Author: Geoffrey Clarfield

Understanding Modern African Horrors by Way of the Indian Ocean Slave Trade

On January 15, and well into the morning of the next day, terrorists affiliated with the Somali Jihadi group Al Shabab forced their way into an upscale Nairobi hotel and business centre, killing 21 innocent civilians. Kenyan authorities, with some help from Western allies, killed some of the terrorists and captured the rest. Al Shabab justified the attack by denouncing the Kenyan government’s participation with African Union forces in Somalia, which has been in a state of civil warfare since the early 1990s. I had driven by the targeted complex a couple of days before the attack, and once lived in this neighbourhood back when Kenya was my permanent home. On this visit to the country, I’ve noticed that—notwithstanding January’s terrible tragedy—tourism is booming, agriculture is bountiful and the Kenyan elite are benefiting from the massive Chinese investments that have transformed the landscape. The overall degree of improvement depends on which expert you believe. But the plethora of expensive cars that now jam the streets of Nairobi, and the building boom on display in many …

Righteous Among the Nations: The Rescued Tribe of Colonel Jose Arturo Castellanos Contreras

“When you grow up in a country where war is the order of the day, the bullets are flying all around you, it is only normal that once you get to a safe place like Canada, it may actually be a good thing to leave your country’s history behind, at least for a while,” Alvaro Castellanos tells me over coffee in midtown Toronto. “And so that is what my brothers did when we got here.” But in time, the past caught up with the Castellanos family. With the release of their extraordinary documentary film The Rescue, Alvaro and his younger brother Boris haven’t just faced up to their clan’s history. They have turned it into high art. Alvaro and Boris came to Canada as immigrants during the height of the civil war in native El Salvador. Their first home was in Pickering, a predominantly white, middle-class Toronto suburb. This was a household run by their mother and aunt. The boys’ estranged father remained in El Salvador, an almost entirely unknown figure in their lives. “You …

Barefoot Over the Serengeti: A Visit with David Read

“When [the Masai] gave you their word or made a promise, it meant something,” the author David Read (1922-2015) said to me in his last days, during an interview at his home in rural Tanzania. “They were also very generous. If they were laying on a feast and you were around, you were automatically invited. That meant you ate a lot of meat and drank a lot of their beer. In the early days in [the village of] Loliondo, my mother became the local nurse to Masai for miles around. And so, when the depression hit in 1929, no one had any money, my stepfather had to go far away to try his hand at mining. Every day, the Masai delivered milk and some meat for my mother and our family. We were very fortunate, and they kept us alive.” Read’s oeuvre—including Barefoot Over the Serengeti, Another Load of Bull, Beating About the Bush, and his novel about a Masai warrior set in pre-colonial times, The Waters of the Sanjan—evoke the life of an Englishman …