Friday, August 8, 2008
Monique and the Mango Rains is the moving account of Kris Holloway's experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali, West Africa, assisting Monique Dembele, the area's local midwife and medical worker. In the crippling poverty of Mali, Monique and Kris work to help Mali's women and children in times of medical distress. From the birthing of babies to relationship counseling, fending off disease and infection to nutrition education, Monique labors ceaselessly and tirelessly. Her work builds a reputation far and wide that draws women from distant villages seeking her expert help. Kris, while adapting to her harsh environment, becomes more than just an assistant to Monique, experiencing with her the joy of her work and her relationships with the local women. She shares the anguish and disappointment of Monique's life outside the clinic and the close bond of her host family in Africa, becoming a friend to this inspiring woman. As Monique and Kris work to bring education and information to the women, they must broach sensitive topics like birth-control, AIDS, and abolishment of female circumcision. These topics, foreign to the local women, directly affect the survival of the community, and they work tirelessly to educate and inform the women while still dealing with the malnutrition, illness, and injury that besiege them every day.
The candid portrayal of life in the small village was very informative and interesting. I learned a great deal about the regions politics, the African society, and the general day to day existence of the small provincial village. The backbreaking work that the community must endure to prepare for the seasonal rains that fortify their village was explained in rich detail, making the story of the community's struggle for their survival come alive to the reader. Every hand is needed to plant and harvest the life giving crops that will sustain the villagers in the dry season. Monique's inexhaustible commitment to her patients and to her family was awe-inspiring. Her work to repair the birthing house, her bi-weekly weighing of babies, and her educational instruction to mothers for the care of their children was invaluable to the women of her community. Monique's story, though inspirational, was also fraught with sadness. The relationship between her and her husband, who she only calls le gars (the guy) is upsetting and one-sided. While Monique provides the money, care and stability, her husband takes and takes from her, never realizing the treasure that he is entrusted with. Monique works long and trying hours at the clinic, barely scraping by financially, with her young son tied to her back. Though at times the story was sad, there were real moments of joy and laughter throughout this book, from the triumphant birth of twins in an area where a double birth is almost unheard of, to Monique's musings on an airplane ride, I found myself smiling and laughing with Kris and Monique. Monique and Kris's friendship continued even after Kris's time in the peace corps ended, and straddled two different continents and many years.
This was a remarkable story of a remarkable woman. It encompassed the difficulties, differences and uniqueness of African culture that goes unnoticed by most Americans. I found Monique to be a fascinating woman who gave her heart and soul to the people who relied on her for their daily survival. This book was written in part to document the work that Kris did at Monique's side, but more than this, it was written as a homage to her great friend Monique. Monique truly touched Kris's life, and upon reading this book, I found she touched mine as well. Wonderful book, highly recommended.