Book review: Walk With Us

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When you break it down into 6 000km through six countries in six months – on foot and surviving on US$2 a day – it’s only a list of stats, almost meaningless. Sitting there in your armchair, you have no real conception of exactly what this would entail. Tom David and Warren Handley walked that journey, in aid of early childhood development, and their story is – as the cover of the book says – “a gripping African adventure”.

The story begins in Handley’s voice, just shy of the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. As if the decision to walk back home to South Africa from there wasn’t already enough of a challenge. The journal-entry style of the book flips back and forth between Handley and David, something which at first you are aware but later blends almost seamlessly.

The life-changing journey for these young men – aged 24 at the time, in 2017 – took them through Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and finally, South Africa. The goal was 40km a day (with welcome rest days in between). They had no official support crew, although the kindness of strangers along the way was astonishing and inspiring; accounts of people who had so little themselves yet gave so generously to David and Handley – who, according to their journals, did not look or smell too good at all.

They carried everything on their backs and every night they had to find somewhere safe to pitch their tiny tent. The most basic of hot meals were a luxury, and a beer was the best thing a beer could possibly be.

Add to that the physical discomfort – no, pain – like screaming muscles, blisters and chafing, sickness (Handley contracted typhoid fever early on), extreme weight loss, and a horrendous diet of mostly biscuits and corn chips, and you begin to get an idea of what such a venture entails.

The narrative is engaging and often moving. The notion of being in such extremely intimate conditions with another human is touched on throughout, but explored a bit more fully in the final chapter – which you must definitely not skip; the arrival in Joburg isn’t the end of the story by any means.

Not only is this book remarkable in its tale of endurance, but the writers are both brutally honest – with themselves and about themselves.

Both come from backgrounds of relative privilege, something of which they are highly aware. This informs their experience of Africa and its effects on them. However, they are not two vacuous millennials on a pleasure jaunt. This was a walk with a higher purpose, and one which influenced them enormously, both during and after.

The aim was to raise funds and create awareness for early childhood development. According to Unicef the years from conception through birth to eight years of age are critical to the complete and healthy cognitive, emotional and physical growth of children. David and Handley are affiliated with an organisation called Aluwani, which focuses on nurturing happy, healthy, secure children, and empowering rural communities to be self-sustaining.

In the foreword to the book, it says: “There are people who say what they are going to do. There are people who try to do what they say. Then there are the select few who actually do what they say.”

And if that means making a difference, no matter how small, the goal has been achieved. Walk With Us is a remarkable and uplifting story.

This book review was compiled by Bianca Coleman.