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Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village Paperback – August 1, 2004
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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
I hope she will always be able to stay in touch with her friends there and possibly return to visit someday.
Because of this book, I feel that I have been there when I see and read the poor reporting on our media.
For example, everyone in Nambonkaha is excited about electricity coming to the village, they've all wanted it for a long time in order to improve their lives, the children can study at night, store food longer, people can have access to time saving devices that make their lives easier, etc. But Erdman spends a lot of time talking about how upset she is that people don't want to continue to live without electricity because of how she romanticizes it, rather than considering most people want it to improve their lives. It would be one thing if some of the local population felt differently, but they're all for electricity. She very begrudgingly comes around to acknowledge this, but it's weird she resists so much something so simple because it doesn't fit to how she wants the village to be, rather than how the village wants to be.
There's certainly something to be said from an international development point of view that there isn't necessarily a reason for countries to extravagantly embrace all aspects of Western culture or model exclusively itself like the US or Western Europe, but her reasons seem to be a bit more personally invested in a story of what Cote d'Ivoire "should be" rather than what her villagers actually want.
But it is a good book, very interesting, especially if one (like myself due to medical reasons) is unlikely to ever join the Peace Corps. :)
Erdman is selected to be a health worker in the village of Nambonkaha as her Peace Corps assignment. For two years, she will work to bring better practices to the village and improve health there. She chooses to do this through the women of the village by introducing baby weighings and vaccination programs. She also focuses on AIDS education. But she just introduces and actually uses the villagers to enact the change on the village and uses a variety of local people to accomplish these tasks.
I actually still don't feel as if I know much about Erdman. Well, aside from the fact that she did a good job as a volunteer. I know more about her village. Because those are the people she described in the book. You feel as if you especially know the ones she was close with. The boys she taught to read, the women she interacted with on a daily basis, the nurse she worked with at the clinic. All of these people she described the good and bad on (although mostly good) and took great care to outline their personalities. It's what made this book worth reading. Because she took the time to know who she was working with rather than focusing on herself. And she is very non-judgemental, despite the practices that she abhors and witnesses.
That being said, this book is a long read because it is very detailed. While I enjoyed getting to know all the aspects of village life and the challenges there were to overcome in the education of healthcare, I felt as if things were very repetitive and drawn out. It was helpful that there was a glossary at the end for some of the translations and words specific to the village. There were several times I had to look up just what an object was so I could understand it in context. I also would have loved to see some pictures of the village and its people, so I could put faces to names.
If you enjoy Peace Corps memoirs or travel writing I think this will be a very good book to read. It details the experience, not the person writing it, and is one of the more honest accounts I've seen.
Nine Hills to Nambonkaha
Review by M. Reynard 2014