A Time to . . .
A Baby Boomer’s Spiritual Adventures
Reviewed by Cheryl (Banister) Armstrong (Metu 72–≠73; Asmara 73–74)
I READ RON PETERSON’S A Time To . . . A Baby Boomer’s Spiritual Adventures in one cramped sitting while flying between Washington D.C. and Addis Ababa. I was desperate to pass the time, and yes, this book was a page-turner. Trapped in a stairwell of a 9/11 Tower, Ron’s character, Al Masterson, revisits his past, decade by decade. I could relate to each stage of Al’s quest to puzzle out the meaning of his life experiences. I didn’t grow up in New York, but I have had friends and relatives who have had brushes with gang life, and Al’s childhood friend’s tragic mistake rang true. Al continues his story through the tumultuous ’60s and ’70s, serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia. I, too, served in Ethiopia and Eritrea and found these chapters compelling. Ethiopia is a challenging country to live and travel in, it’s people are intelligent and sophisticated, it’s physicality beautiful, and it’s spirituality deep. His chapters about 9/11 are insightful and moving. Al is a seeker of meaning and faith. His story will take you on a fascinating and exciting journey.
In Ethiopia with a Mule
by Dervla Murphy
John Murray Publishers, Ltd.
2004 (reissue — first published in 1968)
Reviewed by Alma Toroian Raymond (Dabat 1967–69)
DERVLA MURPHY HAS WRITTEN 18 books about her solo travels in remote and sometimes treacherous territories, including In Ethiopia with a Mule. She traveled in Ethiopia on foot with a pack mule named Jock. Together they trekked from the north through the rugged Semien to the southern regions. RPCVs who have had the opportunity to travel through the Semien mountains will identify with many of the tales in her book.
In Transylvania, she traveled by foot, on trains and even bicycled over the Carpathian mountains. In Ethiopia she was assaulted and robbed by shifta, and in Transylvania she was robbed by a train conductor who left her shivering on the station platform on a cold night without a coat or hiking shoes.
Regardless of the circumstances, she always carried on finding herself with hospitable, curious locals who invited her into their homes where they shared what little food, drink and space that was available and warmed themselves together around wood burning fires. In Transylvania, in addition to the food and drink, she was able to talk with people who, having recently been released from the tyranny of Nicolae Ceausescu, were eager to learn about how a democracy can be made.
The Lure of the Honey Bird
The Story Tellers of Ethiopia.
Reviewed by Janet Lee (Emdeber 1974-76)
I FIRST BECAME AWARE of Elizabeth Laird having seen two anthologies sponsored by the British Council that contained her translations of stories she had gathered from across Ethiopia. The anthologies had stories representative from even the remotest sections of Ethiopia. As a young Peace Corps Volunteer in the ’70s, I had used Shlomo Bachrach’s (PC/Ethiopia Staff 1966–68) Ethiopian Folktales as the text for my seventh grade students and knew the importance of stories and folktales in both preserving culture and expanding literacy.
The Lure of the Honey Bird is a memoir focusing on the time of her life that she spent gathering these stories. A British national, Laird first traveled to Ethiopia as a young teacher. Just 23 years old, she had the adventure of her life traveling to the mountain regions in the north, the city of Lalibela, and the Danakil desert. She was even introduced to His Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie.
Following a successful career as an award-winning author, she had an opportunity to return to Ethiopia at the bequest of the British Council, which charged her with the joyful task of collecting stories from every region of Ethiopia. These stories would be printed in local languages as readers and distributed to schoolchildren in each region. She made several trips to Ethiopia, through mud and rain, heat and dust, illness and in health. It is a remarkable story.
Although I was mesmerized throughout with her vivid and insightful descriptions, two accounts resonated with me: Harar (my training site) and Welkite, the Gurage town where I caught the Land Rover to my village of Emdeber. Harar is that unique, walled-in city, where the women dress in brightly colored fabric. It was the home of the poet, Rimbaud, and famed for its hyenas. “There is something particularly alluring about an ancient walled city, and Harar, remote and isolated, set within its white walls on the green side of a hill, is a jewel.” Harar is indeed, a fascinating place, but unfortunately off limits to current Volunteers.
I lived in a modified Gurage house, and woke each morning to an open ceiling, fascinated by its intricate design and openness. Laird writes, “When you step inside one of these extraordinary constructions you can only look up and gasp . . .. It’s like the pillar of a cathedral, and the wooden spokes that spring from it create an effect of a fan vaulting.” These two wonderful descriptions confirm the accuracy of the remaining throughout.
As she travels from place to place, she relates the tales that she has heard, a treasure trove of stories that include were-hyenas, kings, wild animals and young maidens. She notes the similarities and differences from the various regions of Ethiopia, and also similarities to biblical stories or tales and myths from other lands and earlier times.
It is a fascinating read.
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End of Issue 16 — September, 2013