Riding the Demon: On the Road in West Africa

Front Cover
University of Georgia Press, 1999 - Travel - 195 pages
2 Reviews
Without railroads or domestic airlines, Niger's roads are its lifeline. For a year, Peter Chilson traveled this desert country by automobile, detouring occasionally into Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and Ivory Coast, in order to tell the story of West African road culture. He crisscrossed the same roads again and again with bush taxi driver Issoufou Garba in order to learn one driver's story inside and out. He hitchhiked, riding in cotton trucks, and he also traveled with other bush taxi drivers, truckers, road engineers, an anthropologist, Niger's only licensed woman commercial driver, and a customs officer.

The road in Africa, says Chilson, is more than a direction or a path to take. Once you've booked passage and taken your seat, the road becomes the center of your life. Hurtling along at 80 miles an hour in a bush taxi equipped with bald tires, no windows, and sometimes no doors, travelers realize that they've surrendered everything. Soldiers collect "taxes" at checkpoints, and black-market gasoline salesmen appear mysteriously from the roadside bush. Courageous drivers -- who come across in the book as rogue folk heroes -- negotiate endless checkpoints; ingenious mechanics repair cars with nothing.

The road is also about blood and fear, and the ecstasy of arrival. On African roads, car wrecks are as common as mile markers, and the wreckage can stand in monument for months or years: a minibus upended against a tree, as if attempting escape; a charred truck overturned in a ditch.

Chilson uses the road not to reinforce Africa's worn image of decay but to 'reveal how people endure political and economic chaos, poverty, and disease. The road has reflected the struggle for survival inNiger since the first automobile arrived there at the turn of the century, and it remains a useful metaphor for the fight for stability and prosperity across Africa.

  

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - untraveller - LibraryThing

Interesting book that was quite obviously written by a teacher. I once took a creative writing class and I felt like I was taking the class again as I read the book. Too many unnecessary metaphors ... Read full review

Riding the demon: on the road in West Africa

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

For many travelers in Africa, the experiences most often remembered are those had on the highways and back roads. Africa has always been a continent with a mobile population where transportation ... Read full review

Contents

The Dogs of the Road
21
A Driver a Checkpoint an African Road
39
Waiting for the Marabout
60
Zinder Notes
79
Driving to Madness
99
Listening to Mariko
120
A Woman at the Wheel
140
An Ugly American
161
Notes
181
Copyright

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About the author (1999)

PETER CHILSON is the winner of the 2006 Katharine Bakeless Nason Prize for fiction, selected by Lan Samantha Chang and awarded by the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference at Middlebury College, for Disturbance-Loving Species. His previous travelogue, Riding the Demon: On the Road in West Africa, won the Associated Writing Programs Award for creative nonfiction. Chilson teaches creative writing at Washington State University and lives in Moscow, Idaho.

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