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Here We Are & There We Go Paperback – May 29, 2012
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I confess I have been to a few of the countries, especially Singapore where they did stay to teach. Their recollection of Ghana, Africa, is probably the best in the book, perhaps because they stayed the longest there and there was so much contrast with the family's home country, the United States.
Nor does this book accentuate the positive too much. The shortcomings of each destination are explained, but in a very professional way. As I stated earlier, the balancing of the tales told is very well done. These are not your typical boring travel tales of your uncle and aunt as recounted by them to you in their home with over 1,000 photos over several photo albums or a badly shot two-hour projector video. This book is very entertaining, and you even take away valuable lessons about how people live in other countries.
I would definitely give this book five stars had it continued to tell the tales, in detail, after the family's return to their home state of Wisconsin. For some reason, although the parents went back (with an older daughter in tow for another year) to teaching overseas, after six years back in their home state, this part of the book, at the end, is much more abbreviated. Perhaps the author was wondering if her readers would tire of the overseas stories near the end of the book. Not so! I look forward, if possible, to more detail of their post-reverse cultural shock in teaching again overseas!
It's very hard to make travel memoirs very interesting to the bystander (unless you're a celebrity, and then it would be about the celebrity, not the travels!). But this author pulled it off. Bravo!
"Dan was quite shocked as he immediately found out that there was no interest in learning and no discipline among the students. Many times his students appeared out of control as they threw their biology books across the room, screamed abusive language at one another, and attempted to light up cigarettes at the back of the classroom."
I had many similar experiences when I was teaching English in China, but like me, Dan was able to meet locals that helped him get through the year. The book continues on from there to Singapore, where I was surprised to learn so much Chinese is spoken. Dan's year was better, although some of his students got caned after spray-painting some cars.
Overall you get a lot of interesting stories about travelling to and living in different countries. I really liked it because I've traveled a lot, and I think anyone who's done the same will really enjoy this book!
Jill Dobbe's memoir is well written and engaging. It is divided into rather long chapters, each dealing with one of the locations they lived in. The first four chapters relate to a decade spent overseas when they were relatively young adults, new to teaching and with very small children (to begin with). The countries were Guam, then Singapore, Ghana and Mexico. The early chapters (Guam and Singapore) are dominated by the obvious difficulties of travelling and working overseas with pre-school children. Finding suitable childcare (so they could go to work) and accommodation. Toileting issues. As one who has travelled overseas with kids still in nappies, dealing with kids and their annoying bodily functions is a huge, huge issue that dominates parents' day-to-day lives. As it does when we live in our regular homes (to be honest) - it's just that it's so ordinary, few would stick it in a book. But I remember myself, changing nappies in crowded airplane bathrooms, by the side of the road, down alleyways, having to explain messes on sheets to hotel staff, poo in the pool - not fun, but part of real life with small kids when you are not safe at home. I read one review criticising this aspect of the book. To me it was honest and down-to-Earth and shed some light on one of the reasons lots of parents stay home while their kids are small!
The first two chapters, for me, were less interesting than those that followed, however. As the kids grew, so did Jill and her husband. The discussion of their five years in Ghana was wonderful and vivid and it made me want to go there.
After Ghana, Jill's family spent some time in Mexico, before heading home to the US so her kids could do their secondary education there. The culture shock chapter (describing what returning to the states and living there for seven years), was, for me, the best in the book. I found it fascinating and extremely thoughtful. The Jill and Dan I met a few chapters earlier seemed so young and innocent (almost a bit naive) compared to the worldly Jill who reflects of consumerism, the environment, and her own personal journey at the end of the book.
'Here We Are' is an honest, humble and human account of the experiences of ordinary people who chose to make experiencing different parts of the world a way of life for a lifetime. People migrate, the go on holidays - but they rarely spend their lives moving about the globe, seeking to immerse themsleves in new culture after new culture, experiencing not just its highlights, but the day-to-day.
By the end of this I felt I'd been on a journey with Jill and shared something real.