A Passage to Africa

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How does George Alagiah’s choice of language and sentence structure convey the suffering of the Somalian people? It touched me in a way I could not explain. It moved me in a way that went beyond pity or revulsion. George Alagiah’s commentary, A Passage to Africa, is about his experiences in Somalia during the Civil War. Paparazzi-like, he is in search of the “most striking picture” that will appeal to TV audiences back home. The scenes he witnesses, however, are heartbreaking; the images too disturbing to disclose. Instead of photographs, he writes and it is his commanding use of powerful and emotive vocabulary, poignant images, and a range of sentence structures that leave the reader in no doubt about the horrors suffered by the Somalian people during the War. He stumbles upon the plight of Amina Abdirahman, who is searching desperately for roots to feed her two starving daughters. On her return, Amina “had only one daughter. Habiba had died.” The short, matter-of-fact sentences are effective; he is stating the inevitable but the deliberate lack of emotion has the opposite effect on the reader. We are left feeling shocked and deeply saddened. The end of the paragraph employs highly emotive vocabulary that pays its own respect to the little girl. Alagiah acknowledges, however, that witnessing a “deliverance from a state of half-life to death itself … a famine of quiet suffering and lonely death” is too haunting for the headlines. The line ends the paragraph, as it should. There is nothing else to say. There is nothing else to be done. Alagiah is drawn to the hut of an old woman by a smell. We think of being drawn to homes by welcoming smells of roasting chickens or freshly brewed coffee, which make his sensory journey even more shocking. He responds to the smell of “decaying flesh.” The paragraph focuses on the old women’s inevitable demise with the powerful adjectives “festering,” “putrid,” “sick.” Her “shattered leg had fused into the gentle V-shape of a...
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