The Train to Harare

Lance Mason

© Copyright 2020 by Lance Mason

Lance and rhino.

This work is a reflection on several trips I have made to Africa, but especially my first in 1988, as I was immigrating to New Zealand, and my second in 1998, on a short-notice visit when my long-time friend and college roommate was charges d'affaires (acting ambassador) following the Al Queda bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi. I have tried to discuss the questions and challenges of post-colonial independence across Africa and across a spectrum of viewpoints, always aware that I am visitor with all the limits that implies.

In 1959, Ryszard Kapuscinski was sent by his newspaper in Poland into Ghana, to report on its independence, won just two years before. Though he moved on, living and writing in outposts around the world, Africa would always hold a piece of him.

From the Gabarone railway station, late October, the sky grades from charcoal to plum to, in the east, vermillion. Botswana is well into the dry season. Hundreds of kilometers away, the hippo drags the smooth barrel of his belly through the mud-strewn grass, along the swampy troughs that lead from pool to pool, stream to stream, all of them shrinking. He, like the elephant and the antelope, follows the receding water, still taking life from the rains that came but now have fled.
Yet that is in the north, far up where the rivers spilling out of Angola form the Okavango Delta, the “Swamp,” a broad, fecund paradise on the skirts of the Kalahari, where every wildlife dream is real. Down here in the south, across an empty sweep of soil and dust, the heat of the desert is brawny and tough. Yet, like an animal, it rests, waiting through the African night. Then at dawn it stirs and begins to stalk you.
Growing power like a hardening fist, the heat grips its human captives, threatens to grind their strength to sand against the desert’s stones. Threatens to, but doesn’t. For the Africans are at one with the heat, as though with that animal that could kill you and eat you but doesn’t because you are one with it. As strong as the heat is, the native people are stronger.


It was 1988, and I was in Botswana absorbing the hospitality of friends on one of many such trips I would take—and still take—moving, exploring, untangling the twisted shoelaces of my life. I had been up with Dan to the Delta, seen the hippos and the elephant herds, the marabou storks and the tsessebe, the malachite kingfisher and the bat-eared fox, and the black-eyed, mud-encrusted, blunt-brained Cape buffalo.

Dan had taken a break from his duties with the State Department, and we’d gone from Maun by bush-plane into the center of the “Swamp.” We’d bought provisions at Oddball’s Camp, a lonely enterprise run by a mad Australian who lived in this back-of-beyond, and belonged there. Oddball had found us a guide, and the three of us, Dan, Kamanga, and I, set off, covering the hilly grasslands by foot and the waterways by mokoro, Kamanga’s dug-out canoe. We’d tramped and camped in the open, swum in ponds that the crocodiles had surrendered, and followed elephant spoor within sight of a lion's kill. Three boys in the wild woods, pure and without purpose. On the best of nights, the entire horizon danced under the blue-white streaks of prairie lightning.
      All this had been the revival of a venture interrupted a decade before. Now it was over. I was back in the bake-room of Gabarone, on the platform with my pack, waiting for a train. I was leaving Botswana, and the train would take me north-northeast along the border, up to Francistown on the Bulawayo line, then on to Harare. From there I would fly to Sydney, and on to my new job back in New Zealand.
      But, for now, I stood in the rising, ticking heat. Dan had dropped me off on his way to the embassy—even on Sunday morning, he had work to do. Our trip to the Delta had cost him some valuable desk time, and now he had to make it up. So I waited in the station’s shadows and tried to comprehend Africa.


The storybook vision of this wild continent, the vibrant, frightening terra incognita across whose verge Stanley, Speke, and Burton stared, trembling with 19th Century excitement, has long since passed into history. That place, the biologic, ecologic, un-catalogue-able cosmic diversity of forms and species, has died, in its skin and in its heart. The Africa of today, the one we think we recognize, began much later.

As in Europe and the South America of the 1800s, revolution gripped Africa and Asia in the 1900s. Confrontation roiled between freedom and suppression, between local sovereignty and imperialist politics. The culture of Empire was dying, and many dominant powers of Europe and Asia were forced into new political scenarios, and myriad versions of them played out around the world between rebel and former master— Communist vs. Tsarist, Mao vs. Chiang, Indochina and Algeria vs. France, Malaya and India and Kenya vs. Britain, and so on. The hatred and vengeance of centuries was released by the ruled and rulers alike, and revolt against the imperialist was writ onto the battlefield with the emotions of sectarian warfare.
      The stakes in Africa, though, were especially high, and opposing wheels of change churned against each other through the century’s middle decades. Ideologies, greed, lust for power, old scores, and the many promises of what the end of colonialism would bring all combined to set Africa-at-large, and many African countries individually, on a violent path to self-determination—to this dream called independence.


It is difficult to put oneself in the minds of those caught up in the fever of independence. For hundreds of years, foreign states had controlled broad swaths of Africa’s lands and people. France’s colonial holdings were too numerous to list, matched only by Britain’s. Afrique équatoriale française, Cote d’Ivoire, British East Africa, Portuguese West (and East) Africa, Portuguese Guinea, the Belgian Congo, German South-West Africa, Bechuanaland, Italian Abyssinia—these were the names and regimes with which Africa was labeled over many decades. The rebellious concept of self-rule burned only in the eyes and minds of a dangerous and troublesome few, white or black.

Yet burn it did. Clausewitz said war is politics by other means, and, as an appetite for freedom burgeoned, blood flowed and bodies fell from the Atlantic coast to The Horn, from Capetown to Carthage. The wars were political, economic, cultural and religious, and, in dozens of cases, they brought self-rule. What they did not bring was Utopia. They did not bring Paradise. They certainly did not, except for a few African states, bring anything like what the people in the street, in their huts, and in their strife expected from a successful fight against the oppressor.
      For 200 years, exploitation and suppression of Africa had been honed to a vicious art by foreign invaders, soldiers, slavers, and misguided preachers. European imperial maps c. 19th Century created a malignant jigsaw of captive wealth-bytes based on counterfeit boundaries that decimated traditional lands and customs. Arab interests, by contrast, rarely took possession of the land—just the people. By slavery. They colonized East and North Africa by language, money, and religion. Dogmatic Muslim teachings ate away tribal identity and culture in the name of Islam.
The now-terrible irony is that, in the surge to independence, modern “nation rape” by the greedy, the power-mad, and the misguided found as many collaborators among black African opportunists as among outsiders. So, as freedom-hungry Africans threw themselves headlong into their passion for self-rule, they acquiesced too often to the charisma of leaders and movements with agendas geared toward tribal and/or individual supremacy. Milton Obote then Idi Amin in Uganda, Mobutu Sese Seko followed by Laurent Kabila in the DRC, Daniel Arap Moi in Kenya, Sani Abacha in Nigeria–the litany of abusers and consequent abuse reads long and sorrowful: assassination, coups, backdoor deals, cults, civil war, ethnic cleansing, and genocide.
The most enduring distillation of this post-revolution statesman-turned-fascist-plunderer was Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe for thirty-two years. He supported public-office terms limits as long as they’re in three digits, made Hugo Chavez look like a jolly day-laborer, and seemed to share a collective unconscious with the late Muammar Gaddafi. Yet, in Zimbabwe, he was no joke. His history was as contentious, violent, tumultuous, and destructive as any of the wildest dictator fiction.
If Conrad was right, and there is darkness here, it was and is in the hearts of those, black and white alike, who led parts of Africa to their current state of decline.


The old black-and-brass steam locomotive snarls and squeals into the station, setting loose in the enervating heat a score of Botswana Railways personnel to scamper or drag themselves from desk to door, from baggage to cart, from cargo storage to track-side dock. Passenger carriages roll in behind the engine, conductors step down, and with no special ceremony, I hump my pack onboard and find compartment C-10.

      Botswana Railways wears its livery with pride, only a year into its own independence from National Railways of Zimbabwe. The tan and green paint on the hardware is holding up, as is the serviceable gray leather-and-fabric upholstery on the seats in my compartment. It isn't my compartment, but one I share with two others, both black Africans. He is a minister, in clerical dress, on his way from Johannesburg to Selebi Phikwe. She is traveling to Francistown "on family business." They are both solicitous of my welfare, and we speak of the heat.
      Botswana is one of the success stories of independence in Africa. It has no coast, land-locked between South Africa to the south, Namibia and the Caprivi Strip to the west and north, and Zimbabwe and other countries to the east. It has vast expanses of desert, mineral wealth that escaped early detection, and a small native people. The Bushmen of the Kalahari are short and sinewy, not designed by their God for the heavy manual labor that slave-traders to Arabia and the New World were dealing in. So Bechuanaland, Botswana’s titular forerunner, was never the exploitation target for outsiders and corrupt Africans that its neighbors were, and it has moved into the current century with a reasonable promise of survival and success.
      The train rolls along its narrow gauge tracks, headed north-northeast, due in Francistown that afternoon. For a century, Francistown had been an outpost for frontier survival, gold mining, and the cross-border trade with Rhodesia. It saw, over that time, uncounted tons of legal, if blood-stained, elephant ivory pass through the hands of the merchants and agents in this sun-seared, tin-roofed settlement. Now, 1988, ivory export is illegal, but rumor testifies that that hasn't extinguished the trade. Poachers and smugglers move the contraband by other means – bribes, mislabeled goods, trucks by night. Still, the sins of Francistown aren’t my concern. I am a vagabond.
      I have traveled by rail through Europe, Great Britain, the Americas, and New Zealand, but, as the great Kalahari rolls past the carriage window, I can make only one comparison to these scenes of Botswana's wilderness. Only once have I seen so inviting a stretch of uninviting country. Twelve years ago, I crossed Australia by train. West of Adelaide, spanning thousands of square kilometers of sand, saltbrush, and desiccation, is the Nullarbor Plain, flat as a page and hot as a griddle. You get a hero’s welcome in Perth just for traversing that God-forsaken desolation. Yet, as in Botswana, a certain comfort can be found in its near-emptiness. Knowing that life is actually being sustained, albeit tenuously, by some few hardy species in such waterless terrain makes the place seem less unkind than it appears. And it appears very unkind indeed.
At dawn, the disc of the sun slices through the seam between sky and land, and, until it sets on the other side of Earth, your views are of sweeping, barren tracts that appear unmarked by man. The sandscapes’ reaches are vast, yet within range of one’s eye, and you are a mere human speck, like a grain of soil on Nature’s ground.


When reflecting on Africa, one can’t avoid asking, “Why has independence so often failed in pursuit of peace, stability, and prosperity in nations blessed with natural wealth?” To see the answer, the question must be turned back on itself. Most of the failed nations are not independent. Rather, they have traded a long and complex colonial tyranny for simple domestic tyranny. Even then, outsiders contribute to their arrested development through bribery, corruption, and zealotry.

Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Central African Republic, DRC, Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, Mali, Mauritania, Somalia, and more—through revolutionary transition, violent or otherwise, all brought themselves from under the yoke of political, economic, religious, and/or cultural dominance from European or Arab powers to some form of self-rule. Yet none can be called a paragon of governance or of distribution of wealth and power. Many portray but few deliver the principles of revolution to the people. Who can articulate the reasons why? I’ve heard lots of people try, Africans and outsiders alike, but none seem able to agree.
      Of course, there is the neo-post-colonialist view, that Africans have not evolved in step with the developed world, and so cannot grasp what is needed to be free and materially secure. There is the neo-post-revolutionary view, that neo-imperialists are still enslaving Africa by economic and political, if not physical, means, and this prevents African nations from moving ahead. There is the Kapuscinski view, that Arab and Anglo-European slaving histories have cast African blacks as second- and third-class beings in the covert, and sometimes overt, sentiments of the world’s prosperous citizens, and so reaching a helping hand out to African cultures and economies is not a viscerally smooth response. Conversely, not attending to their difficulties doesn’t seem so morally illicit, and they’re not powerful enough to force us.


With bursts of steam and whistle, we arrive in Francistown. Around and through the station pulses the street bazaar. Sweet and spicy food aromas mix with oil smells from the train. Food vendors, trays and baskets on their heads, sashay along the tracks and carriage-sides, selling fruits of all colors, sausage sandwiches, corn snacks, and fizzy drinks. Hawkers sell handicrafts and trinkets – bangles and beads, fabrics and hats, buffalo horn napkin rings. It’s momentary commerce, and the traders will survive the day, if not much richer.

The black-garbed minister left us at Selebi Phikwe. Now the African lady, tightly wrapped in her banana-flower prints, and with business in Francistown, also disembarks. As do I, changing to an NRZ train, bound for Harare on the line through Bulawayo.
      Some process I can only guess at has given National Railways of Zimbabwe very different rolling stock from Botswana Railways. The BR wagons were of painted steel and "sensible" upholstery, evidently designed and finished as utilitarian conveyances for people used to serviceable basics as a way of life. The NRZ carriage I enter, though, is a traveling Edwardian parlor—walnut wainscoting, carpeted floors, purple mohair and velour upholstery, burgundy velvet curtains, copper washbasins. It is generations old, pre-WWII, perhaps pre-WWI, and built and outfitted, I am guessing, in Britain for well-to-do African travelers. At the time, it served primarily white families, the men, women, and children who had followed on from Cecil Rhodes in the colonization and wealth-gathering of British East Africa. They and their successors, on the backs of black labor and white-only rule, had turned Southern Rhodesia—later Zimbabwe—into a farming and industrial economy unsurpassed for its size in Africa. Hence these luxury trains, though they are no longer white-only, and no longer luxurious.
      From Francistown to Bulawayo, I share my compartment with a new passenger, a Zimbabwean man. A large man. A black man. A large, well-dressed (except for his shoes, which were tatty), black man on his way home to Bulawayo. These attributes, as I list them, may seem obvious, irrelevant, or pedantic. If so, consider this, as well: He is carrying twenty kilograms of rice in a burlap sack.
      I say these things about this man because, in Africa, nothing is superfluous. I tell you he is black and a Zimbabwean so you know that he comes from the historical majority of that country, and has historical reasons to support the black president of their republic. I tell you our man is well-dressed because this shows he isn't part of the poor majority of his country. I tell you he is large, because that means well-fed and powerful, which go hand-in-hand in Africa. The shoes are a different thing.
Good Western-made shoes aren’t for sale in the bazaars and shops here, and they get old and show their age and may not be easily repaired or replaced, despite one’s station. So if his shoes are broken, it means that Botswana, certainly Africa, is possibly as far afield as this man, this well-fed, well-placed, native African man, has been.
      Why is all this relevant in 1988? And what about the rice? The man’s name is Jonas, and I'll let him tell you.
      "While on business in Botswana, I bought this rice. It is becoming difficult to find in our country now, and very dear. It is a disgrace. The farms in Zimbabwe were once the finest in Africa. Everything was here," he says, gesturing at the expanses of arable land rocking past the carriage windows, "and it was cheap for us. Now we must go to Botswana to buy rice. Botswana!" He uses the voice of disgust and derision to refer to his neighbor to the west. It is unimaginable to him that poor, desert-filled, humble Botswana could sell him rice cheaper than his own proud country, that it makes some kind of economic sense for him to haul twenty kilos of uncooked rice back from Botswana to his home in post-revolution Bulawayo.
      I have heard rumors of this embarrassment. From living, working, and traveling in its former colonies and Great Britain itself, I have tried to keep current with the affairs of the Commonwealth. Though it is my first time in the country, indeed in Africa, I have heard that Zimbabwe is gradually slipping away from its once prosperous, well-fed position in the agriculture and economics of sub-Saharan Africa.
      "And not only rice. Corn, too, and cornmeal. Melons. Meat. All of it is becoming scarce and expensive."
      What can I say to this man? This is Africa and he is an African. This is free Zimbabwe and he is Zimbabwean. I am a foreigner, a stranger with no more advice or comfort to give this patriot and his bag of rice and his marketplace anxiety than a surprised landlubber, watching a sinking ship, could give to a sailor onboard. So, I ask the fool's question.
      "Is the government doing anything about it?"
      "Oh, yes," Jonas says, "our government will face this. Our government will take us out of this crisis." He has been watching his country slide past the window in the setting sun. Now he looks at me with conviction on his face, but fear in his eyes. "Mr. Mugabe and his people -- we can trust them. He will fix this. Mr. Mugabe will save us."
      The man of whom Jonas speaks, Robert Mugabe, has been Zimbabwe’s only president since independence came in 1980, at the end of the “Bush War” revolution, when international sanctions against white minority rule forced new elections. He is seen by some as a Prince of Freedom, like Kenyatta, Nkrumah, Lumumba, Nyrere, Mandela, and Sir Seretse Khama. But, in time, his ZANU-PF party will come to rule Zimbabwe with a de facto single-party fist, harassing and jailing any outspoken members of the opposition, Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change. ZANU-PF will oversee the degeneration of a robust economy and a fledgling democracy. They and Mugabe will assign the blame for this to the same powers who designed and forced the sanctions that saw Mugabe into power. Hypocrisy is not just a colonial fault.


Anthropology and archeology show that Africa, before the white man’s maps, was a galaxy of clans, tribes, and native nations. It is beyond our grasp how diverse and generally functional it was, and it’s too complex—and mysterious?—to list all the factors that have brought much of Africa to its knees. If a single statistic could show what is squeezing the continent’s breath from its body, it would be one given to me by a fifth-generation Anglo-African, a farmer from Kenya with a graduate degree from Cornell in rangeland management. Available research estimates the black population of Kenya c. 1900 at 350,000; in 1960, 9 million; in 1998, 35 million (2012: 42 million). Are these figures right? The first one may be sketchy, but the rest are true. Then consider Rwanda: 2 million people in 1950; 11 million today.

These facts alone paint a broad-brush sketch of what faces Africa. Kenya as it stands cannot possibly provide the work and food needed for 40 million people. Add at least another dozen African countries in similar or worse condition, and the scope of the calamity takes shape in one’s mind.


A decade passes before I return to Africa. Again it’s October, and I’m in Nairobi. In August, Al Qaeda agents carried out a suicide bombing of a local bank and the American Embassy. Twelve of the dead were Americans; 168 were Kenyans going about their daily business. Collateral damage.

Michael, another old friend with the State Department, now acting Ambassador, has taken me to the site of the bombing. The embassy building, now a perforated block of scorched concrete, squats windowless on a busy corner of the city. Beside it, an eight-story commercial building, the location of the bank, is caved in like a doll-house dropped from a great height. Nearly all the deaths were there. Nairobi’s Ground Zero.
The bombers, on a mission for their cause but blocked by Kenyan guards from entering the embassy compound, detonated the weapon anyway, and hundreds of children were orphaned in a few seconds. Again, zealotry triumphs over human reason. Again, Africa is chosen as a battleground for ideologies, and innocents pay the price in blood and lives. To some, this is revolution.
            From Nairobi, I travel south through Zambia, and once again into Zimbabwe where, in his eighteenth year of uninterrupted power, sits Sir Robert Mugabe. Four years ago, Britain gave him a knighthood—he was inducted by the Queen into the Order of the Bath (yes, that’s correct). He shares that honor among men with names like Horatio Pettus Mackintosh Berney-Ficklin, Edward Ponsonby, 8th Earl of Bessborough, and Courtauld Courtauld-Thomson, 1st Baron Courtauld-Thomson (I tell you true!).
      In time, Mugabe will declare himself President-for-life. In time, Britain will take away his knighthood. This is revolution.


Lounging on a hotel patio, I pick up a copy of the Sunday Mail. Like most of the country’s newspapers, it is government-controlled because, after eighteen years of independence and self-determination, the post-revolution Zimbabwean on the street, according to ZANU-PF, is not yet ready for free access to all domestic and world news. The Mail’s headline story is of a manhunt: a local shaman and his client are on the run for having removed and eaten the heart of a 12-year-old virgin in an effort to cure the client of AIDS; twenty-five percent of the population is infected. Perhaps, in turn, world news is not ready for Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

Jonas, with the small cargo of rice for his family, comes back to my thoughts. I recall his unshakable faith in his government to lead his country into the light. I look back over Mugabe’s rule since I met Jonas on the train to Harare. In ten years, Zimbabwe has gone from a struggling position of self-rule to teetering on the brink of insanity. They are transfixed over the abyss.
ZANU-PF shows the corruption of absolute power: one-party dictatorship and executive graft, to name the obvious two. Soon, they will have farm wars and foreign food aid. Mines will go into the hands of foreigners. Industrial production will fall 47% in seven years, with only 4% of the workforce left in manufacturing. In the aftermath of Mugabe and ZANU-PF forcing the most productive farmers off their land during drought years, maize (corn) production has fallen by 50% since 1988, and continues to drop.
This could be Jonas’s nightmare—Zimbabwe a desert like Botswana. By Mugabe’s lights, of course, this will be the fault of the West.
I ask myself if there is some ungovernable, unnavigable terrain between Africa and its future. Is the damage done so dire and so deep that Africa’s average post-revolution country can never be brought into the modern world? Then I look north across the border to Zambia, once a brother state to Zimbabwe when they were Northern and Southern Rhodesia, both British colonies. Kenneth Kaunda came to power in Zambia 1964, not by revolution but by tense but peaceful elections, and Zambia never looked back. By now, 1998, there has been a chain of successful leaders for thirty-four years, each elevated by the success of his predecessor. Perhaps they use their neighbor to the south as a reminder of how bad it can get.


What we know from Africa is that revolution doesn’t bring perfection. Sometimes it doesn’t even bring a decent shot at a decent life for the decent guy in the street. Dozens of tyrants or puppets or quislings or power-drunk megalomaniacs have flimflammed hundreds of millions of John Q. Africans into trading a better future tomorrow for a pot to piss in today, and often not even that. The ring-master has often endorsed, or been endorsed by, wealthy and powerful men, women, and corporations, and together they have fleeced the country of its wealth and its future.

      It’s not politically sophisticated to blame Africa’s lack of advancement—given its wealth—on tribalism, as if tribes are a lower form of life than the power elite. Tribes are, in fact, universal in every culture, be it economic (Goldman vs. HSBC, Harvard vs. Wharton, MBA vs. PhD), educational (Oxbridge vs. The Ivies, Chicago vs. Stanford), urban (WASP vs. Jew, Jersey vs. NYC), ethnic (Latin vs. Anglo, Newari vs. Thakali), or linguistic (Swahili vs. Chichewa, Basque vs. Catalan). The tribe gives man a haven from stress and a protection from threat, and Africa has plenty of both. Tribal forces, if kept in the service of family, tradition, dress, celebration, healthy competition, and so on, belong in Africa like they belong elsewhere, if they don’t undermine a free and fair society. Yet, when they turn against the nation, they are vile and damnable.
No, we don’t see ruin everywhere. Sub-Saharan success is visible, if inconsistent, in Angola, Zambia, Namibia, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Botswana. Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, and Burundi show a checkerboard pattern of peaceful existence mixed with patches of crime, unrest, border war, and overpopulation. South Africa is altogether another animal. By far the wealthiest and most powerful, yet with apartheid still a force in daily memory, this nation is like the wounded buffalo—it may heal and recover, or it may strike out against what it fears. No one really knows where it is headed.


Ryszard Kapuscinski came to Africa in 1959 and followed the revolutionary movement wherever it took him. He won great acclaim for his African reporting and for how he told those stories. But he also received scorn from some who felt he was too liberal with his facts or his interpretations of cause-and-effect. It’s fascinating to watch a critic exercise his or her opinions, especially when it’s aimed at denying that privilege to the writer.

      One could do worse for a thrilling record of African independence than R.K.’s The Shadow of the Sun. Follow it up with The Emperor. Tim Butcher wrote Blood River by going overland from Zanzibar to Katanga Province, and then down the Congo River to the Atlantic Ocean. He chronicles the retreat of Europe’s footprint from a vast, jungle-choked African heartland. Read Fergal Keane or Doris Lessing or the South Africans. Better yet, go to Africa. The experience can’t be translated.


Of all the 20th Century’s black-white wars of revolution in Africa, none were more vicious and few as sustained as Rhodesia’s “Bush War” in the 1970s, leading to the birth of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. Cruelty, desperation, and endurance marked both sides’ causes. Death and fear were daily companions of whites and blacks alike. It even left its mark on me, for my ambition had been to travel south through East Africa in 1976. I’d left my New Zealand teaching post where Kenneth Kaunda’s daughter had been a grad student of mine. In a fairy-tale corner of my mind, I suppose I had an image of being well-received in Zambia’s capital of Lusaka.

I began by spending four months backpacking across Asia, headed to Bombay, as it was known. I had a ticket on a rice boat from there to Mombasa, from where I would patch together an amateur itinerary through Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Rhodesia, perhaps Mozambique (I had some Portuguese), and into South Africa. But as I approached India, the news reports out of East Africa became more and more alarming. I traded my boat ticket and Jo’burg-London air ticket for an air ticket Delhi-UK and some cash—yes, you could do that in those days—and simply flew away.

Raised in rural California, now a New Zealand resident, Mason has taught at UCLA, Brazil's National University in Natal, and Otago University in New Zealand. His fiction and nonfiction have won more than a dozen honors and awards, including a scholarship to the Vermont College of Fine Arts. New Zealand is the setting for some of his long and short works.
Mason has spent forty years exploring, living, and working abroad, including a half dozen round-the-world trips by foot, bicycle, motorcycle, kayak, helicopter, tramp steamer, catamaran, plane, train, and dugout canoe. In 2007, he and his team set an age-group record in an annual US coast-to-coast cycling race, a record still held today. Rugby, cycle-racing, live theater, wine, and fishing have all interfered at times with his writing life. He can be seen taking himself too seriously at

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