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3 out of 4 stars
Review by Elaine5
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Carole and Brendan had grown children and a content life in British Columbia when the opportunity to work in Zaire presented itself. They were ready for adventure and prepared to embrace an opportunity to improve their French language skills and make a contribution. The author caught my attention in the foreward when she wrote "What we couldn’t possibly appreciate was how deeply we would grow to love the people, how much we would learn in four short years, and how utterly grateful we would become for the experience." The book is a beautifully written memoir of that experience and that foreshadowing was one of many that highlighted the delightful unpredictability that life often brings. Our expectations are often surpassed and moments that seem small or insignificant can be life changing in retrospect. These truths came through loud and clear.
The author gently and insightfully writes about politics, disease, education (or lack of) for women, poverty, corruption and war through her own personal experiences in Zaire. When they first arrive in 1989, things are relatively stable in and around Dungu. This allows them to comfortably settle into village life and adjust to their new world. As time goes on, the political situation in Zaire and surrounding countries becomes less and less stable, creating situations that an average Canadian could hardly imagine. After buying green tomatoes from a young boy so that he could buy malaria medication, the author wrote "I longed for the security of Canada where children didn’t go hungry and mothers didn’t search every day for almost enough food to feed their family."
The writing is introspective, contrasting the Canadian and African cultures as lived by Carole and Brendon. The sense of community and generosity in Dungu versus the individual nature of North American culture stood out as a theme. Even the poorest families in Dungu welcomed refugees fleeing looting and riots in larger cities. If a guest was at the table, he was generously fed, even if it meant going without tomorrow. Other contrasts were also highlighted such as the reality and closeness of death versus our somewhat removed, antiseptic view of it. Another was the life and death nature of politics as opposed to it being "a mere abstraction to be debated over dinner."
The reader also gets to know others who live in Dungu through Carole's relationships. She makes meaningful connections and I enjoyed reading about her friendships. It was obvious that she came to love and care for several people as family. It was also wonderful to learn about some of the traditions and beliefs of this very different culture. For example, when a man drowned in the river, the community gathered to sing and light fires to entice the water spirits to return the body to them.
Unfortunately, there are several errors in the book that did detract from my enjoyment of it. One error that was found repeatedly seemed to be a formatting error where a new paragraph was started mid sentence. I also noted some missing words and typing errors.
Overall, I found this to be a beautiful book about a very human, life changing experience. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys memoirs and stories of personal growth. I would particularly recommend it to anyone with an interest in international aid. The errors in the book force me to deduct a star and rate this book 3 out of 4 stars.
A Bucket of Warm Water
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