In the last of what he describes as a trilogy of memoirs, McIvor (In the Old Chief’s Country: My Life in Zimbabwe and Other Places, 2012, etc.) documents six years of his life in several countries where he has worked for Save the Children.
Here, the Scottish author chronicles his travels to Morocco, Haiti, and Cuba. McIvor pays less attention to his job than to his adventures in these foreign countries, where some of the observations he makes are deeper than those of the typical tourist—and others not. In Morocco, he felt oppressed by the constant presence of other people. In one of the few comic anecdotes in the book, he describes finding a pleasant, deserted beach to make his own only to realize that it was abandoned because it’s regularly patrolled by thieves, who efficiently stripped him of his valuables and then laughed at him when he refused to take their flip-flops to replace his athletic shoes on the long, rock-strewn journey back to his car. In Haiti, he was depressed by the overwhelming poverty and the environmental horrors caused by deforestation. In Cuba, he visited schools and talked with students, was the only tourist at a museum devoted to the invasion of the Bay of Pigs, and tried unsuccessfully to visit the U.S. base at Guantánamo. As a travel guide, the book is most valuable when it describes places most tourists wouldn’t get to see or evokes the tedium of living for long periods in a location that at first seems exotic. As a memoir, it’s oddly impersonal. The author gives little sense of the motivation behind his choices, and the transitions between one place and another are left undescribed. Attempts to re-create dialogue fall flat.
While the memoir could use more literary flair, McIvor’s unique perspective as a cleareyed aid worker has value.