THE PONDS OF KALAMBAYI: An African Sojourn by Mike Tidwell


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A former Peace Corps worker reveals his natural storytelling ability in this deeply moving account of two years in Zaire. ""If you give a man a fish, he lives today,"" says Rayleen McGarity, Tidwell's boot-camp-like instructor at the Peace Corps' ten-week indoctrination program. ""But if you teach a man how to raise fish, he eats forever."" Tidwell, a typical product of American suburbia and a recent graduate of the Univ. of Georgia, was initially more concerned with the lack of direction in his own life than with teaching poverty-ridden people how to increase their level of self-sufficiency. But as he is shipped off to Kalambayi, a chiefdom in central Africa where distended bellies are nearly as common a sight as funerals, he begins to appreciate the value of the maxim. The villagers welcome Tidwell cheerfully enough--though his ghostly complexion frightens their children, his unmarried state strikes them as unnatural, and they have trouble conceiving of a foreigner who has no desire to exploit them. Over time, Tidwell convinces a number of them that tending their own fish ponds beats farming a Belgian corporation's cotton fields or risking their lives in the nearby diamond mines. The lessons Tidwell receives are equally life-changing as he watches children he cares for suffer from malnutrition, befriends a man his age with little to look forward to, and rages impotently as his friends share their last bit of food with the rest of the tribe. Despite the program's sucess, Tidwell is sufficiently worn down by the unrelieved poverty (and the omnipresent local alcohol) to opt to leave at the end of his term. The images he takes with him, though--ranging from quiet evenings beside a fish pond to frantic afternoons in the bottom of a diamond mine--live again in this perceptive, gently humorous work.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1990
Publisher: Lyons & Burford