Nine Hills To Nambonkaha
After accepting my invitation to volunteer in Lesotho three weeks ago, I received a reading list from the Peace Corps regarding living in Africa and the African AIDS epidemic. Of these books is one beautifully written travelogue by former PC volunteer, Sarah Erdman, called Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village which I recommend to everyone who reads this blog.
The book highlights Erdman’s experiences as a nurse and public health official in a remote village in northern Cote D’Ivoire. After only three months of medical training, Erdman finds herself thrust into the village of Nambonkaha where she’s expected to improve the mortality rate and affect sustainable solutions to widespread medical problems such as AIDS, malaria, and infant malnutrition by educating the inhabitants. Tradition, superstition, village politics, and a frequent lack of personal accountability often play an adverse role in her campaign to promote positive change in this world marked by witch doctors, polygamy, female genital mutilation, and the non-existence of prophylactics.
Despite the slow pace at which Nambonkaha trudges towards modernity, there is a distinctly African life force in the village, which, to some extent makes life in Cote D’Ivoire more appealing than the hustle and bustle of western society. Death, an all-too commonplace occurrence, is a cause for celebration, and tradition allows that the windowed families and the sick are always taken care of. Erdman never really juxtaposes the respective societies, but things such as the installation of electric street lights or the replacement of the daily tok tok-sound of mortars and pestles with that of an electric mill seem to sadden her despite each modern amenity’s obvious benefit to the community.
Aesthetically, the book is fantastic. Erdman possesses a very beautiful and unpretentious style of writing, and even those who have no interest in the culture and politics of a rural African village would find the book rewarding. The book is divided into easily digestible chapters replete with the tiny cliffhangers, which, for people with my attention span and glacial reading-speed is much appreciated. Erdman and all of the characters whom she describes are incredibly likable, and this book—even with is moments of sadness and frustration—totally pumps me up for my own experience beginning in two short months.