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Mango Elephants in the Sun: How Life in an African Village Let Me Be in My Skin Paperback – August 8, 2000


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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Californian Susan Herrera spent two years in northern Cameroon in what might be described as the classic Peace Corps assignment: teaching school in a remote African village. 'Jam bah doo nah?' ('Are you in your skin?') her neighbors ask her by way of greeting, and the response means, 'Yes, I am alive, fully present and experiencing the moment.'



"Herrera's account is filled with cross-cultural anecdotes that are alternately amusing and poignant. She is appalled as she watches the other teachers administer corporal punishment, only to discover that her own students don't respect her authority because she refuses to beat them. Her solution is to devise more creative forms of classroom discipline. A pompous village chief offers her a bloody goat head as a gift of courtship. Herrera feels the thrill of triumph when her most ambitious student masters a bicycle for the first time, until the girl's older brother coldly rebukes the foreign teacher, 'Don't put desires in her head that she can never have.' Herrera's growing friendship with several local women and her tender romance with a handsome Cameroonoian doctor give the narrative its continuity and novel-like structure."—Scott Zesch, Austin American-Statesman

"Whether she's writing about falling in love, getting malaria or teaching a young woman how to ride a bicycle, Herrera draws in readers with her uncommon intelligence and wisdom."—Mary Spicuzza, Metro Santa Cruz

From the Inside Flap

When the Peace Corps sends Susana Herrera to teach English in northern Cameroon, she yearns to embrace her adopted village and its people, to drink deep from the spirit of Mother Africa-and to forget a bitter childhood and painful past. To the villagers, however, she's a rich American tourist, a nasara (white person) who has never known pain or want. They stare at her in silence. The children giggle and run away. At first her only confidant is a miraculously communicative lizard.

Susana fights back with every ounce of heart and humor she possesses, and slowly begins to make a difference. She ventures out to the village well and learns to carry water on her head. In a classroom crowded to suffocation she finds a way to discipline her students without resorting to the beatings they are used to. She makes ice cream in the scorching heat, and learns how to plant millet and kill chickens. She laughs with the villagers, cries with them, works and prays with them, heals and is helped by them.

Village life is hard but magical. Poverty is rampant-yet people sing and share what little they have. The termites that chew up her bed like morning cereal are fried and eaten in their turn ("bite-sized and crunchy like Doritos"). Nobody knows what tomorrow may bring, but even the morning greetings impart a purer sense of being in the moment. Gradually, Susana and the village become part of each other. They will never be the same again.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Shambhala; New Edition edition (August 8, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1570625727
  • ISBN-13: 978-1570625725
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,331,579 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 10, 2004
Format: Paperback
I felt compelled to write this review because folks who have criticized it as more personal narrative and "journal-y" have completely missed the point. If you notice the title, the book was never meant to be a narrative of "what to expect if you are going into the Peace Corps" rather it is a spiritual and magical retelling of a young woman's personal and physical journey into the unknown. Herrera weaves a beautifully human story with personal detail, private pain and vivid images that takes the reader on her journey into the North African desert.
If you happen to be looking for "what to expect" you will definitely get a sense of life as a Peace Corps volunteer...in all its vivid detail...but if you think that is the point of reading this book... you will have missed the point entirely.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Kimberly Burkley on November 7, 2002
Format: Paperback
I recently applied to be a Peace Corps volunteer and naturally wanted to learn of some personal experiences. I purchased several personal memoirs from returned volunteers. I have read both this novel and "The Ponds of Kalambayi" by Mike Tidwell. They are both excellent resources for anyone interested in the Peace Corps...or even anyone just interested in learning about different cultures. I really enjoyed reading both of these books. They are very well-written.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 17, 2001
Format: Paperback
I am soon to depart for Cameroon with Peace Corps to teach science, and have been looking everywhere for information. When I came across this book, I was excited by all of the positive reviews, and bought it. I agree that this is a good book, but is somewhat romaticized. Maybe it's just because the author is 23, and learning what all of us learn at one time or another in our twenties. I also skipped ALL of the poetry sections. I love poetry, but none of these poems held my attention or sparked any insight for me. It is simply the expressive poetry written by a girl trying to find herself. If you're looking for a realistic view of PC, look elsewhere. If you're trying to decide if you want to join, it's a great book to get you fired up. For the real Q and A on Peace Corps, try "So you want to be in Peace Corps? Here's what you should know". Much more informative and practical.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on November 22, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Mango Elephants is a book from the heart. Herrera shares her vulnerabilities and strengths, courage and fears, joys and sorrows, all in the jumble of extremes that is so real for any traveler living alone in a culture very different than her own.

The reader becomes inspired, as Herrera was inspired, by many of the villagers she met in Cameroon. What amazing individuals they were, and what deep bonds she formed with them! Mango Elephants leads the reader through a door into their worlds. The presentation is simple, but the feelings are raw, and very human. Ultimately Susana proves to be courageous, reaching out to find mutual meaning and to offer those around her concrete signs of love.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 18, 2004
Format: Paperback
I'm reading this book right now for an English class at the school where Ms. Herrera currently teaches. After hearing her slide show on the book, the images she describes were brought to life. Without this, it still is a great book. It's more about what would I do in her position than it is about being a volunteer. For those who want to read a story about the need to fit in in a new place, this is it!
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By Siti Jevens on September 11, 2013
Format: Paperback
A beautiful story by a peace corps set in the southern fringes of the Sahara desert in Northern Cameroon. I enjoyed her vivid accounts and the details of the story. This book serves as a good read for anybody interested in the amazing way of life of the people of Northern Cameroon. It is my third novel on Cameroon this month and I enjoyed them all. The Usurper and Other Stories, Man no be God, and Disciples of Fortune are other good Cameroonian stories.
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