Africa Memoir tells the incredible lifetime story of Mark G. Wentling, a boy from Kansas who grew up to travel, work, and visit all 54 African countries. This one-of-a-kind, three-volume work deserves a special place on the bookshelves of anyone interested in Africa. The author Mark Wentling talks to Book Glow about his three-part memoir.
How did your journey to Africa begin?
It began by becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) in 1967. I asked to go to Africa, and I was sent to Honduras. After two years of serving as a PCV in Honduras, I repeated my request to go to Africa and to my surprise I was sent as a PCV to Africa in 1970.
What are some of the challenges of working in Africa?
I found that staying healthy to be among the many challenges of working in tropical Africa. Coming from outside the continent, you are more disposed to be infected by the many bacteria and viruses that dwell in Africa’s warm climate. I survived many tropical ailments, but the most fearsome of these was malaria. I am still wary of contracting malaria. I am also wary in some parts of Africa of increased security and safety concerns.
What was the first country you visited?
I was sent to Togo as a PCV and lived and worked in rural Togo for three years (1970-73) as a school construction and gardens PCV.
Do you have a favorite country?
I feel at home anywhere in Africa. My preference is to live and work in a country that is more like Africa was fifty years ago. Of course, today’s Africa is different than the Africa I knew decades ago. For various reasons, I would not mind living in Ghana or Tanzania. As I get older, I appreciate more good health services and an acceptable level of security.
What are the top five reasons to visit the African continent?
1. To be immersed in Africa’s vast mosaic of different people, cultures, food, music, and languages.
2. To see first-hand Africa’s natural scenic beauty.
3. To see Africa’s unique wildlife.
4. To learn about the impoverished living conditions of most of Africa’s people.
5. To know that Africa is not one country, but a diverse collection of fifty-four countries.
What led you to write this three-volume memoir?
At first, I thought I would write about my experiences in a few African countries. Then, it dawned on me that to be fair I should write about each of the African countries with which I have had contact. I then found myself writing about all fifty-four African countries.
How long did it take to write?
I began writing in my spare time my three-volume memoir in Luanda, Angola, in August 2018. I finished the first draft of this lengthy memoir in December 2019. I spent the early months of 2020 editing what I wrote.
Do you prefer writing in one genre over another?
I found that writing a memoir easier than writing my previous books of fiction because no imagination and plot formulation were required. In my memoir, I could write about factual situations and state my views as I best saw fit.
What book most influenced your life?
This is a tough question to answer. Perhaps, I was subtly influenced as a child growing up in Kansas by a book written in 1940 (year of my birth) by another Kansan, Osa Johnson. The worldwide best-selling book was entitled I Married Adventure. It was only when I visited in 2006 a museum dedicated to her and her husband, Martin, in a converted old railway station in her hometown of Chanute, Kansas, that it dawned on me that her book had in some unknown ways influenced me.
Where do you write?
At first, I had to be at my home desk and far from any distractions, but I found that my writing progress was slowed too much by waiting for these conditions. So, I forced myself to learn to write anywhere and under any circumstances. Now, it seems I write best on planes, trains, in airports, and coffee shops. And the more distractions the better. A writer will write, no matter what.
Is there any one thing that especially frustrates you about the writing process?
For me, the most frustrating thing is not having enough time to write about all the subjects I would like to write about. There are words inside me that are clamoring to pour out on the page. Sometimes, I dream about things to write and I am very frustrated when I do not have the time to jot these things down.
Any advice for novice writers?
I have been asked this question before and I have found that I have little to offer other writers. My style and life’s experiences tend to give me an unorthodox approach to writing and, therefore, my way of writing is probably not of use by anyone else. All I know, if you are born to be a writer, you will write.
I keep telling myself that at the age of seventy-five I should retire and take it easy. But there are more books hammering at the inside of my skull, begging me to write more words that will result in their creation. Perhaps, my next book will be about growing up in a small town in Kansas in the 1950s.