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Read this and Arabian Sands while I was living in Saudi Arabia and then Oman I really enjoyed his writing, but, then again, I read all of T.E Lawrence s opus and enjoyed them as well Such interesting peopleand so much themselves. Being an explorer in uncharted territories where no man has gone before is a dream for many but only a few dare to achieve that dream One of the last greatest explorers of lands which hitherto had been impossible to penetrate was Sir Wilfred Thesiger.It always seemed reading his autobiography The Life of My Choice, that he never once held a real job but was always doing something for the people around him who lived the harshest of lives in the Abyssinian plains and the deserts of Sahara Living with savage tribes with some barbaric practices, he sympathized with them the most, so much so that he fought on their side against the Italians in the war To him, they were his people people he lived with, people he travelled with and people he shared food and home with Harder the life, finer the man he said and what a fine man he was On several of his explorations he had to go without water and food for days but the he went on such journeys, the he craved them In the desert, he wrote, I found a freedom unattainable in civilisation a life unhampered by possessions The book is a wonderful account of his travels, his observations of the local populace, his increased dislike for modernity Many a time he expressed his disdain for motor vehicles, preferring camels for traversing across the sand dunes and his everlasting admiration and friendship with emperor Haile Selassie He was fortunate to live a life of exploration and we are fortunate to live these lands through his eyes. DOWNLOAD ☦ The Life of My Choice ♶ Wilfred Thesiger Is The Last Of The Great British Eccentric Explorers, Renowned For His Travels Through Some Of The Most Inaccessible Places On Earth As A Child In Abyssinia He Watched The Glorious Armies Of Ras Tafari Returning From Hand To Hand Battle, Their Prisoners In Chains At The Age Of He Made His First Expedition Into The Country Of The Danakil, A Murderous Race Among Whom A Man S Status In The Tribe Depended On The Number Of Men He Had Killed And Castrated His Books, Arabian Sands And The Marsh Arabs , Tell Of His Two Sojourns In The Empty Quarter And The Marshes Of Southern Iraq In This Autobiography, Wilfred Thesiger Highlights The People Who Most Profoundly Influenced Him And The Events Which Enabled Him To Lead The Life Of His Choice Let s just admit it if you re male, you want to be Wilfred Thesiger You do Born to British diplomatic family in Abyssinia early in the century, growing up in a dying Edwardian world, then a life abroad in the outlands of Empire governing districts in the Sudan, living among the Dinka and the Nuer, climbing to cliffside monasteries in Ethiopia Wartime with the SAS in Ethiopia and the Western Desert Then the great trek across the Empty Quarter and literary fame Plus hunting amongst the Marsh Arabs in 1950s Iraq and clambering up and down the Himalayas The last explorer, the obituaries called him a few years ago By all accounts, a cold and distant man, ascetic to the core But the man who d get you through the ambush or up the mountain And a fine writer Damn it, no one should get to have all of his life But Thesiger did And you want to be him You really do However not This book provided my first vicarious travel to Ethiopia I poached the book off a wonderful friend s bookcase when I was living in Bangkok The experience of living in a foreign land and reading about another foreign land was pretty heady stuff Thesiger is a first rate tour guide brave, respectful, with an iron stomach and sturdy feet I grew to love him even in his book about crossing the Empty Quarter of the Arabian Peninsula. At the close of his memoir, Wilfred Thesiger describes himself as perhaps the last explorer in the tradition of the past , whose feats of endurance took him to the remotest parts of East Africa and Arabia just in time before the arrival of tourism, industry, and the corruptions of modernity.Thesiger s understated prose reveals a naturalist s eye for the landscapes he traversed and surveyed, the peoples he lived among, and the animals he observed and frequently shot , but his book is also a chronicle of turbulent times He writes Many of my generation were to be passionately concerned with the Spanish Civil War I felt no such involvement I detested the anarchists and communists on the Government side, and hated the Italians with whom Franco had allied himself But with the Abyssinian cause I identified myself completely Thesiger was born in Addis Ababa in 1910 His father was the British consul general an early memory was of Ras Tafari s the future Haile Selassie son Asfa Wossen being given sanctuary at the legation during the conflict with Lij Yasu Iyasu V , the young Emperor who had embraced Islam and was threatening to bring Abyssinia into the Great War on the side of the Central Powers Haile Selassie became a family friend Thesiger advocates for his memory as a dignified and abstemious reformer who was devoted to the improvement of his country, and he writes with some bitterness about the lack of respect with which he was treated by British officialdom during the years of the Italian invasion.Reflecting on the 1974 communist revolution, Thesiger quotes the Ambassador Willie Morris as saying that it had been largely brought about by British and American communist school teachers and university lecturers however, he also censures the journalist Jonathan Dimbleby for a television report that juxtaposed images of famine in Wollo with a palace banquet in Addis Ababa in way that Thesiger says was misleading, but which cost Haile Selassie much of his support in Europe It is good that Thesiger survived until 2003, and so would have been aware of the post communist recovery and known that in 2000 Haile Selassie was at last given a decent funeral, 25 years after his death as described by William Deedes in a book I discussed here.During the Second World War, Thesiger served with Orde Wingate in Abyssinia, with the Druze in Syria against the Vichy French and preparing for a German invasion that never came , and then with David Stirling as a member of the SAS behind enemy lines in the Western Desert He also spent time in Cairo, reluctantly accepting an assignment to stay in the city undercover if the Germans reached the city he assumed he would have been caught very quickly.Thesiger s portrait of Wingate an idealist and a fanatic is one of the book s highlights, and there s some humour in his descriptions of Wingate s oddities Thesiger found him to be somewhat unstable and obnoxious in his personal habits and dealings with others, and some of his orders seem have been incompetent yet he also acknowledged that Wingate had authority and inspiration, and that he afterwards achieved great things in Burma However, Thesiger disapproved of Wingate s Zionism, and his negative impression of the movement was confirmed during time spent in Palestine Wingate confided to Thesiger that his identification with the Jewish people went back to bullying he had experienced at school.In the Western Desert, Thesiger was obliged to use a mode of transport he detested the motor car to carry out commando raids against Italian and German forces On one occasion his team was nearly caught, and Thesiger hid under a blanket for some hours as some German car stopped nearby to investigate I had Doughty s Arabia Deserta in my haversack but felt little inclination to read after the war, he became aware of a letter by General Rommel published in English which indicated that the car had actually contained Rommel himself Thesiger eventually reached Sousse in Tunisia alongside regular troops from New Zealand, and he recalls the town was full of hysterical Tunisian Jews with the Star of David sewn on their clothes a reminder that the Holocaust extended into North Africa.One the book s most famous lines concerns young Bedu tribesman who had just achieved manhood by killing and castrating three rivals Thesiger writes that he struck me as the Danakil equivalent of a nice, rather self conscious Etonian who had just won his school colours for cricket Thesiger regarded missionaries with distaste, and in discussing tribal revenge killings he candidly dismisses the idea of the sanctity of human life However, on meeting the Anglican Assistant Bishop on a Nile paddle steamer he took communion rather than disappoint this devout and well meaning man , and although he did not believe in a personal God, he accepted Christian ethics and to that extent regarded myself as Christian Noting Henri de Monfried s conversion to Islam, which cemented the French adventurer s bond with the crew of his pearl fishing boat, Thesiger says that this was something I could never have done not religious conviction but pride in my family background would have forbidden it.The work also includes references to a couple of literary acquaintances as a young man he received advice and encouragement from John Buchan, his sensitive, ascetic face etched with lines of pain but lit by his innate kindliness Evelyn Waugh, in contrast, was flaccid and petulant and I disliked him on sight Thesiger was sorry that that he never got the chance to meet T E Lawrence through Buchan. The story is well told and I got to learn a bit about the recent history of Ethiopia and Sudan Unfortunately, it seems the most important activity of the writer was to kill wild animals in his glorified hunting escapades He declares he has no apologies To think lions once roamed freely in places he went hunting, and that they now don t, sat poorly with me His legacy is of a man who played a role in decimation of African wildlife for selfish gratification And for that reason, I rate the book lowly. Just an awesome individual, who along with such other characters as Francis Younghusband, Roy Chapman Andrews, Peter Fleming and Richard Burton, makes me feel like a total failure in life but somehow in a good way Includes some fascinating insights into pre gone to hell Iraq Interesting footnote Thesiger himself has a hilarious cameo at the end of the humorous British travel classis A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush. Wilfred Thesiger wrote two notable travel books Arabian Sands The Marsh Arabs Arabian Sands tells the story of his exploration of the Empty Quarter a vast area of desert in southern Saudi Arabia that stretches into Oman during the late 1940s before the impact of the discovery of oil The Marsh Arabs tell of trips through the former and now in places undergoing restoration marsh lands of southern Iraq.The Life of My Choice doesn t really have anything of interest equal to either of those two books The background to both of those trips is fleshed out There are the childhood recollections of seeing the effectively medieval army of the Emperor of Abyssinia the author s father was Britain s representative to the Imperial court moving out to battle a usurper, some recollections of Hallie Selassie, some bits and pieces about his wartime service and employment in the colonial service Sudan as well as some brief overviews of some of his other journeys for example in the Danakil and Kurdistan.Arabian Sands and the Marsh Arabs are remarkable pictures of places and people in the 1950s Life of My Choice doesn t have as much to recommend itself to the reader, but what comes through very strongly is the author himself His pleasure in unexplored and extreme environments is clear, as is the dissatisfaction and alienation that he experienced as a colonial officer in the Sudan.His early experiences seem to explain the difference in tone and satisfaction between what he had to write about the punishing adventures that he had in the Empty Quarter of Arabia and his sedate travels in the marshlands of southern Iraq The travels reveal the man. Some readers may be aware of the kind of boys adventure story that was popular around the middle years of the last century Set in a far off colony, surrounded by veritable hordes of colour and dress not then encountered in the Home Counties, a tall, invariably fair haired and clean shaven upstanding British military type dressed in khaki uniform, pith helmet, puttees and boots, pursued heroic adventures against all odds, brought criminals to justice and discovered waterfalls or rivers then unknown to the residents of Surbiton He was probably called Carruthers, if he was an officer, or perhaps Jenkins in the unlikely case that the lower social classes could breed a hero This really was fiction, of course, but, after reading an autobiography entitled The Life Of My Choice, one wonders whether such stories might just have been based on the life of Wilfred Thesiger.He was the last of the gentleman explorers, and earned fame for his crossing of the Arabian Desert s empty Quarter and his time amongst the Marsh Arabs of the Tigris Euphrates delta But in The Life Of My Choice Wilfred Thesiger largely ignores these great achievements, primarily because their detail had already been covered in previous books So in this volume we follow Thesiger across different country, throughout the years he spent in relative obscurity.He was brought up in Abyssinia, where his father was British Ambassador, and it is the landscape, politics, history and people of Abyssinia Ethiopia that form the backbone of this highly readable and informative autobiography He travels the length and breadth of this varied terrain, meets hordes of people, rubs shoulders with emperors and aristocracy, employs naked bearers and clearly feels totally at home, without once suggesting he might lose his inborn and outwardly visible English upper crust.Of course he was sent away to Eton Of course he went to Oxford Of course he won a boxing blue Is there any other way to live One wonders, reading the rest of his exploits, whether he might have shot swans on the Thames But his heart was never in anything to do with English society His dreams were always plodding across Africa with a camel or a donkey Refectory plum duff and custard would surely have seemed strange to someone who regularly ate from a communal pot with his fingers, seated on the hard baked soil under the stars.An aspect of Thesiger that never ceased to amaze throughout the book is that he never really seemed to have a career He was always doing something, was always occupied with activities rather official, but his status was often at best negotiable And so he takes us on a journey to examine the struggle for the Ethiopian throne, the Italian invasion and occupation of Abyssinia and its eventual liberation all at first hand We are in the court of Emperor Haile Selassie, or Ras Tafari as Theisger usually prefers to call him We are in the bush shooting big game and several smaller things too, alongside an occasional human being We are then operating in Sudan and Egypt in the Second World War We are, in fact, all over the place, but along the way usually sleeping rough under the stars, eating little and often than not shunning most forms of formal social contact.Throughout the book it is the contrast between this explorer s life and the man s social origins that provides an energy that seems to motivate him Thesiger always seems to be getting away from something, drawn by an apparent simplicity he sees in a life that directly engages with nature and landscape One wonders whether he ever met fellow countrymen as such equals Take, for example, his almost passing comment about a relative Uncle Fred was an austere and impressive figure, whom some people found forbidding Until I was seventeen I thought of his as the rather alarming head of the family Then unexpectedly, he invited Brian and me to stay in Northumberland where he had taken a grouse moor for the summer It was just the moor, it seems, and not the whole county.And now, as we read about the exploits of this pith helmeted anachronism, we are reminded of just how much certain attitudes have changed Of a college don, for instance, he writes An untidy man, with frequent egg stains down his waistcoat, he always brought his smelly little dog in with him, and would tolerate no women undergraduates in his class Of Evelyn Waugh, Thesiger admits that he disapproved of Waugh s grey suede shoes, his floppy bow tie and the excessive width of his trousers But in those amongst whom he travelled, he himself apparently tolerated almost whatever he encountered, usually offering little judgment or even comment He describes thus some practices associated with adultery and extra marital sex to beget a child on an unmarried girl was a serious crime the offender became an outcast and, if the girl died in childbirth, he was killed the child was always buried alive He encounters people who regard killing men, specifically men, as part of their right of passage into adulthood And to prove they have killed someone, they take a trophy from the corpse which they then present as evidence of their deed How, do you imagine, could you prove it was a man you had killed Imagine no further, and Thesiger describes the practice and the still extant, if rather dried evidence with an almost glib detachment.Thesiger is also prone to the occasional turn of phrase We learn, for instance, of a man called Cox, renowned for his ability to keep silent in a dozen languages But we also notice that Thesiger only rarely seems to generate friendliness with his English peers And anything else he seems to shoot He waxes lyrical about wildlife and then shoots it Attitudes really have changed in the last seventy years.And it is perhaps these changes that make The Life Of My Choice such an engaging read Today this is a life stranger than most pith helmeted fiction It s not just another era it might as well be another universe But this is also a history of our own time, a history whose longer term consequences are still being enacted in the Horn of Africa and the Middle East Through Thesiger s eyes, aspects of both areas, now much ignored, can still be seen with clarity.