Monique and the Mango Rains – Kris Holloway (2007)

This was a good fast read for me. It is a memoir detailing the friendship that develops between a young idealistic Peace Corps volunteer and a village midwife in Mali (a country in West Africa), a place where childbirth had a high mortality rate.

What I thought really made this strong was that the author (the Peace Corp volunteer) has written it in a sensitive way so that Monique comes across as the expert (which she is) instead of the incoming Peace Corps volunteer being the Great White Colonial Person here to save the day.  Obviously, both people have a lot to learn from each other, but I really appreciated the tenderness that the author feels for her friends in the African village.

The story takes place over the two years that Kris Holloway and boyfriend John spent as volunteers with the Peace Corps in a smallish village that is miles out in the African bush, and as I read the descriptions of where they lived and what they ate and their day-to-day encounters, it was clear that you would have to be a special kind of person to live in that environment. (I am not one of them. I like all the modern conveniences, I am afraid. Plus I am bit picky about food. <Massive understatement there.>)

Monique is a specially trained health worker and midwife, so she is vital in the health and care of the village children and their mothers. By  holding regular clinic hours and weighing babies on a regular schedule, Monique is able to ensure that any health problems that turn up could easily be handled by her (very basic health care) or shipped to the larger town nearby for further treatment.

As a big public health believer, I was impressed that the villagers embraced the health clinic on the whole, with the mothers and their young families coming for shots or medicine or whatever they may have been needing. It wasn’t a big operation by any means, and probably did not require a lot of investment to start (or keep it going), which meant that it was replicable in other villages. Presumably, there were other “Moniques” in Mali doing something very similar to her clinic.

Monique was notable, as well, for fighting for her beliefs, despite the traditional cultural expectations which could have quite easily squashed everything she wanted, both for herself but mostly for the other women in the village: education for girls and boys, effective birth control, safe water… It cannot have been easy for Monique to buck the trends in this small insular world.

What was most interesting to me was the friendship between the two women. Their backgrounds were very different, there were language difficulties, cultural differences, and yet throughout the assignment, they became good friends, so much so that when they finished their assignment, both Kris and John invite Monique to visit them in the US the following year. Helping Monique to plan her travel, the author handled Monique’s lack of experience in long-distance traveling in a respectful way – still pretty funny in places, but in a respectful tone which I loved.

There were good descriptions of life in the village and how the events turned on a seasonal calendar: the rainy season, the unexpected “Mango Rains”, the passing of human milestones (death, for example). Since it’s highly unlikely that I will ever get to a small village in Mali, this gave me the feeling that I at least had experienced vicariously.

Bought from Amazon.

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