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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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The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
"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
ce 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.
Top customer reviews
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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.
Always, Herrera's prose is engaging and comfortably spare; the stories move forward, colorfully and apace...just as the delightful cover suggests. In an almost bi-polar way, she is bolder than I, then more shy--painfully so--and does some foolish #I thought, stupid# dangerous things, often without explanation, that Peace Corps would not have advised such as stopping taking her malaria medicine. Maybe one has to be there to understand...but, then, that's what I thought was the point of writing such a book #or,
I was not impressed by the style of the writing, the book was organized around journal entries and poems that the author wrote. It just left the book feeling empty and contrived.
It seems like the author was most concerned with getting to know herself through her journal entries, which is entirely understandable, as most of us would do the same. However, I just don't think there is enough interesting material about herself to justify my time in a novel.
I wanted to get to know the Peace Corps experience and her country better, but feel like I only got to explore her thoughts and feelings rather than a deeper connect with something that would interest a third party.
She is definitely a great person and someone that would be great to be friends with, but it is not really worth reading a whole book about her journal entries.