THE UKIMWI ROAD
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Dervla Murphy must be the toughest female travel writer of our age. One turns the page only twice in this latest book before finding her beaten by club-wielding paramilitary troopers as she flees a protest rally in Nairobi. And almost its final image is of her alone in the middle of the Zimbabwean bush, 40 miles from the nearest doctor, exhausted, prostrate, head cushioned on an elephant turd - all the consequence of a severe malaria attack. Yet, the 3,000 miles between these two fraught moments were covered on a bicycle which she bought on her 60th birthday. . .
'. . . The Ukimwi Road is illuminating clear-headed and the best of Dervla Murphy’s four books on Africa.'
Mark Cocker, Irish Press
'Cycling often brings closer contact between the traveller and people of a country. It is Dervla Murphy’s favourite transport, and in 1992 it brought her into heartbreaking contact with thousands of Africans dying of Aids along The Ukimwi Road…her solo journey through the non-tourist areas of East Africa required all of her characteristic nerve, and more. She was confronted by the hopeless political and economic conditions apparently endemic to post-colonial countries, and by the harrowing personal appeals of countryless Africans who believed that she could provide them with the cure for the ‘slim disease’ that they thought the western world possessed, but like the rest of its wealth, was unwilling to share. Ms Murphy is a straightforward and honest writer, and her unembellished first-hand account is more powerful than a set of headlines could ever be.' The Bookseller
'Dervla Murphy, native of County Waterford in Ireland, has always been a single, professional writer whose books carry social messages which jolt the reader out of apathy. Her most famous A Place Apart was an incisive insight into the life of Northern Ireland. This time she set out on a route through Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, not realising as she did so that she would be travelling through the heart of the devastating Ukimwi trail. Ukimwi is the Swahili word for Aids, also known in Africa as the ‘slim’ disease… If there was a shaft of light in this sorry tale of mass extermination by disease it was that women were beginning to derive the strength to support each other to find solutions to the problem. But not, of course, without a lot of difficulty. Life as a celibate divorcee is not an option for most African women for whom life revolves around the family. But some are gaining the courage to say no to sex, especially with men who will not be tested for the HIV virus. If African women are gaining a taste of liberation, however, it has to be on their own terms. Over a beer with a couple of women who appeared to have developed a westernised approach to life, Dervla Murphy found herself reprimanded by one of them when she described the custom of paying ‘bride price’ as barbarous. ‘You don’t understand’ she was told by outraged Ugandan Hotel owner, Helen. ‘You think a woman feels bad if she’s exchanged for cows or money. But if there’s no exchange she feels worth nothing. I cost my husband tens cows. I had a good education…I speak English and can run a business. My father spent money on me, why give me away for nothing? Here a free bride’s a slave – no worth. Everyone knows my bride price. When I talk revolution they listen with respect.’ As an older woman travelling the world, Dervla Murphy always felt her age was an advantage. Not subject to the molestation of younger women she thought she was generally accepted a wise, unthreatening visitor, but for the first time with 13 travel books under her belt, she found herself taken to task for the manner in which she was travelling through Africa. Jill was the one to warn her: ‘You are too honest, explaining you’ve never married, have no religion and so on. You don’t realise how upset some people are when you talk like that.’ Jill maintained that the seasoned author was being a ‘cultural imperialist’ by behaving in this way. She was urged to fudge a bit as she travelled, pretend her ‘husband’ has died and feign a religious belief. “I was stunned by that advice but of course I will stick to it,” Dervla Murphy vowed last week. Dervla Murphy’s gruelling journey was a salutary one in many ways.' Margaret Kitchen, Liverpool Daily Post
'Most writers would be unable to tackle ‘ukimwi’ and retain their sense of humour (or adventure) but Ms Murphy is unfailingly interested and fascinated by every nuance of her journey. And that, surely, is the essence of good travel writing.' Imogen Lycett-Green, Daily Mail
'This quiet little cycle tour, if it’s read by enough people, is probably going to revolutionise a lot of views. Dervla Murphy is so clearly an honest and ordinary person and the questions she asks are so direct and relevant that they demand answers from the heart.' Irish Press