Monday, July 22, 2013

Dr. Livingstone, I presume? No, just Dr. Phelan.

After my first blog posting, several people emailed me asking the reason behind the title of my blog, Dr. Phelan, I presume?  In preparation for my move to Africa I’ve read a considerable amount about the history of the continent, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, and I have Dr. Livingstone to thank for that information.

Dr. David Livingstone was a British missionary and explorer in Africa between 1851 and 1876.  Livingstone was one of the few westerners who were successful in making a transcontinental trek across Africa.  Plenty of individuals attempted the journey prior to and during Livingstone’s time of exploration, but few survived due to the prevalence of diseases such as malaria, dysentery and sleeping sickness.  It should be noted all these are still significant problems in Africa, but due to the miracle of modern day medicine, there are treatments and vaccines which make these considerably less fatal now.

Dr. Livingstone’s goal in traveling throughout Africa was two-fold, as a missionary attempting to spread Christianity, and as an explorer, trying to discover the source of the River Nile.  He was also a strong opponent of slavery, and later made its abolition his primary objective.  His motto, “Christianity, Commerce and Civilization” is prominently located at the base of his statue at Victoria Falls.

During three different journeys in Africa (1852-1856, 1858-1864 and 1866-1873) Livingstone became the first westerner to see Victoria Falls (Zambia/Zimbabwe), crossed the Kalahari Desert (Botswana, Namibia and South Africa) and discovered Lake Nyasa, aka Lake Malawi (located between Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania).  Sadly, despite nearly 20 years and countless attempts, Livingstone did not find the exact source of the Nile, though he was impressively close.

In 1869 Livingstone had been missing for three years.  In an effort to find the next big story, and wanting to move away from strictly political coverage into human interest narratives, the New York Herald newspaper funded journalist Henry Stanley to find Livingstone.  In October 1870 Stanley travelled to Africa and after eight months of searching he saw one man with unusually pale skin.  Stanley deduced this must be the man he was searching for, and approached him, asking, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

So, that’s the story behind my blog title.  While I will strive to emulate Dr. Livingstone by accomplishing a lot during my year in Africa, I can’t possibly expect to be as successful as him.  But I certainly hope I don’t spend several years lost in the jungle, or share his ultimate fate (death caused by malaria and internal bleeding due to dysentery- yuck!).

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