Review: Dust of Danakil

A Thrilling Adventure 

20151215_100035This true story, woven from Ian Mathie’s daily journals while working in Africa, kept me turning the pages. The book showed me another world and took me out of my comfortable, Midwestern life.

The memoir tells of the young  man’s time in the desert of Ethiopia during the 1970’s drought. The British government gave him the job of finding water in the desert to sustain the Afar people. The tribe fiercely protected their homelands and put fear into fellow Ethiopians and foreigners alike. But not Ian Mathie. His persistence, bravery, and a healthy dose of youthful brashness enabled him to reach out to the suspicious Afar.

Dangerous Assignment

The author encouraged and bribed the tribe to help him build a weir to make the infrequent rains useful to them. The odds were stacked against the success of the project. Mathie had to befriend the sometimes violent tribe, thwart government interference, and work around cultural differences. He was a pragmatic man who didn’t believe that it couldn’t be done. To prove himself to the tribe, he offered them food in exchange for a day’s work. To gain their trust, he used his own money to buy medical and other supplies and drew upon his many years in the bush to treat their wounds and illnesses.

Above and Beyond the Call of Duty

I picture the young Ian Mathie as an Indiana Jones character; not plundering the relics of a civilization, but bringing a treasure to the Afar people. He showed them a way to make their lives better and more independent, after the tribe had become inured to subsistence living, disease, hunger, and death. They didn’t know how to try.

As the old saying goes….Give a man a fish and he eats for the day, but teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime.

A Good Choice for Book Discussion Groups

This memoir is a well written adventure, but it is also much more. It is intellectual, compassionate, and realistic. The author’s frustration and anger at the status quo comes through loud and clear. The epilogue is especially helpful to give the reader a sense of how one is to feel about the droughts and the inadequacy of the world’s response. Mr. Mathie’s conclusions may surprise you.

2 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews

2 responses to “Review: Dust of Danakil

  1. Thanks, Jeanne. It’s rewarding to see you have got so much out of my book. Those were exciting days and drought is endemic in that part of the world, so things really should have moved on. Today another drought is in force and the Afar are marginally better able to cope with it, but with no thanks to the international aid community. They do so now by their own efforts, because someone showed them they could. If that is my legacy, then I’m pleased with it.

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