Muzunguby Pamela Sisman Bitterman
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Muzungu, the Swahili word for white folk, translated literally means "confused person wandering about." During the author's months working and traveling through Kenya, this description fits her to a tee. Her audacious Kenyan adventure makes for a bucket load of anecdotes and impressions born of heart and hands-on experience--enough to knock your socks off.
The devil in Africa is in the details, and Muzungu is there in the trenches - raw, down and dirty, unapologetic. The author witnesses religious elders morphing into villains, political leaders exposed as criminals, tribal chiefs engaging in forbidden rituals, disease obliterating a generation, dedicated missionaries at the ends of their ropes, and a country in violent revolt. Her husband is railroaded and sentenced to prison. Her co-worker, the author's stalwart bellwether for hard fact and unlikely personal guide into the shadowy underbelly of the country, ultimately commits suicide. She is present for a bizarre meeting between doctors and activists from President Bush's AIDS Relief Project. With these topics being ever-present on today's world stage, this is one story that is dying to get out there.
The author's white skin and declaration that she is a writer become her free pass through each successive door and ticket to all events, bar none: in the hospital wards, surgery rooms, orphan clinics, homes, schools, villages, churches, government offices, during tribal ceremonies and throughout the commission of heinous crimes.
The reader will meet an African mission's peculiar band of residents up close and personal, their unsparing good, bad and ugly. The author herself is not immune to this intense scrutiny. Quite the opposite, in fact. No pious filter softens this writer's lens. A living newsreel of realities informs the narrative. Candid conversations and interviews are recorded verbatim and in their entirety.
The real "AIDS in Africa" will be disclosed. Western definition does not apply. In fact, the reader may come to realize that few concepts familiar to them can be applied in Kenya. The term "lost in translation" emerges as a gross understatement. Fellow volunteers who find themselves trapped in the foxholes during a horrific national political revolution witness and report from the front lines.Secret tribal rituals are described in graphic detail. Long-established cultural traditions are examined. Western religion's influence is dissected. Foreign intervention is challenged. History is revisited. Kenya is deconstructed.
The reader is invited into a tiny school where the students create a children's picture book for the author in the hope that she can get it published for them in America. Vignettes from the Orphan Feeding Program and the Mobile Medical Clinic will break hearts. Tribal chiefs, church bishops, heads of Non-Governmental Organizations, leaders of Faith-Based Operations, representatives of all manner of self-righteous American and European groups desperate to leave their idealistic fingerprints on the continent, hold forth. Those with their fingers truly on the pulse of the people furiously demand to be heard as well. However, it is the locals themselves who provide the most unwaveringly transparent view of the Kenyans and their condition.
Muzungu is complete with color photographs that will touch anyone who has ever had a financial, spiritual, anthropological, sociological or humanitarian interest in Africa, or those who are simply adventurers at heart. Unlike other books on the subject of Africa, this one is specific to the author's own uniquely personal experience with Kenya - too fantastic to be believed. Almost.
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Meet the Author
The author/protagonist is a veteran traveler, lover of adventure, seeker of truth, also a wife and mother. She spent her early years sailing a proud old tall ship around the world, only to sink, survive, be proposed to in a hopelessly adrift life raft, and then be miraculously saved - all the subject of her first book Sailing to the Far Horizon.
Although it had been years since her last great independent wander, being out in the world again and discovering if she was still able to handle it finally became a craving too palpable to ignore. However today, the author not only confronts the challenge to do well but also the desire to do good. The Dark Continent does not merely call to her, it batter-rams her entire consciousness.
The author lays bare her naïve expectations, and acknowledges her stubbornness in jimmying open and jamming her foot through a series of barred doors so that she can risk so questionable an endeavor . She details the curious process by which she is then required to prepare for her hazardous journey. Her impressions, rife with their associated political and social revelations and disenchantments, are shamelessly and often hilariously exposed. The whole unvarnished truth that is revealed becomes the gritty gist of her tale.
The author has spent over half a century questioning authority, countering cultural mores, challenging established protocol, and boldly embarking upon leaps-of-faith adventures. Embracing her world with her arms, eyes, heart and mind wide open has given rise to a life filled with rewarding consequences, but it has also often taken an immense toll. Herein lies the guts of her storytelling: shocking, human, sometimes humorous, other times heartbreaking, always informed, first-person true, and brutally honest.
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