A respectful, unsentimental portrait of a village in Mali, and a moving story of a warm friendship between an American Peace Corps volunteer fresh out of college and a young Malian health worker.
Holloway spent two years, from 1989 to 1991, working alongside Monique Dembele in the tiny village of Nampossela, where Monique served as midwife. The author is immediately plunged into the birthing business by her capable new friend, whose medical resources are severely limited but whose personal assets are quite extraordinary. Trapped in an unhappy arranged marriage, Monique, who has her own household to run and has her own baby strapped to her back, works long, hard hours to bring other women’s babies safely into the world, to teach mothers how to feed and care for their offspring, and at the same time to minister to the general health needs of the whole village. Holloway does all she can to help, working at Monique’s side, weighing babies, teaching women how to make rehydration formula, striving to bring birth control to the village women and arranging for Monique, rather than her feckless husband, to collect her monthly paycheck. She seems to slip easily into village life, joining in their celebrations, sharing their food and drink, living in a tin-roofed hut without electricity or running water. At the end of the two years, she and her fiancé, another Peace Corps volunteer, return home, having arranged for Monique to visit them in the U.S. the following year. (In one of the funnier moments here, inexperienced traveler Monique agrees to fly only after learning that she will be able sit inside the plane and not cling to the outside.) Holloway does not disguise the realities of life in a poor rural African village, and yet she is never condescending. Her admiration, respect and love for Monique come across as genuine, as does her grief at Monique’s death.
A poignant and powerful book. (16 b&w photos, not seen)