Sunday, 5 February 2017

Mungo Park and You

Dear Chris

I didn’t know how to mark 7th February this year, the 14th anniversary of you leaving for Africa. I had hoped, after last year’s rather miraculous proof of you still being alive, that I’d not have to mark this odious time of year ever again. But there you go.
Should I write a poem, paint a picture, rant and rave or decide to throw in the towel? To be honest, I can’t be bothered to do any of the above because I know you’re still alive and probably reading this. So, what should I do..?
To be brief and to the point. I believe in you. I know you are still alive. I want you to get in touch.
Do I need to persuade you?
Okay. You are just like Mungo Park (your inspiration) and like Mungo you are going to miraculously appear when everyone thinks you’re dead and long gone after being in Africa, without word, for so long.
I’m here to prove that you’re like Mungo and will appear, just as he did.

  1. You look reasonably alike, although he was a blue-eyed boy and you are brown- eyed (see above).
  2. You both left to follow the River Niger in your twenties.
  3. You have always been drawn to Africa (probably since Willard Price’s African Adventure!) and Mungo felt the same pull to the unexplored continent. He also grew up on a farm.
  4. Both of you studied at Edinburgh University – medicine and biological sciences (zoology).
  5. Mungo wanted more from life than being a surgeon in a small Scottish parish; you have always wanted adventure, too.
  6. You followed in Mungo’s footprints (see maps), nearly 200 years after Mungo’s first African trip.
  7. Mungo was thought to be dead after two years, seven months in Africa, and you too are dead (in most people’s eyes) having never come back after 14 years in Africa.
There is no point 8; which would have rounded this list off nicely with an even number. But life isn’t like that, is it. There are rough edges, wild goose-chases, red herrings and false starts. Shit happens. Disaster strikes.
But you and Mungo are made of the same stuff. Strong, bullish, defying the odds, good with people, empathetic to others’ suffering. He was a physician, and you once looked after young people who turned to you for support, love, hope and as a friend.
You are two peas in a pod, you and Mungo.
Chris, do a Mungo and appear to me after all these years. You yourself wrote this:
“To have endured the hardships he [Mungo] did and to have survived in such harsh country after several encounters with bandits who left him destitute, he must have been very tough both mentally and physically. Amazingly, after four months imprisonment by the Moors of Ludamar, he escaped with nothing but a pocket compass, a horse and the clothes he stood up in, and continued his mission to find the river regardless. Obviously, his desire to complete his mission was very strong. He found the river but soon found that the obstacles that lay ahead were insurmountable. After having advanced a short way eastward, he gave a very moving account of his painful decision to turn back. “Worn down with sickness, exhausted with hunger and fatigue, half naked and without any article of value by which I might procure provisions, clothes or lodgings, I began to reflect seriously on my situation”. With the rainy season setting in, his realization that most inhabitants to the east spoke a language which he could not understand and worried that he was advancing ever further within the power of “those merciless fanatics” (the Moors) he pleaded with the reader to understand his decision.
On the positive side, Mungo also received much kindness and hospitality from many of the people he met along the way. In the end, it was this kindness which enabled him to survive so long and eventually make a safe, but by no means easy return to the coast with a coffle (caravan) of slaves about a year after his departure, when many people had already given him up for dead. His admiration and respect for the black African is beyond doubt but unfortunately, he never openly condemned the slave trade. This may be because he wanted to avoid the possibility of upsetting some of his sponsors but could be because he believed that with the scale of the trade as it was in Africa at the time, that abolition would have little effect on their society. What he did do though, was to impress on people that Africans share the same human qualities as Europeans and are really not so different.”
You and Mungo have shared such a similar journey… even the lady who saw you and talked to you and gave you money in Accra, Ghana (you were destitute, ill and begging by the traffic lights in 2005) lives with her Scottish husband less than 10 miles from where Mungo was born in Selkirk. I honestly couldn’t make that story up! You and Mungo are linked, there is no denying it. Everyone will understand the decisions you’ve made, as they understood Mungo’s.
I truly believe in you. I know you can come back from the dead, like Mungo. I know you are alive and I can’t wait to see you again.
Call me. Or if that is too far a leap, please get someone to call on your behalf.

Or you can call the following numbers on the appeal posters — leave a message with a go-between:

All I want to know is that you are alive. The rest can follow, in private, at your pace.

All my love


Sam Hunter said...

Dear Hannah,

I can never understand the complex feelings you and your family must have been going through these past years, but you are a wonderful and loving sister, who despite the pain you must be feeling, has never given up on Chris.

From what I've read about Chris, he has left a positive impression on all he has met on his journeys. You speak of his similarity to Mungo Park; I see a brother and sister who are even more alike - your kindness and hope are an inspiration to us all.

I can't offer anything, but to say my thoughts are with you and your brother, always.


Sam Hunter

Hannah Velten said...

Dear Sam

Thank you so much for your thoughtful words. It's nice to know that I'm coming across as a loving sister - but, as you say, who wouldn't love a brother like mine - everyone loves him.

I don't know about inspiring, but it would be good if our tale could help others in a similar position, or those struggling with being apart from someone they love.

With best wishes

Anonymous said...

I just read a news article on your brother and stumbled upon your blog.

How well you have articulated your loss and what a picture you and others have painted of your brother Chris - an adventurous and remarkable man.

I sincerely hope you are able to find answers and wish you all the best.