Women crowd around a young mother giving birth, unsure of why there is so much blood or how to ease the labouring mother’s pain. Sarah Erdman watches on, trying to help, but hesitant in her inexperience.
So begins Erdman’s memoir of her two year sojourn in Africa, Nine Hills to Nambonkaha, a snapshot of African life from Erdman’s discerning eyes.
Erdman’s lyrical chronicle of her life as a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa takes readers through the north of Cote D’Ivoire, in a Muslim community with a strong animistic background.
Before arriving in her village, she is repeatedly warned of how she will find it insufferable for its backwardness, with warnings of the land’s overbearing heat and the people’s shortage of modern necessities.
The author’s open-mind, innocence and affable nature guarantee, however, her delight in Nambonkaha and its warm reception of its white, or “toubabou” guest.
Erdman struggles throughout her stay with the ever-daunting questions health workers must face when entering a community – “Where do you start when health is so vast and so elusive at the same time? How do you promote behavior change so that people have more control over the state of their bodies but stop at the threshold where important traditions get destroyed?”
She manages to succeed in helping the community raise awareness of birth control, developmental nutrition, sickness prevention and AIDS.
Where her attempts fail, Erdman’s writing picks up, bringing her readers closer to an understanding of African culture and the obstacles yet to be overcome in treating the tragedy of AIDS.
One of Erdman’s own right-hand-men, a young volunteer for the cause of health awareness, Bakary, refuses to wear a condom, with the simple word, “Jamais.” Erdman’s colleague, Nambonkaha’s only nurse, Sidib