Penny fulfills her lifelong dream by moving to Africa with her twelve-year-old son Peyton, narrowly escaping death and suffering the theft of all her money within the first ten days. Although she spends her life in preparation by honing survival skills, seeking out adventures and attaining a biology degree, she never imagines the harshness of the conditions and the extreme demands placed on cognitive abilities in order to succeed on the continent. She not only manages to prevail despite the stress, but is able to secure a safe and prosperous urban existence for herself and her son, providing an example for him to follow during the daunting struggles in the difficult upcoming years of his own life.
Becoming African is the first book to chronicle the true adventure of a white-skinned mother who moves to Africa with her preteen son in fulfillment of a lifelong dream and soon finds the only way to prosper in the challenging environment is by attempting to become African, as she creates an effective life strategy worthy enough to pass on to her eventually receptive son.
As a child, Penny is capable of conversing, but chooses to utter only a few words, of which “Africa” is her surprising favorite. She establishes a lifetime goal to reach the continent and live there but it’s not until motherhood that she is able to begin actualizing her dream, beginning with “Africa conveniently located on the North American continent,” Canada’s Yukon. The northern wilds serve as a proving ground and inspire Penny’s relocation to Alaska to complete her biology degree. During her senior year, she meets a Ugandan Presbyterian minister and accepts an offer to teach at his mission school outside Kampala, Uganda. Mother and son Peyton soon make the move, but are immediately beset with devastating obstacles and adversities. She realizes they must think African to survive, but to thrive they will need to become African. The setbacks continue, threatening total burnout on the African people and even diminishing Penny’s love of the land. At lowest ebb, they encounter a remarkable individual in Zanzibar who manages to rekindle her appreciation. Tempered with realism, it evokes a passion even stronger than before.
In Becoming African, the dichotomy of Africa is dramatically revealed in a factual account that reads like an adventure novel. Penny and Peyton adore the Ugandan people, but know they will steal at every opportunity. God is revered above all throughout the country, but religion is often used as a tool of self-enrichment by corrupt ministers, including the one who brings Penny to Uganda. Beauty co-exists with danger, like the deadly poisonous snake inches from Penny’s foot that is only casually mentioned by their guide. Brushes with death occur at every turn, in spite of Penny’s unyielding determination to safeguard them both. She contracts malaria on arrival and their entire $6000 savings is stolen during her hospital stay. They narrowly miss the catastrophic U. S. Embassy bombing in Nairobi by less than two hours and are nearly abandoned in the Indian Ocean while snorkeling. A knife-wielding intruder enters their jungle tent in Malawi and the engine falls out of their car on the way back to Kampala. Penny is almost jailed in Zanzibar, attacked by a baboon in Kenya, bitten by a tortoise on Prison Island, infected by a lemon tree thorn in Tanzania and they suffer another theft in Mozambique before it’s over. When it comes time to leave the continent, the two opt to cross Lake Victoria on a state ferry that is dangerously overloaded along the way, piloted by a captain who blatantly becomes loaded on the way, drinking continuously since setting sail. They brave the treacherous Transkei in South Africa, where travelers are cautioned not to stop for any reason, especially accidents, which are often staged by robbers.
Within months Penny has successfully carved out an enjoyable life and the two begin to thrive. She lands a job as morning personality on Kampala’s number one radio station; they are offered affordable lodging at the prestigious (and safe) Mosa Court and are befriended by the owner, a high-ranking government official. They make new friends and begin to travel Uganda and neighboring countries. They enter and exit Congo without visas due to some creative socializing on Penny’s part, observe the heartbreaking scene of the tragedy in Rwanda and visit spectacular wildlife in the national parks of Kenya and Tanzania while hosting guests from home. They enjoy the pristine beaches of Zanzibar and Penny even holds hands with a mountain gorilla. As they are leaving, they behold the breathtaking Garden Route on the way to Cape Town, South Africa. They say goodbye, knowing that a percentage of their souls have indeed become African: now and forever.
The eleven action-filled chapters of Becoming African are interspersed with excepts that detail Peyton’s behavior and emergence as an unhappy, troubled child who is eventually able to absorb these life-changing experiences along with the bravery and resilience of his mother in response to the circumstances they encounter. In doing so, Peyton develops skills and understanding based upon his mother’s responses and proactive discernment that will eventually save his own life. The chapters are largely completed and contain approximately 120,000 words. Photos are included along with original drawings depicting key elements of the unimaginable journey of this mother and son.