October 8, 2003 - Washington Post: Sojourn in the Sahel with Ivory coast RPCV Sara Erdman

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ivory Coast: Peace Corps Ivory Coast : The Peace Corps in the Ivory Coast: October 8, 2003 - Washington Post: Sojourn in the Sahel with Ivory coast RPCV Sara Erdman

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-141-157-6-190.balt.east.verizon.net - on Monday, October 13, 2003 - 5:15 pm: Edit Post

Sojourn in the Sahel with Ivory coast RPCV Sara Erdman

Sojourn in the Sahel with Ivory coast RPCV Sara Erdman

Sojourn in the Sahel

Quick, guess the vocation of the author behind a book titled Nine Hills to Nambonkaha (Henry Holt, $23). Need another hint? The subtitle is Two Years in an African Village. You got it -- Peace Corps volunteer.

Too bad an editor didn't steer author Sarah Erdman away from the clichéd title construction. Because some readers -- fearing a homily -- are going to miss a delightful and moving portrait of modern Francophone Africa by an uncommonly talented writer. This is no reverent ode to "my people" by a volunteer thrilled to have gone native. After two years in a Muslim village in northern Ivory Coast, Erdman never pretends to have mastered the often maddening mores of a traditional community caught in the upheavals of modernity. She is not afraid to condemn the brutal conventions of a culture that still mutilates its young women in the name of certified virginity, for example, or leaves some weakling children to die in the name of sorcery.

But she does labor to understand the inviolate origins of these customs, and they did not stop her from deeply loving her adopted home town. Inevitably, she admires the Mayberry-like aspects of dusty Nambonkaha: the slow pace, the tight social weave, the heartening alliances and delicious gossip. She delights in the rich character of elders who were kindly and unbending; of boys -- "my boys," she calls the group who colonized her front stoop -- who were earnest and hellbent on their course to patriarchy; and of women who were desperate to learn, terrified to change.

There's plenty here to stoke the If-Only-We-Could-Simplify fantasies of readers ready to romanticize any pre-industrial enclave. But Erdman -- always an advocate for improving the lives of her villagemates -- recognizes that the yearning of Western visitors for an "unspoiled" destination sometimes equals accepting poverty in the name of authenticity. (Still, it is not to her credit when she openly rejoices that the long-awaited power line to Nambonkaha -- which she finds so charming by lantern light -- has been delayed yet again.) With these contradictions aswirl like the Sahel dust, Erdman sets about her incremental work -- wheedling mothers to weigh their babies, gently broaching the scandalous topic of AIDS -- with the eye of a social scientist and the ear of a poet. It was a long and fascinating trip, and her delightful telling of it has me hoping she'll be packing for another one soon.

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Story Source: Washington Post

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Ivory Coast - Writing - Ivory Coast



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