A Few Days Off

Well-digging crew

Well-digging crew

An excerpt from Tubob: Two Years in West Africa with the Peace Corps

We desperately needed to get away, to have some R&R. My husband Bruce had projects to finish up before we left, and I didn’t want to miss Friday clinic, so we set a date for Saturday to go to Banjul, capital of our host country, The Gambia We’d get some business matters taken care of and then take a few days off to soak up sea breezes in Bakau.

Friday’s clinic was interminable with close to 300 patients. At the end of the day I had just enough energy left to pack for our trip. We couldn’t wait to go. When our friend Tombong stopped by that morning, we made arrangements for him to stay during the nights as our night guard. Daytimes, with all the coming and going, were not a concern.

Bruce had arranged for a driver and had made a list of project supplies to get and things to do while downriver. I planned to see Sister M’Boge, the head nurse for the Health Department, and also try to find visual aids to use when I was on trek. Our trips downriver never seemed to be only for pleasure, but at least they were a pleasant break in routine and climate.

The driver, a couple hours late, picked us up in a project Peugeot pickup truck and we were on our way. After only a few miles, the driver, Bubacar, said, “Mistah Bruce, we need fuel.”

“Why didn’t you get fuel before we left?”

“I forgot.”

We’d gone too far to go back. “Okay Bubacar,” Bruce said, resigned, “let’s stop at Bansang.” There were no regular gas stations. Government vehicles fueled at designated supply centers. Fuel for the UN well digging project was in either Basse or downriver at Yundum. So Bansang, although they had fuel, was not a regular supply outlet for the UN vehicles.

Running on fumes, we pulled into Bansang’s government supply yard. We all climbed out. Sitting in a parked car in that heat is impossible. The project vehicles were not air conditioned, but provided a breeze while moving. Bubacar and the mechanic at the shop launched into a heated argument.

I don’t think either of them realized that we understood much of what they said, since they were speaking in Mandinka. The Bansang fellow said words to the effect that there was a fuel shortage and he could only give fuel to their own vehicles.

Bubacar responded that he had to take Mistah and Missus Bruce downriver, so he had to have fuel.

The man repeated what he’d said earlier.

We almost laughed when Bubacar said, “Don’t you understand Mandinka?” in the same tone we would say, “Don’t you understand English?”

The man repeated he couldn’t give fuel for this truck unless he had his boss’s permission and he wouldn’t be there until the next day.

Bubacar thumped his finger on the mechanic’s chest. “Do you want to take these tubobs home with you to spend the night? We can’t leave without fuel.”

With that, the man filled our tank.

We were on our way again with a full tank, having only lost an hour. I sat in the middle of the front seat and dozed, welcoming an escape from the pickup’s hot, bumpy ride.

Suddenly I heard a shattering noise and felt pelting from hundreds of little pieces of windshield.

A truck had passed us on the gravel road and its wheel threw a rock, hitting our windshield and shattering it. Bubacar had a cut on his forehead; a small piece of glass still protruded from the wound. Bruce and I were not injured, but glass was everywhere. Bubacar pulled off to the side of the road. Bruce plucked the shard from the driver’s forehead and from the kit we always carried, cleaned the wound and bandaged it.

We shook glass out of our clothes and brushed it off the seat and out of the truck and continued on our way. Driving without a windshield is very nerve wracking. Wind rushed in, along with flying insects and gravel. Every time we encountered a vehicle, I held up a magazine to protect Bruce’s and my heads. Bubacar drove without any protection. After we got onto the paved road, it wasn’t as bad and we drove the remaining one hundred twenty miles without incident, though the howling wind in our faces became tiring.

As we arrived in Banjul, we passed another volunteer and I waved through where the windshield should be. The fellow looked surprised and we all laughed.

Bubacar dropped us off at the apartment we shared with other Peace Corps volunteers. I could never really enjoy myself until I straightened it up, washed the dishes, which always seemed to be left in the dishpan, put a clean sheet on the bed and made the apartment “home.” It was tiny and there were only the two of us staying there at the time.

Following our usual routine, we took showers and then walked to a small nearby hotel for dinner. We shook our heads over the journey down. Couldn’t a trip ever be just normal?

Book Review: I Am We

I Am WeChristine kept her secret until she was forty-one. She didn’t even tell her husband, nor the counselor she’d gone to for ten years. Then, sick with anxiety, she uttered to her therapist the seven most difficult words of her life, “There is more than one of me.”

Although it was a huge relief to share her secret, now she faced learning to deal with managing a life with Dissociative Identity Disorder, sometimes called Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD). Christine Pattillo has done a remarkable job of sharing her life and those of her husband and “alters” in I Am We: My Life with Multiple Personalities.

It is believed that Dissociative Identity Disorder is caused by early childhood repetitive, extreme, physical, sexual or emotional abuse. As a young child Christine suffered repeated sexual abuse from a friend’s stepfather. In addition, Christine also endured physical and emotional abuse from her own father.

One might think the natural tendency might be to attempt to rid oneself’s of multiple personalities, but a child fears ridicule, so the condition is often kept secret. Not only that, but in Christine’s case, she was actually fond of and derived great comfort in some of her alternate personalities. But not all. Some got her into trouble.

When Christine married Christopher, he had no idea what was in store and how he would have to juggle his time between Christine and “the gang”: Hope, Rim, She, Q, Chrissy, Cyndi, and even a boy, Tristan. The alters include personalities of different ages, temperaments and desires.

I found I Am We fascinating. It would be easy to dismiss this type of mental illness as an over-active imagination, but when faced the strong evidence this autobiography presents, even the most skeptical would find it difficult to believe the condition contrived. Christine’s life has known joy, especially in her marriage, but also rage, confusion and deep sadness. I Am We is an attempt to help “normal” people realize that, although rare, some lives are filled with complicated, multiple, and abnormal mental health issues.

To learn more about the book and author Christine Pattillo, visit www.iamwebook.com

 

Hunting for Bush Pig

Hunting LopiAn excerpt from Tubob: Two Years in West Africa with the Peace Corps

Mr. Lopi, superintendent of the UN well digging project and Bruce’s counterpart, returned upriver to his home and workplace about a month after my husband Bruce started as Mechanical Advisor. Apparently Mr. Lopi had been working downriver for the last several weeks. Mr. Lopi had become a man of stature and had a job of importance and leadership, bringing water to areas desperate for this precious commodity. Mr. Lopi had two wives and seventeen children. Amazingly, his salary after working for his government for about twenty years was equal to the modest monthly living allowance we each received, a sum many single volunteers found inadequate.

I marveled that Gambians managed at all. Of course, most people where we lived didn’t pay rent, didn’t pay utilities because there weren’t any, didn’t have cars, and medical attention was paid by the government. Still, they needed clothing and what food they didn’t grow.

I found Mr. Lopi appealing. Tall, he had that amazing African male physique. My association with him was very different from Bruce’s. Although they managed a cordial relationship, Bruce was often frustrated and felt that Mr. Lopi based decisions on political advantage rather than public need. Bruce, totally uninterested in the politics of the project, just wanted to get the job done.

One evening Mr. Lopi invited us on a bush pig (wild boar) hunt. Muslims wouldn’t eat “the filthy swine,” so we weren’t sure what we would do if we got one, but we went along for the adventure. Of the four of us, Mr. Lopi was the only one carrying a gun, a big, old single-shot shotgun. We loved the adventure, tramping around in an area we hadn’t seen before. We followed a rough path through scrub forest, sort of like a safari. We didn’t find our bush pig but it was a fun adventure. Outings like this helped make our stay memorable and, I felt, closer to the people.

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Book Review: Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

blink_usBlink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell provides an interesting study into the art of coming to a conclusion based on the observer’s snap judgement and first impressions. When burdened with facts, decision is often clouded. However, according to Gladwell, snap judgments and first impressions can be educated and controlled.

An example Gladwell gives for this phenomena is a marble statue, a kouros, which was said to be dated back to the sixth century BC. Experts studied the various features and concluded its authenticity. But then a snap judgement, what Gladwell describes as thin-slicing, occurred from another expert. The statue didn’t “look right.” As it turned out, all the knowledge accumulated by experts couldn’t deny the fact that, once pointed out, the statue wasn’t what it was presented to be.

Another example of the power of a blink-of-an-eye decision is the current practice of having candidates auditioning for a symphony orchestra play behind a screen for anonymity. In the past, a woman auditioning for a position wouldn’t have had a chance. The listener’s viewpoint would be clouded by thinking a woman wouldn’t have the lung power or stamina to properly play, say, a wind instrument. In 1980, candidates auditioning on trombone for Germany’s Munich Philharmonic were placed behind a screen to avoid bias. As it happened, a woman was among those auditioning and the conductor strongly voted in her favor. When it was revealed it was a woman, the judges were amazed, and dismayed. A woman in a symphony orchestra? That started a trend. Rather than lengthy discussions on awareness programs, assertive training, social discrimination, etc., the problem about who is the best player is determined by blind auditions. A decision is made without the bias of gender clouding the issue. Today, thirty years later, approximately 50 percent of symphony players are women.

Without giving it thought, many of our decisions are based on bias, even when we know it isn’t fair. If we remove bias we often come to a different decision. Many people have the skill to quickly size up a situation. They don’t dwell on a person’s race, his clothes, what car he drives, or where he lives. Skilled rapid decision makers have developed an inner sense to accurately assess a situation based on a “gut feeling” or rapid cognition. Some people are born with this skill; others have developed it over time.

Although in places Blink gets somewhat off-track, I think Gladwell’s premise is worthy. We often talk something to oblivion, becoming blinded by too much information. Although snap judgements aren’t always accurate, there can be merit in listening to our gut feelings about a situation before it gets cluttered with facts.

I recommend Blink. I found it entertaining, but more, I found it helpful in determining how to make decisions without the clutter of weighing every aspect of the problem.

Book Review: Sarah’s Key

Sarahs Key

In 1942, Sarah, ten years old, was frightened when she and her parents were rounded up in the middle of the night by French police. Her younger brother, only four years old, refused to go and Sarah helped him hide in their secret hiding place, believing they’d only be gone for a short while and then return home.

A multi-layered, well-crafted novel, Sarah’s Key by Tatiana De Rosnay alternates between 1942 France and present day. The story evolves around the true events of the dark period in France’s history where thousands of Jewish families were rounded up and forcibly kept in the Velodrome d’Hiv, eventually taken to transit camps and finally packed off to Auschwitz.

Even before the roundup, Sarah realizes grim changes in her homeland. Jews are required to wear yellow stars on their clothing, even to school. They are no longer allowed in some stores and restaurants, places of business are closed, leaving many Jews without income. The year 1942 signaled dark times for Jews, but they had no idea of the horrors that awaited them.

Julia Jarmound, a present-day American journalist living in France with her French husband and daughter, investigates the little known Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup of Jews, conducted and enforced by French authorities in the heart of occupied Paris under Nazi Germany command.

When Julia uncovers truths that took place in 1942, she is consumed by Sarah’s story. Even when she discovers secrets about her husband’s family and stirs up resentment of repressed guilt, she is compelled to seek the truth about Sarah.

Sarah’s Key is a moving novel that delves into a little known piece of history now often referred to as France’s Dark Years. The author’s handling of the two time periods is flawless, her characterizations vivid.

For more information about the author and her work, visit http://www.tatianaderosnay.com/

 

Swimming in The Gambia River

Fishermen in RiverAn excerpt from Tubob: Two Years in West Africa with the Peace Corps

One particularly hot Sunday my husband Bruce and I decided to cool off in The Gambia River. The river was probably two miles from home, beyond the marketplace. Hot when we arrived, we stripped off our clothes to our swimsuits and made our way through dark sticky sand to wade in.

We longed for our two-person kayak, currently being stored at Bruce’s parents’ home. What a joy it would be to paddle the river. Overhanging trees and brush provided shade along the shore. Just being on the water seemed cool and refreshing.

Once in the water, it was glorious. Unfortunately, we drew a crowd. Gambians really never swam in the river. They fished in it, paddled their dug-out canoes in it even washed clothes in it, but never swam for pleasure.

One man waved frantically.“There are crocodiles in the river!”

Another man warned, “I’ve seen hippopotamus in there!” Actually, I had to look that Mankinda word up when I got home. All I knew at that time was that it must be something bad.

After walking that distance in 100-degree heat, we really didn’t care what we shared the river with. It was cool and we luxuriated in it. At that point, the river was about two hundred feet across. We swam out to get into relatively clean water. Even so, we made every effort to keep our mouths closed, knowing the water would be polluted.

Though wonderful while it lasted, all cooling effects were gone by the time we walked home again, leaving only a pleasant memory.

 

Book Review: Dare to Dream

Dare to Dream, the third novel in Heidi Thomas’s Cowgirl Dreams trilogy, brings a satisfying conclusion to the story of Nettie Moser, a strong woman who dares to fulfill a life-long dream of becoming a champion rodeo steer rider.

Dare Cover Final 1.5x2Now in her thirties, Nettie’s time has finally arrived. She and her husband Jake are eager to sign up as riders at a Cheyenne RAA (Rodeo Association of America) rodeo, Jake as a bronc rider, Nettie as a steer rider. Since she was fourteen it had been her dream to be a professional rodeo rider and she had found success. Much to the surprise of the audience, and to the dismay of her family, this tiny 105-pound girl had sat atop of a half ton of writhing steer muscle and bone and rode it to the end.

Nettie had held on to her dream through the years though for a while had to put it aside because of injury, family illness, the tragic death of another woman contestant, starting her own family, and working with her husband and young son on their horse ranch. But now her dream is again becoming a reality. The time is right for her to resume her rodeo competition.

But her dream is shattered when in 1941 RAA refuses to let women compete in rough stock riding. Sometimes dreams take a detour. It’s up to Nettie’s creativity to find a way to be a part of rodeo.

Dare to Dream is the continuing story of ranch life in the early forties. WWII is threatening and Nettie and Jake’s son is approaching draft age. Love and sorrow is a part of life and it takes courage to handle them with grace. The war years bring sorrow and hardship and it’s left to those at home to carry on.

Author Heidi M. Thomas grew up on a Montana cattle ranch. Her first two books of the series, Cowgirl Dream and Follow the Dream are based on Thomas’s grandmother who rode rough stock in the 1920s heyday of rodeo. Dare to Dream follows a historical timeline, but is more a work of fiction than the first two. I found the trilogy a worthy and fulfilling account of the early days of ranch life and rodeo. Thomas brings warmth and believability to her characters and to the countryside in which they live.

For more information about the author and her work, visit www.HeidiMThomas.com

Book Review: Killing Jesus

killingjesus-3dKilling Jesus: A History by co-authors Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard is an extraordinary account of the most influential man who ever lived: Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus is born surrounded by fear, fear that the baby boy will be slaughtered like other baby boys in the small town of Bethlehem and surrounding area. King Herod will kill anyone who threatens his throne. For centuries, Jewish prophets have predicted the coming of a new king to rule their people. What people of power don’t realize is that the “power” is not of this world.

Jesus’s parents, Mary and Joseph, strive to keep a low profile. As the baby Jesus is presented in the temple, it becomes obvious that he is a special child. He leads a fairly normal childhood, learning his father’s trade as a carpenter. He often shows signs of wisdom beyond his age.

As he becomes an adult, it is clear to Jesus that he must see to his Heavenly Father’s work. He acquires a following, and he acquires enemies, people who fear they will lose their political power.

Killing Jesus is not a religious book, it is a study of a man “who galvanized a remote area of the Roman Empire and made very powerful enemies while preaching a philosophy of peace and love.” Many familiar people play roles in the political and historical events that made Jesus’s death inevitable: Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Caesar Agustus, Herod the Great, Pontius Pilate and John the Baptist.

Throughout the book extensive footnotes support facts presented. In the forward, Bill O’Reilly states, “To understand what Jesus accomplished and how he paid with his life, we have to understand what was happening around him.” O’Reilly and Dugard do a thorough job of helping the reader understand the political mind-set of the time.

I found Killing Jesus riveting. No matter what religious beliefs the reader follows, this book brings to light the meaning of Jesus’s life. The book is quite graphic in describing extremely cruel executions. Life was cheap and political power safe-guarded at all costs.

Authors Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard have also co-authored two other notable books, Killing Lincoln and Killing Kennedy. To learn more about these books and the authors, visit http://killingjesusthebook.com/

Today’s Guest: Anne Schroeder

Last week I featured Anne Schroeder’s novel, Cholama Moon and today have the pleasure of reading her first-hand account of writing a historical western.

Anne Schroeder:

Anne croppedWriting an Historical Western, as with other historical romances, involves two equally important processes—research and story. I recall seeing Isabel Allende posed beside dozens of books she used to research one of her novels. At the time I was impressed. Now, not so much because I realize that all historical fiction writers do the same. We’re just not all savvy enough to have our publicist capture the pile of oversized books we lug home.

As with every genre, storytelling is king, but historical authors rely on actual places, people and events to provide a stage for the storytelling. It’s part of the fun for both reader and author. Because setting has such a prominent place in Westerns, it’s tempting to let the scenery steal the scene. One of my reviews on Amazon  http://www.amazon.com/Cholama-Moon-Anne-Schroeder/product-reviews/1610091299 mentions that very thing about Cholama Moon, my first historical western. In this story a fictional pioneer family settles in a remote section of Central California bordering the GreatValley. Ginny Nugent’s mother dies young and her father emotional abandons her in a downward spiral of addiction. In 1870s Central California, amid Mexican vaqueros, desperados and earthquakes, young Ginny fends for herself with a little help from an Indian cook and a half-crippled cowboy until a Southern gentleman sends her on a journey of self-discovery.

The young girl’s struggle to find family and belonging begins with her Cholama Valley roots and  takes her by stage, railroad and streamer through coming-of-age Central California to the coast at Santa Cruz and San Francisco—and home again. Although Ginny is a make-believe character, the historical figures, homesteaders, politicians, events and the times she lives in are true.

I have great passion for this era and setting. The nineteenth century saw great changes for the few inhabitants who called Alta California home. By 1878, Ginny is 11 years old. The great Mexican land grants are being broken off. Public land is being offered to homesteaders and preemptors. Discouraged Yankee miners replace the native Indians and the Californios Mexican land grants are nullified by the American courts, just as, fifty years earlier, the Mexican government secularized the Spanish Mission system and evicted Spaniards when they were unable to produce written proof of their Spanish land grants. Under American rule, population brings a railroad, which means towns, trade and transportation. Within seven years Ginny’s world changes from strict isolation to relative social opportunity.

CholameValley –pronounced Show-lam Valley—is only five miles wide. In 1878 it was a three day trip by horse, mail stage and train from San Francisco or Los Angeles. Rugged, remote and filled with natural beauty, the valley has played host to Indian tribes, Spanish land grants, Mexican bandits, wild mustangs and earthquakes. It is today known as the epicenter for the San Andreas Fault.

At the edge of Ginny’s valley a small mountain called the MiddleRange was born—technically, the southwest slippage of the North American plate against the Pacific plate at a rate of six centimeters a year.  To a girl of the nineteenth century, tectonic science was unknown—its results, mere curiosity. Her world was bounded by her DevilMountains and La Luna Cholama, the moon that illuminates her fractured valley.

My writing explores the social and political events of an era. But as with all novels, the story is key. Romance is important in the context of the challenges that the heroine must overcome. The sequel to Cholama Moon is a novel entitled Maria Ines. It traces the Salinan Indian cook in Cholama Moon back to her roots at the Mission San Miguel de Arcángel in Alta California where she was born. A third novel, Son of the Troubles, is already underway.

My hope is that the emotional scenes in this fictional series will leave a permanent impression on readers that will create curiosity about California’s turbulent and colorful history, its Missions and historical places.

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Book Review: Cholama Moon

Cholama MoonWhen she was three years old, Ginny Nugent’s mother died, and so did her loving home. Cholama Moon by Anne Schroeder tells Ginny’s story in this late 1800′s novel which takes place in a remote section of southeastern Monterey County, California.

Ginny has a loyal friend in an old cowhand, Sancho Roos. When her father, Charlie Nugent, doesn’t provide the nurturing his daughter needs, Sancho is there for her. What is lacking–a well-kept home, proper clothes, schooling, the things a growing girl needs– is at least partially compensated by Sancho’s attention and teaching.

When Jeremy Larsen, a stranger from Virginia, comes along bearing greetings from Ginny’s mother’s relatives and friends, he’s appalled by Ginny’s lack of education and refinement. The ranch is in ruins and her father absent much of the time.

Cholama Moon brings to life how homesteaders struggled amid harsh conditions. When the burden becomes too great the weak succumb, but the strong rise above the hardships. Sometimes change takes a creative approach and Jeremy may be just the person to change Ginny’s destiny.

Author Anne Schroeder has the gift of bringing the reader into the grit and dust of a run-down ranch, of rocking with the frequent earthquakes in what was and still is the center of the San Andreas Fault. Schroeder shows how a caring person can change the course of what could be a hopeless life.

Cholama Moon is an excellent novel written by a writer with an obvious passion for the West and its people. This is the first of the Central Coast Series.