Over the past year I’ve been taking the train to and from work and began to pick up reading during the train ride. I’ve never been much of a reader. However, reading on the train made me realize that I’ve been missing out on some pretty good books. In past year, I’ve read a number of classics including, Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. In addition, upon learning of my acceptance to the Peace Corps, I’ve read a few Peace Corps books.
Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village – Sarah Erdman
This book is about Sarah Erdman’s two years in the Peace Corps working as a health volunteer in Nambonkaha, a small village in Côte d’Ivoire. Sarah obviously has an incredible grasp of the English language as she takes the reader to Nambonkaha to experience the sites, sounds, and smells of the village. Reading her narrative, I felt like I learned what it is like living in West Africa, without actually living there.
Probably my favorite part about the book is that Sarah recognizes and anecdotally describes the challenges many face with international development work. For example, how initiate behavioral change with the villagers once she has given them information through courses. She doesn’t provide the answers (not sure there are concrete answers), but she provides insights that I will take with me to Ghana.
Monique and the Mango Rains: Two Years with a Midwife in Mali – Kris Holloway
This book is more about Kris Holloway’s relationship with Monique, a midwife living in Kris’s Malian village, than it is a Peace Corps memoir. The setting is similar to the setting in Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: a Peace Corps health volunteer living in a rural West African village. Kris does a great job of informing the reader about a women’s role in West African culture and offers a touching story. However, I wish Kris offered more introspection of her Peace Corps experience.
Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle – Moritz Thomsen
Thomsen Moritz, then in his forties, served as an agricultural volunteer in Ecuador in the 1960s. At first I was a bit skeptical of this book, because I read somewhere the author was too jaded about his experience in the Peace Corps. However, after reading this book I realized Moritz wasn’t jaded about his experience, he was honest. Moritz suffers through several problems as a Peace Corps volunteer, from getting sent back to the U.S. because of an illness to having failed with some of his projects. He keeps the reader engaged through his sarcastic writing style. I found myself laughing out loud several times while reading this book.
Since Moritz is so honest in his writing, it makes for one of the most realistic accounts of the Peace Corps. While the previous two books are must-reads if you are considering the Peace Corps, this book is a must-read regardless of your interest in the Peace Corps. In fact I am already planning to read a few of Moritz Thomsen’s books about his travels after the Peace Corps.