Africa Lite? Boomers in Botswana
Christopher M. Doran (Botswana 2009-11)
Author House (amazon.com $16.95 paperback)
Reviewed by Leita Kaldi Davis (Senegal 1993-96)
Warning from the author: “Do not read this book unless you want to spend the day laughing out loud while being inspired by Africa and the Peace Corps.”
Dr. Christopher Doran and his wife, Maureen, joined Peace Corps in Botswana in their early sixties. Their accomplishments were many. They taught 86 medical students the basics of Mental Health, co-authored a book about discussing HIV/AIDS, Power Parents - Our Children and Sex, mentored 40 young adults on issues of leadership, health and HIV, photography and public speaking, and also guided younger Peace Corps Volunteers. Maureen taught reading and writing to “Bee Girls,” culminating in essays that were sent to the author of The Secret Life of Bees. They gave over 40 workshops, lectures, and presentations at school, community and professional organizations and taught hospital staff about mental health issues. Dr. Doran gave a speech in Setswana and English on the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps in 2011, which was also the 40th anniversary of Peace Corps in Bostwana. They survived three house break-ins, two speeding tickets and a run-in with a road grader. They also had a rollicking good time!
There must be a magnetic laugh line running under the Kalahari sands that not only inspired Alexander McCall Smith’s Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency series, but also Christopher Doran’s riotously humorous stories. Along with lots of useful information about the history and culture of Botswana, there is an LOL on almost every page.
After their arrival on site, the Dorans are renamed Kgosi (Kosi - Chief) and Kopo (request). Kgosi revels in his title and refers to himself regularly in the third royal person. Kgosi launches himself into journalism with his blog, the Kalahari Khronicle, whose motto is “News you can’t possibly use.”
“There are no stories worth reporting and Kgosi refuses to waste the time of our readers and this paper’s massive first-rate journalism staff on drivel.” (He has one subscriber; his mother.) His Nigerian banker is handling the finances. He passes on information about “The 3rd Annual Nigerian Email Conference: “Write better emails. Make more moneys.”
He reports weird stories that he finds on the Internet, for example, a python at a McDonald’s in Australia. His caption is: “Do you want fries with that snake? … Everyone knows that the only fast-food shop that takes python meat is KFC for their special 386 piece bucket.”
He learns that IQ tests have been conducted on J. Fred Muggs, lovable chimp of the Today show, and reveals that “…his score was significantly higher than the combined IQ scores of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.”
Kgosi quickly learns that physical fitness is “not a craze” in Botswana. “In fact, it doesn’t exist there.” He’s embarrassed that he doesn’t know Barack Obama or Beyonce, because the kids are convinced he should, as he’s an American. He observes, “America is doing culture: Botswana is being culture.”
Kgosi confesses that he is driven to crime by the lack of toilet paper, which he resorts to stealing from a hotel. When he is forced to produce stool samples for end-of-service screening, he goes into a three page scatological exposè of ways and means to produce and collect poop that range from dietary fiber-filled maneuvers to explosions that could be heard in South Africa.
His grasp of Peace Corps bureaucracy is exemplified by his story of two elderly women Volunteers who are concerned that their third colleague does not leave her bed one morning.
“Is she dead?” one asks.
“Oh God, I hope not,” says the other. It’s a week-end. Think of the paperwork.”
Kgosi begins to “get” what the Peace Corps thing is all about when he has a Peace Corps moment. He’s laboring in a field, hot, tired and filthy, with other Batswana pulling up rotted vegetables and fruit after a flood, when an old, brown-toothed Botswana man comes up and asks “Where you from?”
“America,” he says.
“You own this farm?”
“No, I am just here to help. I am an American Peace Corps worker.”
“Oooooooo!” A big smile.
But this is my favorite Peace Corps moment. A strong young Batswana working in the fields comes over to Kgosi and says, “When this started, I saw you and said to myself - ‘Aieesh … What is an old white guy going to be able to do?’ - but you really work hard.” As “Komplimented Kgosi” notes: “I can live for three months on one good compliment.”
At the end of his service, the Khronicle must close its doors, in hot denial, however, of its reputation as “The Worst Newspaper on the Continent.” Kgosi considers appointing his lawyer, Char Ching Fat Feez, to defend the Khronicle against such spurious charges but, reminding Kgosi that he could afford about 17 seconds of his time, Fat Feez advises him, “Kgosi, Dude, give it up.”
Christopher Doran is an “internationally acclaimed author published on three continents,” a graduate of Boston College and Yale University School of Medicine, whose specialty is mental health. If his medical books are anywhere near as funny as Africa Lite? I might buy them. But I doubt they contain so many fascinating photos and hilarious vignettes of African village life.
Leita Kaldi Davis worked for the United Nations and UNESCO, for Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and Harvard University. She worked with Roma (Gypsies) for fifteen years, became a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal at the age of 55, then went to work for the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Haiti for five years. She retired in Florida in 2002. She wrote a memoir of Senegal, Roller Skating in the Desert, (amazon.com) and of Haiti, In the Valley of Atibon. Leita is also Coordinator of the UN Women Gulf Coast Book Club.