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Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village Hardcover – September 3, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Erdman, who now works for the Peace Corps in Washington, D.C., spent two years in Nambonkaha, a northern Ivory Coast village, starting in 1998. As a culturally sensitive community development volunteer, she took her time finding her niche. She started working on maternal and child health by introducing the regular weighing of babies, as a means of monitoring malnutrition and as a way of opening the door to a wider range of health-care interventions. Without funds or equipment, this boiled down to rudimentary first aid: cleaning and bandaging wounds, cooling down a fever or recognizing malaria and going to the nurse for pills. By the end of Erdman's stay, with the support of the village, she'd moved on, very successfully, to birth control and AIDS prevention education. Happily, Erdman focuses on the story behind the story: how she learned local ways, how she gained the confidence and friendship of assorted villagers and even how she couldn't do anything about some atrocities, like female genital mutilation. In the end, she understands the village world view so well, she can imagine better ways to deal with certain issues, like promoting condom usage: what if international health organizations had depicted AIDS as a sorcery problem and "introduced condoms, with the help of chiefs and fetisheurs, as the only fetish that can stave off" the disease? This is an engrossing, well-told tale certain to appeal to armchair travelers and to anyone-especially women-considering international volunteer work.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Erdman spent two years as a Peace Corps worker in the small town of Nambonkaha, Ivory Coast, at the end of the last decade. Erdman, who acted as a health-care worker and instructor, is surprised to find herself called upon to help women in labor, surrounded by curious children who want to learn to read, and honored with gifts from the chief. She also faces the challenge of trying to meld medical knowledge with traditional sorcery, as the village denizens believe most illness and misfortune is caused by witchcraft rather than infection. This is particular dangerous in regards to AIDS, which arrives in the village in the form of a young widow and her son. With the help of several of the town's residents, including Sidibe, the only nurse in the town, Erdman begins teaching classes and sets up a baby-weighing station in the market. With graceful, thoughtful prose, Erdman ponders the problems the village faces and describes in vivid detail the many people she met there. Kristine Huntley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; First Edition edition (September 3, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805073817
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805073812
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #278,916 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Erika Borsos VINE VOICE on April 23, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Experience the sights, sounds and rhythms of an African village as Sarah Erdman, armed with a four year US college degree and three months of training to be a healthcare worker ... describes two years of her life spent with the Peace Corps, in Nambonkaha, on the Ivory Coast of Africa. Ms Erdman proves up to the task of learning the customs/traditions of the village, utilizing the protocols of local politics to achieve her goals. She is understandably irked/outraged by the concept of embezzlement (" bouffer") that is rampant wherever government funds/large business transactions occur. She is touched to the core by the village's response as they present her with gifts ("cadeau") when she runs out of funds while her house is being built. Sarah Erdman proves to have an indominatable spirit and courage to face the tasks and challenges before her ... she wants to make a difference in the lives of this village. She understands the realistic obstacles she faces. The main tangible obstacle is lack of funds, making due with what is available and the realities of poverity. The intangible obstacles are local customs, cultural beliefs and the religious underpinnings of animism despite the outward stated religion of Islam (Muslim).
Working within the system, Ms Erdman recognized she could not change long-standing social norms and life-styles. She accepted polygamy and the problems associated with raising an extended family. Certain social norms/duties were ingrained in the culture that can not be changed despite the fact they created deeper problems for the survival of individuals and society as a whole. One man in the village was obligated to accept the widow of his cousin as his fourth wife. It was an unquestioned duty and norm for him to receive the widow of his brother or cousin as his wife.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 1, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This was one of the best books I have read in a long time. It was touching and refreshingly personal. Sarah struggles with issues familiar to all development workers - "How do I instigate behavioral change now that I have disseminated the information?" She doesn't have the answers, but some insights, which only come from living so closely with a community. She shares these thoughts and the people of the village with her reader, avoiding clichés and stereotypes.
As a former student of economics and having worked in community development overseas, I feel that this book is must read for individuals in these fields. Sarah lets you in the secret obstacles to capitalism not found in textbooks and defines the role of a successful development worker - bringing out the best of those in the community so that "progress" comes from within, not from a temporary outsider. Of course, I would highly recommend this book to prospective Peace Corps volunteers, or those who have always wished they had volunteered as well; you will truly be transported to Nambonkaha, Côte d'Ivoire.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Charles Manning on August 6, 2004
Format: Paperback
I want to congratulate Ms. Erdman on her book and her Peace Corps experience, and for being the sort of person that made both possible. The book is the best Peace Corps memoir I have read. I was a Peace Corps volunteer for three years in northern Togo (Sansanne-Mango) in a similar ecological and cultural environment (small, pre-electrification village; predominantly Muslim). To me, just about every word of Erdman's narrative rings true. I thank her for bringing it all back so vividly (I served 1980-83). Language footnote: in Togo, yam "foutou" is "foufou" and millet beer, "chapalo" is "chakpalo."

I could not disagree more with the notion that the book was not "personal" enough. In my experience, many Peace Corps volunteers understandably spent a lot of time focussed on their own reactions to their experiences. Fair enough, but then some had the presumption to think that the rest of us would be interested in reading about them. Erdman, in contrast, stays in the psychological background enough to let the people she is writing about show themselves more clearly, and thereby reveals herself in a way that to me explains her apparent success as a volunteer. It is of course true that the Peace Corps is a combined personal voyage of discovery/cross-cultural experience. When attempting to write a memoir about it, focussing too much on the former tends to distort the interpretation of the latter. I prefer Erdman's approach.

If you want a better sense of village life in this part of Africa than provided in Nine Hills, you're going to have to spend a couple of years there yourself. Peace.

Chuck Manning

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 18, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I couldn't agree less with the reviewer from Atlanta. Sarah Erdman's book is beautifully written and is compelling throughout. As for the reviewer's perception that she stood around and let people do things: What book did you read? Also: A goal of many aide organizations such as the Peace Corps is often to hold the lamp, not always to chop the wood. If aide workers do this, what would be learned? What would happen when they leave? When Erdman left her beloved Nambonkaha, the life skills she taught continued. I couldn't put this book down and congratulate the writer on her excellent perceptions about human nature and Africa. I love her writing style, and ability to capture the personalities of her friends in the village. Can't wait for more.
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