I am not exactly qualified to be leading a discussion on birthing stories in West Africa. I have never carried a baby in my womb or labored hard to bring that little one into the world. While I have scratched the surface of women’s health education and find it fascinating, I am not a certified midwife. Yet, Monique and The Mango Rains: Two Years With a Midwife in Mali by Kris Holloway is not just a story for those who have birthed babies themselves or sat with others in that process. This memoir is a beautiful look at what birthing and life is like in another culture, a story full of hope and despair and plenty of crossing-cultures experiences. I think we can each find our place in this book.
Monique and the Mango Rains describes the years that the author Kris Holloway worked with the Peace Corp in Mali in the early 1990s, providing health education and working closely with the local midwife.
The author introduces us to the people who became like family while she lived in the village of Nampossela in southern Mali. It might be easy to get lost in the beauty of these Malian names, so here’s a quick review:
- Fatumata: the Malian name given to the author Kris upon her arrival in Mali
- Monique Dembele: 24-year-old midwife and sole health care worker in the village
- Louis and Blanche Dembele: Monique’s in-laws
- Elise: Monique’s sister-in-law, who has a young son named Karamogo
- François or Le Gars (the guy): Monique’s husband
- Genevieve and Basil: Monique’s 3-year old daughter who lives with her parents in town and her infant son who rides along on her back most days
- Dùgùtigi: the title for the village chief
- Korotun: a friend of Monique who often asks Kris for money
- John: the author’s boyfriend/future husband whose Malian name is Bakary
We meet many others in these first few chapters as the author describes village life. I have lived in both a village setting and a big city and the rhythms can be vastly different, can’t they? In the village where my teammate and I lived for a year, the first sound I heard in the morning was the whisp of stiff broom bristles on the pavement as our neighbors got an early start to their day. Motorcycles lined up near us to take women to the market several miles away, and if we delayed our own market run by a few minutes they were all taken and we were left to walk. We learn about a lot of these daily rituals in this first section as Kris describes the process of nightly tea, meal prep and who eats when. Do you relate to any of these rhythms from your setting? How are they different?
I have so much respect and admiration for Monique. She is calm amid chaos, exuding an inner strength and beauty in the midst of harsh circumstances. She is the perfect culture helper for the author because she is not afraid to point out mistakes and is quick to jump in with an explanation of what is happening. Have you experienced this gift of a cultural helper and friend as you’ve entered a new culture?
Here’s the plan for the rest of Monique and The Mango Rains!
September 11: Chapters 4-5
September 18: Chapters 6-8
September 25th: Chapters 9-11 and Postscript
This month we are so excited to tell you about an opportunity to win a book! Abbie Smith has written Stretch Marks I Wasn’t Expecting: A Memoir on Early Marriage and Motherhood and it’s a wonderful companion book for this month as we focus on birthing. Abbie is going to be sharing a little bit of her story with us each week as well!
Sarah: Abbie, we are grateful you are partnering with us this month! Could you share a brief summary of your book with our community?
Abbie: I’d be honored. First though, please let me say how encouraged I’ve been by the Velvet Ashes community! I’ve known Amy for a number of years (at least virtually), and spent bits of time overseas myself. To find this tribe of global, Christ following gals has been such a grace. So thank you for letting me be a part!
As for Stretch Marks I Wasn’t Expecting, it delves into conversations on infertility and inner-city living, mommy wars and the incarnation, letdowns of marriage and learning to notice God in the mundane. In some ways becoming a wife and mom was as exhilarating as I’d envisioned; in other ways its been stifling and painstakingly ordinary. The book unpacks these polarities. I’d say it’s about finding belonging & meaning, hope & common ground. It’s about learning to walk with Christ in honest friendship on this journey Home.
Here’s how you win: add your comment to this post with your thoughts on Monique and the Mango Rains, a question for Abbie or the community, or your own birth story by Sunday, September 9th. We’ll chose one winner this week to receive either an electronic copy or physical copy of Abbie’s book (your choice)!
*When you purchase Stretchmarks, 50% of proceeds go to “We Welcome Refugees”.