Friday, February 11, 2011

The ultimate MK horror story

Over the summer I enjoyed reading a book called 'The Poisonwood Bible' by Barbara Kingsolver.  It's not a new book (1998) but it was recommended to me a few times in the space of a couple of months so I thought I should read it.

This book is the story of a Baptist missionary family- dad, mum and four girls (age range 15 down to 5) who move from the States to a village in the middle of the jungle in the Belgian Congo (now Zaire) in 1959.  The country is on the brink of gaining independence from the Belgians and they enter into a political minefield.  They are the only non-Africans in the village, they cannot speak the language (which creates all kinds of problems), are a very long journey away from the nearest town, making them dependant on an unreliable pilot to fly in their supplies.  After they arrive in Africa, the family discovers that the father has in fact only a very tenuous support from the mission agency.  When he refuses to leave the country after independence is declared, they cut him off, leaving the family with no income.  They end up desperate, starving and starting to understand what subsistence life is actually like for the local Africans they live with.  The book also goes onto track what happens to the family after they leave the village; some stay in the country, another travels the world.

This is such a full-on book.  It is confronting, interesting, disturbing all at the same time.  Some of it is very funny - like when they leave the States with Betty Crocker cake mixes strapped to their bodies so they can reduce the amount of weight in their luggage.  This made me laugh because I remember as a little girl carrying very heavy hand luggage onto the plane (before hand luggage was weighed).

What I found personally interesting about reading this book was that there were many situations in the book that I could relate to.  I didn't grow up in Africa, but having grown up in a small town in the middle of India, the descriptions of how time-consuming preparing a meal was, made so much sense to me.  Even though we had a cook when I was little, my memory is that my mother spent a lot of her time in food preparation, shopping and housework.  Having a special meal of chicken was hugely time-consuming because the chicken had to be bought, killed and plucked all before it even made it to the oven (a box on top of a gas stove-top flame).  All our clothes were hand-washed - we never had a washing machine (and I'm not that old - this is the 80's).  The basic stuff of life took up all of life.  I also related to the the hassle of having a hot bath - heating up the water for ages before you could have a tiny amount of hot water to wash in.

What I realised (yet again) through reading this book was that, 'gee, I had a different childhood - if there are aspects of this crazy story that I actually relate to!'.  Not a bad childhood - it was quite fun and normal because I didn't know any different.  But as an adult and now a parent I'm still working through how my childhood has made me who I am today.

1 comment:

Stephen and Rebecca said...

sounds an interesting book. Apparently my brother in law carried a sewing machine in his hand luggage on the way home from India!