Riding the Demon: On the Road in West Africa

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University of Georgia Press, 1999 - Travel - 195 pages
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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  - Jane Doe - Kirkus

The raw cultural, political, and economic vitality of West Africa is sought by newcomer Chilson upon Niger's lawless, hair-raising, fickle, murderous—in a word, insane—roads. A freelance rural ... Read full review

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About the author (1999)

Peter Chilson teaches writing and literature at Washington State University. He is also the author of We Never Knew Exactly Where: Dispatches from the Lost Country of Mali and Disturbance-Loving Species: A Novella and Stories, winner of the Bakeless Fiction Prize and the Maria Thomas Fiction Prize. His writings, which have appeared in such publications as Foreign Policy, American Scholar, Gulf Coast, High Country News, Audubon, and Ascent, have also been included in two Best American Travel Writing anthologies.

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