When Louise Linton went to Zambia in 1999, at the age of 18, she found herself hiding from rebel soldiers, protecting an HIV-positive orphan girl, contracting malaria, and having close encounters with “lions, elephants, crocodiles, and snakes,” according to her recently published memoir, “In Congo’s Shadow: One Girl’s Perilous Journey to the Heart of Africa.”
It was a gap year that turned into a nightmare, she recalls, as she quickly learned that “Africa is rife with hidden danger.”
The real nightmare may be the reception Linton is getting from Zambians and readers across the continent. Her book is being panned as a delusional, patronizing “jungle narrative,” riddled with inaccuracies and racist tropes. According to her critics, Linton — a Scottish actress and film producer whose resume includes “CSI: New York” and “William and Kate,” a Lifetime film about the British royal couple — is the latest reminder that the “white savior complex” is far from dead.
In her self-published memoir, Linton’s descriptions of her temporary home smack of the kind of exoticism and oversimplification that films such as “Out of Africa” were criticized for. Linton — young beautiful, and naive — describes wanting to help “some of the world’s poorest,” coming off as something of a real-life White Savior Barbie.
Over the course of almost half a year this “skinny white muzungu” or foreigner “with long angel hair” is caught up in the fringes of war in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo:
Gunshots echoed through the bush and seemed to be getting closer. I couldn’t imagine the awful, sporadic acts of violence that were being committed as the village was ransacked. Fear and anger for the children consumed my thoughts… As the night ticked interminably by, I tried not to think what the rebels would do to the ‘skinny white muzungu with long angel hair’ if they found me. Clenching my jaw to stop my teeth chattering, I squeezed my eyes shut and reminded myself how I’d come to be a central character in this horror story.
Linton eventually escaped home to the safety of her family and castle in Scotland.
I know that the skinny white girl once so incongruous in Africa still lives on inside me. Even in this world where I’m supposed to belong, I still sometimes feel out of place. Whenever that happens, though, I try to remember a smiling gap-toothed child with HIV whose greatest joy was to sit on my lap and drink from a bottle of Coca-Cola. Zimba taught me many beautiful words but the one I like the most is Nsansa. Happiness.
Many have taken to social media to criticize the claims in her book. Under the hashtag #LintonLies, Zambians are calling Linton out on everything from describing the “monsoon season” in a landlocked southern African country far from South Asia to writing about the “dense jungle canopy” when Zambia is made up of mostly wooded and grassland savannas. Others take issue with her account of machete-wielding child soldiers or that the conflict between Hutus and Tutsis, the basis of Rwanda’s 1990 civil war, ever spilled over into Zambia.
Ugh. Do people still think we don’t have internet in Africa? In the ‘jungle’. That we’ll never read what they write about us. #LintonLies
— Sithé Annette Ncube (@_LadySith) July 4, 2016
— Mulewa Shapi (@Mulewa92) July 5, 2016
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