October 11, 2014

Nine Hills to Nambonkaha by Sarah Erdman

Sometimes I'm sorely disappointed when I read a Peace Corps memoir because it is all about the person and includes little to no information about the place and people they volunteered with.  This one is vastly different from that.  Erdman tells little of herself but instead opens up the village of Nambonkaha to you and introduces you to some of its people.

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
Copyright 2003
322 pages

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