have been fenced off and the game the Bushmen relied upon has been prevented from following the rain thus dying in droves. Eager to go deeper into the desert and to experience the Kalahari, Issacson makes several trips to the area during the following few years but never really makes it into the heart of the desert, but explores the areas surrounding it, living on a farm in Zimbabwe, traveling in South Africa and learning of its Bushman heritage. There he becomes enmeshed in the civil strife of 1993, which immediately preceded the first free elections and the rise of Nelson Mandela. He comes to experience the resentment of the black population towards the whites: he is attacked, mugged, chased by a mob of angry South African youths, but somehow all these events never put into question his resolve to come back.
Eighteen months later he is back with his girlfriend and a contract to write a guidebook to Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia. They start off from the Namibian capital Windhoek and two days later encounter two Bushmen while camping under a great baobab tree. Greetings are exchanged and it turns out that one of the Bushmen works for an NGO helping the cause of the local population. He speaks perfect English and invites Isaacson to go hunting with him the next day. The couple is naturally thrilled, but when they show up early next morning in the Bushman village no one seems to be up. It takes quite a while for everyone to wake up (presumably from alcoholic stupor) but all is well, and they ultimately leave for the hunting ground. The experience is disappointing, as Benjamin and his friend Xau make several attempts to catch antelopes but fail rather miserably. On their way back to the village Isaacson once again learns of the Bushmen plight, this
The Healing Land
The Bushmen and the Kalahari Desert
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