Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Stirring story demonstrates how U.S., Malian cultures worlds apart

This summer I read Monique and the Mango Rains, by Kris Holloway. Kris recounts her service in the Peace Corps, where she was partnered with the village midwife, Monique, in a village in Mali, Africa. Their partnership evolved into a deep and lasting friendship and forever changed Kris’s life.

I know (on a mostly superficial level having never experienced extreme poverty firsthand) that I’ve got it good here in the US. To read an account of the vast disparities between here and there, it doesn’t seem at all possible that we exist on the same planet. The average Malian earns, in an entire year, around $230.

Life is very hard, especially on the women. It boggles my mind that women make the meals, serve the men first, and then serve themselves and the children what’s left, if any. Over 96 percent of girls undergo circumcision in varying degrees of severity, often leading to lifelong problems and even death.

Monique worked with no electricity, no running water, and no emergency help. In her work with her, Kris realized that Monique’s ‘simple tools, clean hands, and sharp mind’ contrasted so sharply with US hospitals, where technology and not touch was the status quo, that when Kris came back to the US and had her own babies, she chose homebirths with a midwife.

This book made me laugh and cry. There are several stories that stand out, but the one where Kris relates her conversation about inviting Monique to fly to the US to visit had me laughing so hard I cried, and I was completely sucker punched when I came to the end and read the sad reason for Kris and her husband’s return to Mali.

This book (the library has it) will stay with me for a long time.

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