This is a book review of the book “Monique and the Mango Rains: Two Years with a Midwife in Mali” which is authored by Kris Holloway and published by Waveland Press in July 2006, located in Long Grove in the state of Illinois. Kris Holloway was born in Ohio. After she graduated college she served two years (1989-1991) in Nampossela, Mali, as a Peace Corps volunteer helping out Monique, the village’s midwife. Kris and Monique develop a unique relationship over the two years. After her return to the U.S., she completed her graduate studies in maternal and child health, wrote the book “Monique and the Mango Rains: Two Years with a Midwife in Mali” and started a study abroad organization for students.
Holloway continues to advocate for the women in Mali and is a frequent speaker on the topics of international service and exchange, women’s health and how to foster community across cultures. The book Monique and the Mango Rains is a memoir to her friend Monique, the midwife Kris Holloway met in Mali. Monique passes away a couple of years after Kris’ return to the U.S. The thesis of the book Monique and the Mango Rains is cross-cultural friendship between Kris and Monique and the power of intercultural exchange.
In this essay I go deeper into the unique friendship between Kris and Monique, healthcare and childbirth in Mali, the status of women in Mali, spousal abuse to women and how the two years as a Peace Corps influenced Kris’ life. By reading the book I got a better understanding of the reality for a lot of women in Mali, the living conditions and how it is that Mali is one of the world’s countries with the highest child death and women dying in childbirth. I learned about culture, beliefs, traditions in Mali and how they differ from the Western world.
Holloway’s story, Monique and the Mango Rains is about her two years in Mali working as a Peace Corps volunteer. Holloway works closely with Monique Dembele, the sole village midwife in Nampossela, a small, rural village in Mali. Kris is only 22 years old when she moves to the village and Monique, the village’s midwife is 2 years older. Right from the start, the young women develop a very close relationship. Monique is very open about the struggles she has in her relationship, health problems, unfair treatment, and her work as the only midwife in the village. Monique was in an unhappy enraged marriage with a man named François. Monique is very open about the struggles she has in her relationship, health problems, unfair treatment and in her work as the only midwife in the village. Monique also tells Kris that she is having an affair with the man she would have married, had the cultural practice of arranged marriage not existed. Kris is impressed by the dedication that Monique has for the women in the village and for her children. Coming from the developed U.S. while Monique is from a rural village in Mali makes this friendship extraordinary. The two women had major influences on the lives of women in Mali.
In her first week, Kris got to experience her first childbirth in a small hut in the village, which makes her realize how bad the conditions are in Mali. The living conditions in Mali are extremely different from what she is used to back home in Ohio. Monique is responsible for all the childbirths in the village. She has to work from a very small hut which is named the birthing house, which only has a concrete block in the center for the women to lay on. There is no electricity, running water, ambulances or emergency room that are there to support Monique in her work. For this reason, a lot of babies and mothers die during childbirth. Monique is able to assist with childbirths with only limited education and short training to work as a midwife. The country of Mali has one of the highest pregnancy-related mortality rates in the world, for mother and child. This mostly has to do with the fact that women do not always have enough food for their babies or do not know how to make baby food. Another issue is the lack of vaccinations. The lack of access to clean water, basic sanitation and limited food due to the climate in Mali (limited rainfall) and exposure to infectious diseases make it hard to survive in rural Mali. Another issue is once a second child is born, the first child is put onto adult food, which the child’s stomach cannot handle and causes diarrhea. Diarrhea, which is a treatable disease in Western countries, is a common cause of death for small children in Mali
One of the major differences is the status of women in Mali. The men in the village Nampossela are seen as leaders and have way more rights than women. The women are responsible for cooking and taking care of the children. The men are served by the women and have the opportunity to eat first and what is left is given to the women and children. Monique does not only have to take of the cooking, household and the care of her children but also works all day. Kris could not believe it when she heard that Monique does not get to collect her salary herself. One of the men in the village picks up Monique’s salary and keeps a significant amount of it. It was normal in the village that the men have control over the money but this hard to see for an outsider in which’s culture this is not the same.
The biggest threat to women in Mali is spousal abuse. Korun, one of the women in Nampossela got beaten by her husband, as Kris mentioned “The lantern light was dim, but I could see that one side was swollen, her eye half closed with puffy tissue. She met my stare, lowered her gaze, and quickly draped the scarf back over” (Holloway, p.51). Violence towards women in the village often occurs. Men expected women to have many children and since there were no birth control women got pregnant soon after giving birth, which led to that their bodies had no time to recover. Women are expected to go back to work after childbirth, sometimes within hours after. Most men in the villages have multiple women, which is overall accepted. If the women would want to divorce the men she gets no support from her family and basically gets abandoned. Kris struggled with the cultural differences and had to learn how to appreciate these cultural differences. She is often tempted to interfere with the culture in Mali and for example, stand up for Monique’s rights because in Kris’ believes it is an injustice.
Her time as a Peace Corps volunteer was a life-changing experience for Kris. Not only did she befriend the midwife of a rural town in Mali, but she also got to experience what life is like in Mali. By signing up to be a Peace Corps volunteer you have the oppurtunity to travel but also the opportunity to interact with other cultures. During her time in Mali, she met her partner John, who was also a peace corps volunteer. Kris and John first met during the Peace Corps training sessions in their first weeks in Mali. John got send to a different village but came to visit Kris. John also befriended Monique and got to know Monique’s family and the people of the village of Nampossela. After he was done with his assignment in the other village, John moved to the same village of Nampossela. The couple managed to get the build of a new birth house funded by the Peace Corps organization. The two years in Mali also inspired Kris to study complete her graduate studies in maternal and child health. She, later on, started her own study abroad organization, wrote the book Monique and the Mango Rains: Two Years with a Midwife in Mali and continued to support the women in Mali.
What stood out for me was how the cultural, social, structural and economic factors forced the women in the village into poor health positions, especially pregnancies, women and child health issues. It was shocking to me that the women in Mali have no control over these factors that directly and negatively impact their lives and health. This motivated me to learn more about Mali by reading what it was like for Kris as a volunteer and Monique’s personal experience as a midwife in rural Mali. I was eagerly to see how the friendship between the two evolved, how the new methods to increase health
Overall I am very impressed with the story and the way Kris presents this in her book. Kris writes about how she felt near the end of her time as a Peace Corps volunteer, “I cherished spending almost all my time out-of-doors, taking bucket baths under the stars, watching thunderheads pile the sky, and walking and dancing by moonlight. I loved living in an inviting community, where you were always asked to share food and drink, and where you spend time greeting and joking rather than avoiding others because of a busy schedule. Generations intermingled, there was always an excuse for celebrating, and death was sad, but not feared” This seemed odd to me since you did not get this same feeling from readin the book. What bothered me was the fact that the author talked about certain isseus briefly but never further went into it. The book Monique and the Mango Rains relate upon the themes of globalization and development discussed in the FAO report and in the textbook Intro to International Studies by Dr. Brown & Smallman. The FAO report and the textbook cover tthe hemes globlization and development.
Personally, while I can not relay to Kris’ experience as a volunteer for the Peace Corps in Mali, I am impressed and inspired by reading how Kris, who just graduated college dove into this dangerous adventure in Mali and develop a close relationship with the midwife in the village. The book does help me to understand what it is like to be a Peace Corps volunteer and live in a rural village. Which issues come from the lack of resources in the rural areas in Mali.
In the book “Monique and the Mango Rains: Two Years with a Midwife in Mali”, the writer Kris Holloway extraordinary well shares how it was to be a Peace Corps volunteer for two years in Mali. She discusses multiple themes and issues during her time in Mali. The interaction between Kris and Monique gave a good perspective of the friendship between the two depsides the cultural differences. During her time in Mali, Kris noticed the conditions under which the women had to give birth and how little supplies and support Monique had. She might have been aware of the high child death and women that die at childbirth before Kris went to Mali but to see it up close influenced her and the rest of her life. There is no electricity, running water, ambulances or emergency room that are there to support Monique in her work. For this reason, a lot of babies and mothers die during childbirth. There is a stark contrast to the life most Americans are leading. One of the biggest cultural differences is the status of the women, they were seen as less than the man in the village. Kris explains how Monique’s salary even gets collected by one of the men in the village, she gets only a share of it or sometimes even nothing. Spousal abuse is not uncommen in Mali and most women are getting an arranged marriage.
The book made me realize how much the women in Mali have to struggle, every day. How privileged I am to be have been born in the Netherlands, which is a wealthy, developed country. It was devastated to read what the circumstances are that the people of Mali have to live in.
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