Sunrise from the summit of Kilimanjaro
Guest Post by Alexandra Bowen
In 2013 I forgot to return (i.e. stole) three books from the New York Public Library: All About The Oscar, Behind the Oscar, and A Pictorial History of the Academy Awards. These are the perfect reflection of what I was reading while in school—and a perfect reflection of how hard it is to care about overdue library books once you move. By 2015, I said goodbye to New York and started a my film career in LA, and the last thing I wanted to do after a long, albeit fulfilling, work day was read those damn books. Another literary interest took its place: Africa.
This interest isn’t entirely out of left field. I started reading because my dad was always reading, and he because his dad was always reading. What are they reading about? Africa. (And WWII, but that seemed more like a man thing than a Bowen thing). So I started reading about Africa.
More specifically, the Congo.
It seemed so dark and mysterious. And different from where I was. I started with King Leopold’s Ghost, then Blood River, In The Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz, and Dancing In the Glory of Monsters. This world was complicated, far away, oftentimes bleak, but always layered. There are cities in the Congo where time goes backwards. Grandparents had modern amenities that their grandchildren have never seen. They joke, “What did the Congolese use before they discovered candles?” Answer: electricity. I’d blow through these books each night before bed, wake up well-rested the next morning, and walk the palm-tree lined streets to my office while considering King Leopold, Kinshasa, and Mobutu. This fixation grew until every standing-in-line-at-CVS moment, morning or evening, was occupied by the Congo.
Then I climbed Kilimanjaro.
(We summited! and had a blast)
I landed back in LA with a thud—jittery, tired, and overly excited by all toilets. I settled into life again, ready to read under my down comforter. But I felt a full body block against reading about Africa. I couldn’t do it. The fixation disappeared. Fully obsessed to fully disinterested. I can only compare that weird sensation to taking a pill that instantly cures a headache.
Maybe it’s the every-changing phases of youth. Maybe it’s PTSD from international travel. I suspect, if I give it time, I’ll discover that the real block is that Africa is not a mystery anymore. It doesn’t matter that I was across the border in Tanzania; the far away world of the Congo is tangible now. There’s a chance I’ll stare at my hand too long and think too deeply about the dark details of what happened there.
I don’t know what I expected to take away from this trip, but it certainly wasn’t that. So goes life. Those people couldn’t care less if I’m reading about them or not—I wasn’t put here to solve the riddle of the Congo. For now, I feel a sense of endearment to that place. I will bide my time, send them good vibes, and get back to reading my contraband non-fiction film industry books until I’m ready to do what I am meant to do:
make a movie about it.