October 10, 2005: Headlines: COS - Ivory Coast: Writing - Ivory Coast: The Mirror: Sarah Erdman's 'Nine Hills' stirs emotion

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ivory Coast: Peace Corps Ivory Coast : The Peace Corps in the Ivory Coast: October 10, 2005: Headlines: COS - Ivory Coast: Writing - Ivory Coast: The Mirror: Sarah Erdman's 'Nine Hills' stirs emotion

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Sarah Erdman's 'Nine Hills' stirs emotion

Sarah Erdman's 'Nine Hills' stirs emotion

"I came here with three months of training under my belt. I was packed off to this village with only a collection of health-education books and a head full of vague ideas. I wanted no direction, no preconceived mission, and that's what I've gotten. I am here to see what I can make starting from scratch, and the tiny village of Nambonkaha is my ready canvas."

Sarah Erdman's 'Nine Hills' stirs emotion

'Nine Hills' stirs emotion

By Emily Duus
The Mirror
Greeley, Colo.
October 10, 2005

Off and on for many years now, I have thought about joining the Peace Corps. It would give me a chance to help people and travel -- the two things I love most. One of my mom's sisters was in the Peace Corps and taught math for two years in a village in Swaziland, Africa. The whole thing has always sounded appealing.

These thoughts unconsciously led me to "Nine Hills to Nambonkaha," by Sarah Erdman, as I was wandering through the bookstore.

I'll admit that despite the popular saying, I sometimes judge a book by its cover -- but who doesn't, really? Some book covers just cry out: "Read me!" And who can resist a book with a picture of a child mischievously peeking around a wall on the cover?

"Nine Hills" follows Erdman's two-year Peace Corps experience in the tiny African village of Nambonkaha (Nam-bong-Kaa) in Côte d'Ivoire:

"I came here with three months of training under my belt. I was packed off to this village with only a collection of health-education books and a head full of vague ideas. I wanted no direction, no preconceived mission, and that's what I've gotten. I am here to see what I can make starting from scratch, and the tiny village of Nambonkaha is my ready canvas."

Erdman's main points of focus were the health of babies and educating the villagers about contraception and the danger of AIDS. Knowing nothing but poverty, villagers did not have the knowledge or resources to keep themselves or their children healthy.

Although cut off from most of the world, many of the people in Nambonkaha also had AIDS, and it was spreading more through prostitution and polygamy. Many were not aware of the disease, but still more were not too worried. They did not really believe in using protection.

Although she generates quite a deal of curiosity -- especially from the children -- Erdman has to work to overcome the villagers' prejudices and lack of faith so the village of Nambonkaha does not become just a memory.

She organizes a sort of health fair on market days, where babies from Nambonkaha and neighboring villages are weighed to show mothers how malnourished their children are. Unfortunately, most mothers thought weighing was a sort of cure, and they did not have to do anything to keep their babies healthy:

"I imagine they believed weighing would somehow shield their children from mysterious illness. Maybe they thought that sitting on the scale would help make their babies pudgy. Maybe they hoped their good intentions would be enough to warrant good health."

Eventually, the villagers' faith in Erdman grows and mothers begin asking advice about how to keep their children healthy.

It takes amazing courage and strength to be uprooted from a comfortable life in America and thrust into a culture so explicitly different from ours.

"Nine Hills" is a book that will truly reach out to you and touch your soul. Not many of us will get to travel to such places in the world, and even fewer of us will do anything to help. But hopefully "Nine Hills to Nambonkaha" will stir something deep inside you that you didn't know was there. Even if you don't choose to face such an experience first-hand, you should read this book. Aside from the actual experience, nothing will impact you so greatly.

When this story was posted in October 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: The Mirror

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