A former Peace Corps volunteer reminisces about life, love and the tropics during his three years in Gabon, where the people, the countryside and nature captured his heart.
For debut travel writer Gray, the coastal West African country of Gabon, a former French colony, was about the most extreme contrast to his native Montana he could have wished for. Tropical downpours, intense humidity, lush jungle and a tremendous variety of wildlife are the background to his daily existence as he helps develop a grade school education program. And the food—simple, deliciously fresh (such as fish grilled straight out of rivers), served in a variety of spicy sauces. Above all, the kindness and zest for life among the people enchant him most. They welcome him into their hearts and homes, and along the way, he finds that even without the material comforts of modern society, community bonds are cherished, and they enjoy life more than he could imagine. A wide-eyed Gray nearly bumps into a forest elephant, stares hippos in the eye, monitors sea turtles laying their eggs at night and nearly encounters a dangerous Nile crocodile. But not all was well during Gray’s posting. He witnesses a witchcraft tribunal, where an old, lonely woman was accused of transforming herself into different beasts and tormenting fellow villagers. After everyone was given the chance to have their say, the village elders pronounced their verdict, which was aimed at keeping harmony among the community. Steering clear of politics, Gray is careful to keep an open, objective mind about the customs. At the center of the country is oil revenue, but, with only passing references made to the presence of international companies, Gray’s efforts to avoid political controversy lead him to give no opinion on the matter—a shortcoming of this otherwise engaging portrait of a society caught between ancient and modern ways.
A personal, somewhat overly romantic account of life far away from home.