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A Passage to Africa

Author: George Alagiah

Alagiah is a television reporter who writes about his experience in Somalia, Africa. It is a passage from a non-fiction book. 

Summary:

  •  Alagiah writes about how travelling through a village in Somalia improved his perspective on life. Its purpose is to inform the reader.

  • It is an incredible article by a journalist who saw famine in Africa. The language used captures the audience. He highlights the devastation in Somalia through personal anecdotes. The meaning of this novel is profound. He expresses war as though it is an inhumane action, describing that they are human too. The title is ambiguous as it could be a ‘journey’ to Africa or a ‘dedication’ to Africa. His intention is to serve Africa in some way in his writing.

  • It is an autobiographical piece of writing and includes anecdotes, is personal and reflective.

  • The extract is intense and powerful.

  • It is about the journey he takes through a “village in the back of beyond” and his account of meeting Amina Abdirahman, Habiba and Ayaan. He also writes about Habiba’s “quiet suffering and lonely death” due to malnourishment. He also writes about an old woman in a hut with a festering wound on her leg and many others with similar problems. He also writes about a stranger who smiles at him bashfully.

  • He writes an honest, frank account of the atrocities of war.

  • His motivation to write the article was the man’s smile. The stranger’s smile showed him that he has feelings and is human too. So, Alagiah wanted this to be understood by everyone. People in Somalia aren’t responsible for their own poverty however these people are still ignored.

  • It is most likely directed to a mature audience.

  • There are a lot of questions to engage the reader- “if he was embarrassed to be found weakened by hunger and ground down by conflict, how should I feel to be standing there so confident

Structure:

  • It is written from a first-person perspective.

  • The first couple of paragraphs is written in a note-form style while the next few are written in a descriptive fashion with lots of details and imagery and are very emotional.

  • The turning point of the extract occurs in the second-to-last paragraph of the extract by resolving to write this story. ● Alagiah uses simple sentences to state facts. This makes the tone oddly calm, lacking drama and sometimes even feelings. It makes the account feel frank. “No rage. No whimpering.”

  • Thoughts on the role of a journalist are powerfully portrayed in two sentences that echo one another and are themselves constructed as polarised halves: “The journalist observes, the subject is observed. The journalist is active, the subject is passive.” It is also the underpinning event of the article. The smile had a very clear influence on Alagiah. He highlights the way in which the smile has surpassed the ‘guidelines’ and his own views by using declarative statements to introduce the general concepts of journalism.

  • “And then there was the face I will never forget” - The sentence is isolated to give a more powerful effect and emphasise the importance of the person in the author’s life. It intrigues the reader.

  • The use of long sentences, consisting of lists, further emphasizes the isolation of these people - leading to pathos.

  • It feels like an informal piece as it uses hyphens heavily.

Meaning:

  • The purpose of the article is to highlight the disparities of war on the ordinary man.

  • It is written to portray a human and vulnerable perspective on the desperation of the people of Somalia. It illustrates our failures as a society such as ignoring the people who are suffering.

Imagery:

  • A powerful image of suffering and deformity is portrayed. “The shattered leg had fused into the gentle v-shape of a boomerang”, “rotting”, “smell of decaying flesh”, and “festering wound the size of my hand”- vivid imagery evokes a sense of revulsion. It helps the reader empathise with the writer and his views. It also acts as a contrast to the smile. The word “festering” suggests the decomposing nature of the wound. It also can be a metaphor for how the hope that the people hold is also rotting away.

  • The author’s use of language evokes a putrid image of the suffering people.

  • “I saw a thousand hungry, lean, scared and betrayed faces.”- The triad suggests suffering and how they’re forgotten by the world. ● “leaving her two young girls lying on the dirt floor of their hut.

Language:

  • The extract is powerful with its strong use of emotive language. The journalist uses vivid language to demonstrate the suffering and hardships experienced by the Somalian people. The journalist uses a variety of literary techniques which highlight the inequalities in society.

  • The language used strikes a personal engagement with the repeated usage of the personal pronoun “I”. Alagiah describes the people as “thousand hungry, lean, scared and betrayed faces” which is quite deceptive until he says “but there is one I will never forget”.This line in the first paragraph of the extract strikes curiosity in the minds of the reader.

  • “The back of beyond”- hyperbole and listing emphasise isolation.

  • He highlights the fact that the village he visits is “like a ghost-like village”, isolated from the rest of the world. The metaphor interprets the emptiness of not only the village but the people’s hearts. The simile evokes sympathy. The fact that it is described as a ‘ghost-like village’ suggests that it is soulless and depressing.

  • He associates journalism with savagery. He says “the ghoulish manner of journalists on the hunt for the most striking pictures.” The word “ghoulish” suggests that they feed off the dead- in this case, journalists feed off of new and interesting stories. The word “hunt” suggests the predatory nature of journalists. Although Alagiah is a journalist himself, he criticises journalism for dehumanising in the search for the perfect picture or article. The simile used “like a craving for a drug” exposes journalists as drug addict that won’t stop until he gets their drug, even if it means doing anything for it. It emphasises the unhealthy issue of a journalist and how they get more addicted. It also shows how they are reckless and don’t care about anything until they get something that’ll stun their editors.

  • “Same old stuff the next” the use of colloquial language suggests a conversational tone.

  • The use of triads in the article pulls the heartstrings when he says “that simple, frictionless, motionless deliverance.”(assonance) This helps us to sympathise with Habiba Abdirahman’s death as being slow and quiet, suffering on her own due to malnutrition. The triad makes it seem like she was on the verge of dying anyway before she passed and how after many weeks of holding on, her body had shut down.

  • “The degeneration of the human body, sucked of its natural vitality by the twin evils of hunger and disease, is a disgusting thing.” The word “degeneration” shows the almost irreversible effect that a wartorn country can have on its people. The use of oxymoron is powerful. He describes the woman as someone who has not only lost something physically but mentally too.

  • The old and dying man who keeps his hoe next to the mat with which, one day soon, they will shroud his corpse, as if he means to go out and till the soil once all this is over.”- There is no more hope for the victims of the conflict(pathetic, hopeless situation). The writing style here is sarcastic and candid and has a shocking and dramatic effect on the reader.

  • “So, my nameless friend, if you are still alive, I owe you one.”- this brings this man to life. The direct address suggests that the man had broken through his facade as a reporter and touched his heart.

 

Effect on the reader:

  • The article has a strong effect on the reader and makes us feel appalled at the conditions in Somalia at the time.

  • The anthology highlights the despair experienced by the people of Somalia. Even though this anthology is effective, it didn’t receive enough media attention to change attitudes towards suffering.

  • The tone used is formal yet conversational and feels as if he is talking to the reader. It is oddly calm despite the situation in Somalia.

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