Reviews of my favorite books written by expatriates, journalists, and diplomats on what it's really like to live abroad

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Book Review: First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria by Eve Brown-Waite

Be forewarned, although this book just came out, with an eye-grabbing cover of an alarmed-looking young woman peeping from behind a huge tropical leaf, it's actually about adventures the author had as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador and then a CARE executive's wife in Uganda... almost 20 years ago.

Just because the stories are a bit older than expected from the publisher's marketing blurbs, doesn't make them any less interesting. Well, ok. A little less. How I Met My Husband & Got Him to Propose moments of 20-something romantic travail will be less than fascinating to anyone older. But that's only the start of the book. The inside look at Peace Corps assignments will be interesting to anyone at any age considering volunteering. I, for one, hadn't realized quite how pushy and entrepreneurial you have to be to find "work" in your host country.

After her marriage, Eve followed her husband to his posting in Arua Uganda, at the time considered so dangerous that the US State Department warned against it. Although Eve's memoirs are full of love and laughter, personally I would have run screaming from the Big Bugs everywhere, not to mention the rat in the toilet. But, she stuck it out, even through one of the skinniest pregnancies ever. (When you can't find any food in the market you're craving, that baby bump is tiny.)

Although she tried valiantly, finding work was next to impossible even though Eve was an AIDs expert in one of the most AIDs-ridden countries on the planet at that time. So, she ended up living a lifestyle that diplomatic spouses would recognize from ages of yore -- including hot and cold running servants and all the gin and tonics she could drink to fend off malaria.

Perhaps Eve's best writing centers around the extreme confusion and disconnectedness expats can feel when they visit home. The moment in Heathrow airport when she simply couldn't cope because she was surrounded by white people is wonderful.

When memoir ended with the announcement of her husband's then-next job posting -- Uzbekistan -- I couldn't help myself and immediately emailed her to ask if a follow-up volume was coming. Cross your fingers!

This book will be interesting for people who:

- Are considering the Peace Corps or working for an NGO in Africa
- Have survived a foreign posting when your spouse had work but you couldn't find anything
- Like amusing stories of living in exotic lands

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