The gap year memoir of a ‘skinny white girl in Africa’ has angered a lot of people
And now they’re calling her out
Louise Linton is the “intrepid teenager who abandoned her privileged life in Scotland to travel to Zambia as a gap year student where she found herself inadvertently caught up in the fringe of the Congolese War.” But an excerpt from her memoir published in the Telegraph has angered a lot of people, and some have even called her out and claim it’s factually incorrect.
Promoting her new book, In Congo’s Shadow, Louise tells how she finished her education at “the prestigious Fettes College” in Scotland and travelled 6,000 miles to Zambia to help the poor by volunteering at a commercial fishing lodge. But she says her gap year became “a living nightmare when I inadvertently found myself caught up in the fringes of the Congolese War.”
She talks of herself as a “central character in this horror story” – that horror story being the civil war between the Hutus and Tutsis which raged for five years from 1998 to 2003 and, at one point, saw 1,000 people die every single day. Louise, the central character, enjoyed an idyllic life until she found herself hiding in a ditch hiding from rebels. If she is the central character, then Zimba, a six-year-old orphan girl with HIV, is her sidekick. Zimba, running “wailing from the village”, manages to beg her to stay and not board an Air Mail plane which could take her to safety. Regardless, the within a few days she flees on her own. Louise describes one of her ordeals.
“As the night ticked interminably by, I tried not to think what the rebels would do to the ‘skinny white muzungu with long angel hair’ if they found me… Thousands of people were displaced and we heard brutal tales of rape and murder.
“My time in Zambia, and especially that long night in hiding, is imprinted on my mind now as a defining coming-of-age moment. It was the point at which my appreciation of the fragility of life – already shaped by my mother’s death – was fully realised.”
Louise says her experience was a “defining coming-of-age moment” – but she has since apologised for the offence caused by her memoir. It’s been called selfish, egocentric, childish and sickening. One comment in Race Matters said: “Apart from the colonial lense she used to write this, the fact that she’s writing like a GCSE English literature student who’s just learnt what metaphors are makes it just that bit more patronising and irritating.”
Louise, since her ordeal in Zambia, has made the cover of Scottish Woman, modelled for men’s magazine Maxim, moved to Los Angeles and launched her career. The up and coming actress, whose IMDb listings show dazzling performances as ‘Gorgeous Woman’ in a Heineken advert and ‘Skin Care Consultant’ in thriller Lions for Lambs, is now being called out for how truthful her account is.
But another man who owned a similar fishing lodge in the area has called her a delusional young girl and told how Louise had allegedly been moved to another bay far away at the time that soldiers turned up. These soldiers never came to attack – they even flew surrender flags on their boat. Another group arrived but were unarmed, and asked for food and water. Plainly, the civil war in Congo did not spill over to Zambia, and in any case Louise wasn’t there anyway, according to Gerard Zytkow whose Facebook post can be found on Buzzfeed.
In a statement, Louise said: “I am genuinely dismayed and very sorry to see that I have offended people as this was the very opposite of my intent.
“I wrote this book with the hope of conveying my deep humility, respect and appreciation for the people of Zambia and my sincere hope of making a positive impact there as an 18 year old volunteer in 1999. I speak at length about the country’s incredible beauty and my immense gratitude for the friendships and experiences I had there. My aim has only ever been to honour Zambia and to share the experience I had there as a means of reminding people to care more deeply about the challenges people face in other regions.
“As noted in the book, this memoir is based on my recollection of events from 1999. In regards to Mr. Zitkow’s comment, I was there in 1999 not 2002 and was never posted at Ndole Lodge.”