Tag Archives: Africa

A Year Of Change – by Maribeth Shanley

My year, 2017 began in November of 2016.  It began with the election; one where our country had the grand opportunity to elect a formidable, caring and genuinely ethical woman to lead our country.  Instead, our country, driven by what I still consider an obsolete, Electoral College, elected the most uninformed, lazy, crude, rude, secretive man in history to become the leader of our country.

I spent the rest of 2016 and well into 2017 mourning the death of a dream.  I’ve been through all the stages of grief which began with severe sadness and evolved into anger and action of that anger.  It’s interesting and oddly ironic that along with a change in myself, the investigation of this grossly inept president is heating up as connections to our country’s arch-enemy, Russia under a cruel and cunning dictator, Vladimir Putin is discovered, and people are unmasked.

As I was experiencing the multi-stages of grief, the loss hit again.  This loss was intimate and unexpected.  My little male fur child, Pooker died.  Diagnosed as being diabetic, Pooker continued to experience complications as they became more severe and frequent.   As I stood on the precipice of a new stage of grief, on February 4, 2017, Pooker died in my arms.  This time, I fell harder than ever back into the first several stages of grief:  shock, denial, pain and guilt.  I experienced destruction as my heart felt like lumps of rubble.


Time has passed; and, with that passing, I am recovering.  I no longer feel the anger I did over the election; and, I no longer feel the complete devastation I felt when Pooker left us.  I am experiencing a rebirth.


Today, Friday, June 2nd, my husband, Bob, officially retires.  We’ve lived in Myrtle Beach for three years, and I have experienced the area on a limited basis.  I have one friend I met at the gym Bob, and I visit three times each week.  Except on weekends, the time at the gym gives Bob, and I time together.  I’ve been grateful for that together time.  However, I have craved more.  Bob is not only my husband of 46 years; he’s the light of my life and my best friend in the world!  Beginning tomorrow, I will have the opportunity to spend as much time with Bob as will be possible.  Plus, we will use much of that time, at least in the beginning, exploring the surrounding areas of North and South Carolina into the coast of Georgia.  Prime on our list is Savannah, Georgia.  Since the book turned movie,  Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, I’ve wanted to visit Savannah.  

Next year, we hope to cross the country to the Pacific coast.  I’ve traveled by land as far as Greely, Colorado.  I only experienced a glimpse of the Rocky Mountains.  On multiple occasions, I’ve seen them from the air as I traveled back and forth with the company I worked for.  Bob has seen the entire western portion of the U.S.  The trip will take two and possibly three weeks to complete as we travel out to the west taking the northern route through the Rocky Mountains and out to the Seattle area.  We will then travel down the coast to San Diego.  From there, we will travel back home via the southwest route.  Such a trip will enable us to experience the full beauty of our country.  

We’ve discussed traveling outside the country.  I’m not sure we will be in a hurry to do that.  I’m not interested in Europe.  Other than our continent, the only continent I’ve wanted to visit is Africa. 

Senufo mask

At 29 and when I began my senior year at the University of Illinois, I enrolled in what I thought would be an easy class.  I enrolled in a Western Africa Art Appreciation class.  It actually turned out to be the hardest class I had taken.  In fact, after the first quiz, I talked to the professor.  She informed me that I had enrolled in an advanced class and counseled me that I still had time to drop her class and pick up something else.  However, by that conversation, I had fallen head over heels in love with Africa.  I loved the different cultures and the idea of all the wonderful animals.  I stuck with the class as I spent extra hours reading literature at the University library.  I managed to get a C from the class, the only C of my four years at the university.  However, it was a C I was extremely proud of.  To this day, I can look at a piece of Western African art and know which tribe created it.  Thus, Africa is definitely in our future. 

I only recently became aware of my change.  The emotions of that transformation are calm with a hint of excitement.  Humans work all their lives beholden to companies and individuals with those companies while they are never able to imagine how retiring feels.  For most, it’s a frightening proposition.  Many people don’t prepare for it.  We’ve been preparing for five years.

Five years ago we agreed that I would retire and Bob would continue to work.  I left the corporate world in 2004 to run my clothing company, Iron Cowgirls.   In 2008 when the market crashed, and I was forced to sell the business, it quickly became evident that I had little to no opportunity of re-entering my old profession at the same salary with which I had left.  There were too many people with my talents competing for the same jobs; and, most of them were younger than me.  Thus, after trying the commission only world, I realized it wasn’t a good fit as I lost more than I gained.  So, I retired and took on the continued task of managing the finances with a focus on enabling Bob to retire debt free.  It’s been a daunting task, especially since the sale of my company didn’t clear out all the debt it acquired over the four years I managed it full time.  However, never shrinking from a challenge, I managed to knockout, one by one, every single debt Iron Cowgirls and we had acquired.  When Pooker became ill, we had a slight setback, but even it will be gone as, tomorrow, Bob files his last expense report.

During this entire process, I’ve come to recognize that working toward Bob’s retirement has been cathartic.  I feel a flush of excitement and a sense of peace as I anticipate the rest of our lives.  This process made itself evident when, yesterday, as I was dressing, I had an overwhelming feeling which culminated in my saying out loud, “I no longer have anything to prove to anyone.”  I have no one to prove myself to, and that includes me!

I will continue to write because I love writing.  Too, it’s simply exciting to know I have a talent I never dreamed I had.  I am currently working on an anthology of short stories.  I also want to finally write that memoir which will include my entire family.  I have other books as well that I’ve begun and left hanging.  The one thing I will not do, however, is hold myself to a time table.  I will write when I want to believing that approach will encourage me to write more.  No pressure, the sheer enjoyment of writing will push me naturally.  Now it’s Bob’s opportunity to discover what he likes to do. 

I have no doubt he will find something and maybe he will find multiple somethings.  Bob is brilliant, funny and very talented in so many areas.   The one thing I do know, he will enjoy his retirement.  So many people sink into depression feeling they are now worthless.  Not me and not Bob!  We will continue to thrive individually and together.  With all my heart, I look forward to our future and the many adventures I know we will have.



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Filed under Maribeth Shanley, writing

Meet My Old Friend, Senegal, by Carole Howard

Have you ever been to Africa? West Africa, in particular? Senegal, in very-particular? Probably not.

I’ve been there four times over 30 years. The first time was for a year in 1974, with my husband and newborn daughter. Next was a six-month stay in 1981, when that daughter was seven and we had to choose between a crowded French-speaking school and a missionary-run English-speaking school which included mandatory instruction in a religion that wasn’t ours.   I wasn’t there again until 1998, when my daughter came down from Morocco, where she was living, and we came over from the U.S. We had a great Christmas vacation together. Our most recent visit was in 2003, as the first of our two-month volunteer gigs. By that time, of course, our daughter was grown up and completely launched.

You could say my trips to Senegal are like a timeline for me. Or you could say Senegal and I are old friends. And since I think of the West African setting for DEADLY ADAGIO as being like one of the characters, one that influences the action so that the book couldn’t possibly take place anywhere else, that last characterization feels right. Yes, definitely old friends.

DeadlyAdagioTo introduce you to my old friend, Senegal, I’ve posted an excerpt from the book. I’ve been to villages like the one where this scene takes place.  The sounds of the kids and chickens, the smell of the wood fires, the image of the hut’s roof have set up permanent residence in my memory, where they were only too ready to be called upon and recorded. But since this excerpt begins on page 82 of the book, I’ve edited it so it makes sense to those who haven’t read pages 1-81, and also in the interests of space.

Emily, the protagonist, is the wife of a Foreign Service Officer.

Walter is the in-country Peace Corps Director.

Nora is a Peace Corps Volunteer running a clinic in a village.



When Emily and Walter got to the village, they went right to the cinderblock clinic. Nora was holding a stethoscope to a woman’s enormous belly with one hand and, with the other, holding up her thumb and index finger. “Nyar,” she said with a grin. Emily knew from the market that nyar meant “two.” The woman was having twins, a harbinger of good luck. Emily remembered what a shock it had been when her doctor told her she was pregnant with twins. Now, of course, she wouldn’t have it any other way.

She shook the pregnant woman’s hand and gave her to understand that she was the mother of twins, too. They smiled energetically enough to make up for the lack of language.

Nora was much older than most volunteers. She embodied a certain solidity, echoed by her short stocky body. Her nose was prominent, her skin wrinkled, and her eyes far enough apart to sometimes give her listeners pause as to exactly where she was looking; but her self-possessed demeanor made no apology for her face, and that, in itself, made her attractive.

She took Emily and Walter to pay a courtesy call on the chief. He was old and withered but with a stature befitting his authority. The scarification on his face – which had undoubtedly been done at his initiation rite, some 50 or 60 or even 70 years ago – was elaborate and, in its own way, beautiful. The colorful embroidered cloths that were casually draped around him were similarly ornate.

Nora’s introduction was mostly in Wolof, with a little French thrown in. Emily only knew a few words in Wolof, but she heard ciif, Wolof for “chief” twice, once in connection with the village chief and once for Walter. There was jere jef, of course, Wolof for “thank you. She wasn’t sure how Nora introduced her, though she thought she picked up the word “ambassade.”

Nobody paid much attention to her, so she let her eyes drift and her mind wander. She hadn’t been to many villages or huts, since her husband’s job mostly dealt with the housing arrangements of the American diplomats.

At first, she was diverted by the chickens and the children in the hut. They wandered from the sleeping quarters – marked by their mosquito nets, thanks to Nora – to the cooking area with its fire pit and oddly shaped cooking implements, to the general open area with the kids and birds chasing each other. She tried to concentrate on what few words she could understand. After a while, like the cooking smoke, her attention drifted upwards.

The roof was built with thin poles like bicycle spokes, but only some of them went all the way to the center, so there was an almost-spokeless area of about one foot in diameter. Then the straw was laid on top of the spokes, all the way to the center, and loosely tied in bunches. The light peeked through the thatch, a bit stronger through the center hole, and so did the breeze, but not the bugs, and the smoke from the cooking fire drifted up and out, leaving only its smell.

Something tugged at her pants. She got down t the tuggers’ level and started to talk to the kids, even though she knew they wouldn’t understand anything other than the universals: eye contact, smile, soft voice.

Nora finished her conversation with the chief. She pulled Emily aside. Gesturing toward Walter and the chief, she said, “These two are going to be going at it for a while. Chief-talk, I guess. Want to come to my hut for a glass of iced tea?”

Emily hesitated for a split-second. “I wonder if….”

“If you’re worried about the water, dear, yes, I boiled it for 20 minutes. I’m the nurse here, you know. I’m careful and, besides, I’m not one of those kids who think they can do anything because they’re immortal. I am definitely mortal.”

*   *   *

Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, published by Second Wind Press.  Senegal is one of the 12+ countries in Africa she’s been lucky enough to visit; maybe she’ll introduce another friend in another post.



Filed under writing

Old Friends, by Carole Howard

It happened over and over: Two people introduced themselves to each other. There was a brief moment in which each reconciled the other’s older face with his or her memory of that same face 50 years ago. And then there was an intake of breath and an outburst of unfettered affection. The joy was palpable.

My husband and I hosted a 50-year reunion of his group of Peace Corps Volunteers. They were known as “Senegal 2,” since they were the second group to have been sent to the young country. Twenty-one were able to make it to the event, some with spouses. I’d met only a few of them before – one of them introduced my husband and me to each other.

They came from all over the country. Mostly retired, they’d spent the last half-century being meat producers, film-makers, educators, health care professionals, social workers, entrepreneurs, businessmen, techies.   But a half century ago, they were well-diggers, construction specialists, health workers, sports coaches, and teachers.

Notice the shirts/ties, dresses/pumps, and the Pan Am propeller plane, which took off from Idlewild (now JFK) Airport

Notice the shirts/ties, dresses/pumps, and the Pan Am propeller plane, which took off from Idlewild (now JFK) Airport


They recalled and celebrated the last time they were all together, when they were in their 20’s. One of the themes that emerged was the enduring power of the Peace Corps experience.

“Yes, I helped the people in my village,” said a trim man with neatly-combed gray hair.  “After we dug a well in their village, they no longer had to walk miles to the nearest water source and then carry a heavy bucket back, balanced on their heads. But, truly, I think it helped me even more than them. I met myself during those years.”

Don't they look great?

There were funny stories, too: One man cracked up as he told of his fury when a new room-mate ate the can of mom-sent apple pie filling he’d been saving for Thanksgiving. A woman with exuberant gray hair and an expressive 70-year old face acted out the scene when she’d tried to explain to an African counterpart that she boiled her water before drinking it because of “little animals that live in the water that you can’t see but that go away if the water gets hot.”  And then there was my husband, who’d started a garden in a village where they ate rice and fish, hoping to provide the vitamins found only in vegetables; too bad the first and most prolific crop was detested radishes.

I admired the courage and initiative of their twenty-something selves. They heeded JFK’s call to “ask what you can do for your country” and went to Senegal, a country most had never heard of, in Africa, a continent much less known to Americans then than now. Many traveled out to the bush and, with the Peace Corps’ help, established a life for two years. No email, no cell phone, no Skype, no blog, no Facebook. Inspiring, really.

For the ancestors

For the ancestors

They told their stories and reminisced, remembering their youth with pride, and they reflected on aging. They reconnected with each other. As the group toasted their experiences and their friendship, they first poured some wine into the ground, “for the ancestors,” as they did with their Senegalese counterparts, with palm wine, many years ago.

I don’t think I’ve ever met such a remarkable group of people: smart, funny, reflective, friendly, warm.

As I mentioned in my last piece, “Ask Not….,” there are now about 215,000 returned Peace Corps Volunteers. Do you know any of them? Did you ever ask them about their experiences? What did they say?



*     *     *

Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, published by Second Wind Publishing, in which the setting is Senegal and the Peace Corps plays a role.


Filed under life, musings, Travel, writing

Rushing River – Krazy Kid


I never really thought of my father as a particularly brave man, not until I was about twelve. I mean, while trying to kill any rat that came into our room, he mostly managed to chase it onto the porch where it scurried into the ditch and got away.

He never apologized for his failure to kill the rat. We kids never actually saw the rat, but we heard it and would shout for my dad who would come in with the kerosene lantern. By the flickering light of the lantern he would occasionally see it.

When he did see it, he would yell, “Hey!” as though having made a great discovery and then continue with, “Get out of here you scurvy little monster.” But mostly he just stomped his booted feet which seemed to drive the rat out. At least we didn’t hear it again that night.

He was much better with snakes. Whenever anyone yelled, “Nioka, (snake)” he was right there with anything he could grab to kill it: a hoe, a machete, a club and if none of those were available he would stomp it to death with his knee-high booted feet.

Once after killing a snake one of the natives reverently put a hand on my father’s shoulder and shaking his head a little said, “Bwana, that is a good kind of snake. It will never bite you until it is your time to die.”

I accepted his dealing with snakes as something any father would do for his children. But killing snakes was not at all like Uncle Eddie who went hunting all the time and had a reputation with the natives as a great hunter by killing leopards, buffalo, Kudu, Wildebeest and even elephants.

My father never really said anything, but I knew that he didn’t think much of Uncle Eddie’s hunting exploits, which I thought were just the greatest. My father only killed things when he had to.

English: Ruwenzori mountains Autor:Nick06

Ruwenzori mountains (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Age twelve. There is something significant about a boy turning twelve. That was the year I began to understand, what kind a man my father really was.

We were on a vacation at a mission station located at the base of the Ruwenzori Mountains. In the early morning and late afternoon, before the mist rose to shroud them, you could see the snow-covered peaks of the Mountains of the Moon.

These snow-capped mountains near the Equator in Africa were first reported to the civilized world in the second century AD by the Greek geographer, Ptolomy, who named them Lunae Montes, or Mountains of the Moon.

The whole range is some eighty miles long and about thirty miles wide. They are not of volcanic origin, but are huge sections of the earth’s crust that were thrust upward millennia ago by enormous geologic upheavals. From the savannah those peaks rise more than 16,000 feet. The rivers formed by the melting ice surge down clear, pure and icy-cold. The water rushes foaming through narrow, boulder-strewn gorges, roaring over falls, always rushing, never quiet, never still until they get to the savannah.

We were warned by the local missionaries about the furious nature of the river and forbidden by our parents from leaving certain defined area, which were frequented by the natives and missionaries.

My sister, five years older than me, had the responsibility of making sure we adhered to our parents’ rules when they weren’t around. It was an impossible assignment. No seventeen-year-old sister will be able to control three younger brothers ages 12, 11 and 9, who are by age and inclination defiant of all authority.

Being the oldest, I was the leader of most rebellions, although my two brothers could always come up with something if I ran out of ideas. I never did these with the intention of being defiant. They just turned out to be contrary in nature to the standing rules of the day.

True to form I led the way into the forbidden area along the cliff face above the foaming river, my feet moving tentatively along the four-inch rock ledge, my fingertips clinging to imperceptible handholds above my head or taking hold of an occasional vine that hung down from the giant trees of the rain forest high above. My brothers, in true rebellious loyalty, followed close behind sliding their feet cautiously along the ledge, putting their hands up to take hold where my fingers had been.

My sister followed along last saying, “Paul, stop it. Come back right now. This is dangerous. You know you’re not supposed to do this. Come back right now.” But she followed along, even though she didn’t want to, because we were her responsibility.

The sheer rock wall suddenly came to an end with the continuation of it back about three feet. I don’t know how many centuries ago the earth had trembled causing the break in that cliff, but it had once been part of that same rock face above the river.

How disappointing. I could go no further. I could no longer defy my older sister’s orders to stop. EXCEPT! There it was. A vine hanging down from a rain forest trees a hundred feet above. By stretching forward as far as I could I was just able to grab it.

I had never seen a Tarzan movie or heard of Tarzan, but any kid that has seen a rope hanging from a tree limb exactly what it is for and how to use it. I tested the vine, yanking on and finally put all my weight on it. It held. It would work. With all the courage of any twelve-year-old, I launched out, swinging wide over the roaring, churning river, bumping against the sheer cliff, my feet finding the little ledge. One hand found a handhold and I let go of the vine.

“Come on,” I shouted to my brothers.

John shook his head.

“Come on. It’s easy, Catch the vine when I throw it back to you,” I shouted above the roar of the river and tried to flick the vine back toward him, but it would not go.

“Paul, you get back here, right now, or I’ll tell Dad.” I heard my sister yelling.

I pretended not to hear. I edged along the face of the cliff, scornful of the brother who would not follow. “Come on, Sissy.”

No response.

“I dare you. I double dare you!”

I moved carefully, mindful of my foot placement and finger holds. Twenty feet later that face just came to an end. There was nothing beyond it. The sheer rock angled backwards with no ledge and no vines I could swing on. I could go no further. Still I felt superior. I had done something my brothers had not done, probably something no other white person had done, maybe even in that vast continent I had gone where no other human had gone before.

I started back. I knew how to do it. I had been that way before. Step by step, handhold-by-handhold, I made my way back to the vine. I tested it again to make sure it would still hold me, and then swinging out over the river I tried to get back to the ledge on the first face. But instead of going back to the first face I was further down on the second.

A vine growing from trees over the second face did not like to be forced to go to a cliff that is farther out and not in its line. No matter how I tried I could not get back. Hanging onto the vine I curled up with my knees tucked under my chin and thrust hard with my leg. I swung out over the water. I stretched out my arm trying to grab the wall, but all I did was scratch my hand. I tried getting right against the break in the wall and with one hand hanging on to the vine while reaching back with the other, but the moment my feet left the ledge I swung further away. I tried hanging on to the vine and reaching to the first face with my foot, but even when my brother bravely caught my foot, I couldn’t pull myself around.

Little by little the truth came to me. I would never get back. I would die on that ledge or fall into the roaring river below to have my body beat against the boulders until what was left of me would be carried to where the river finally flowed gently emptying into a placid lake where the crocodiles would eat what was left of me. There was only one thing left to do and that was to start to cry with fear and frustration.

My brothers and sisters left me then, my sister in the lead. They were leaving me to die all alone. I clung to the cliff face, forgetting about the vine. There was no one there to catch me even if I was able to swing around to the other face. And then above the roar of the river I heard my sister say, “The others went to get Dad.”

With my face against the cliff I couldn’t see her, but she kept talking to me. No, not talking, shouting to be heard above the thunder of the river. “Dad will be here soon.”

I expected her to say, “I told you not to go there,” but she didn’t, just kept shouting encouragement to me until I finally heard the words, “Daddy’s here.”

There was a quiet for a while as she went back to make way for him to get to me, quiet except for the thundering of the water. I was still crying with fear and I can’t say I was overwhelmed with expectation. I was glad that he would soon be there, but what could he do? He was my father, not Uncle Eddie. Yet when I heard the voice say, “How are you doing, Son?” the tears just seemed to stop. I didn’t really answer him, just nodded my head a little.

“I’ll be right there,” he said and what little I had seen of his face disappeared behind the rock edge. I can’t say I was filled with joyous confidence that I would be rescued. In fact there was even a slight fear that we might both be on that ledge for the rest of our lives. What could he do?

His booted foot was the first thing I saw easing around the edge of the first face. And then half his body and head was visible and he said, “Move along a little, Son, and make room for me next to you.”

I slid one foot along the ledge, fingertips holding on, getting out of his way, and he just sort of slid around the edge of the first face, no flamboyant swinging out over the turbulent river. He was hanging on to a vine that naturally hung along the first face. There he was, hanging onto his vine, his legs straight in front of him pushing his body away from the rock.

He smiled at me and said, “I tested this with both John and me hanging from it so it should be able to hold us both.”

I smiled back, but I didn’t particularly like the “it should” part. Nevertheless, I really was beginning to feel that everything would be all right, especially since natives were beginning to gather on the rocks on the other side of the river to watch the rescue.

“Now, you’re going to have to hang on to me, Son. I can’t hold you. I have to hang on to the vine. So I want you to do exactly as I tell you, when I tell you.”

Maybe for the first time in my life there was no resentment or defiance at the thought of doing exactly what I was told.

“I’m going to swing my right leg around you now.”

With my face to the wall I felt the leg slide past me and then my father’s ankle pressed against my waist. He lowered his legs then until his weight pressed me against the wall.

“OK. Now let go with your left hand and put your arm around my neck.”

I had to twist and lean to one side in order to do it. My left foot left the ledge and I was held in place with just my right foot and right hand hanging onto the wall and the pressure of my dad’s body pinning me to the wall.

“Good. Good. Now put the other arm around my neck and hold on.”

I did as I was told. Doing that my right foot left the ledge and I hung onto him desperately, my arms clutching his neck. Clinging to him I saw the rope that was tied around his waist that ran back the way he had come and I suddenly knew I was safe.

“I’m going to bring my legs up between yours,” he said.

One leg at a time he moved them inside mine.

“Now put your legs around my waist.”

Hanging onto the vine he slowly started walking up the wall until his legs were straight out so that I was sitting in his lap, my ankles clinging to each other behind his back.

There we were hanging out over the water, my body clinging to his, my head pressed against his. I could feel the stubble of his two-day, vacation, growth of beard.

I felt his knees bend up behind me. He shouted something. I don’t know what it was he said and then he pushed powerfully away. We swung out over the river, the natural pull of the vine tending to drift us toward safety while the natives, back at a place of safety, pulled on the rope attached to my father.

We landed safely on the first face. I clung to my dad as he stepping side to side, carried met to the top of flat boulder where all the missionaries were waiting. Old Dad Stauffacher gave me a look the clearly said, “How could you be so dumb?”

My mother put her arms around me, hugged me tight, and said, “You could have been killed. If you ever try anything like that again, I’ll kill you.”

We walked back single file along the path that led from the river, between the boulders and ferns that grew higher than my head. I expected that when we go back to the house my father would have his discussion with me and then administer the razor strop, which I considered my just deserts for my action.

The discussion never came. Others talked about that incident, but my father never did.

Some years later my father had what the doctor called, “a complete nervous breakdown.” I didn’t know what it was then, and I don’t know what it is now. I’m sure medical science has some more up-to-date explanation. I just knew my father was very sick. I could see it in him and my mother had told us he was very sick. But, once while talking to the doctor I heard my mother say, “He’s just afraid of everything. He’s even afraid of the children.”

I wanted to shout, “No, he’s not afraid of anything.” But I had been raised not to interrupt the adults when they were talking.

As time went on I came to know that Uncle Eddie might have been a renowned hunter, was probably an adequate man and maybe even a good missionary, but he could never compare to my dad.

In this life, it is not the Uncle Eddies that are going to get us out of the messes we get ourselves into, but those that love us as only a Father does.


Paul’s book The Telephone Killer published by 2nd Wind Publishing is now available on Amazon and from the publisher. Kindle and Nook versions just $4.99. The Telephone Killer is also available as an audiobook.

Another new novel of mine, Murder Sets Sail, will be coming soon from Second Wind Publishing.
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Filed under fiction, writing

Reading? Why not?

Henry E. Vallely did the cover art for this 19...

When I was growing up In Central Africa in the 30s and 40s reading was the only entertainment we had. Nobody even had a radio to listen to such things as Jack Armstrong, The All-American Boy. The government post must have had cable communication of some kind because Lt. Lebray brought my father a cable telling us my grandfather had died.

Radio 4We were the first to have a radio on our station. It was a short-wave radio, dark grey, almost black in color. It sat in the corner of the living room close to a window. The copper wire that acted as the antenna was almost invisible where it ran out through the bottom of the window.

Outside the window, it ran up the wall, across to the nearest porch pillar and then from pillar to pillar halfway around the house. I helped my father string that antenna and we tried several different ways until we thought we had the best reception.

Half an hour before the news came on we started the 12-volt generator located on the back porch. It was allowed to run for half an hour to charge up the batteries. At five minutes of four it was turned off so the loud putt putting of the two-cylinder engine would not interfere with hearing the radio. Continue reading


Filed under books, writing

Trekking, Traipsing, and Writing by Carole Howard

I caught the travel bug from my husband, the intrepid former Peace Corps volunteer.  Since I met him, this girl from the Bronx – who’d previously been as far as Niagara Falls –  has done her fair share of packing and unpacking, schlepping, trekking, and traipsing. Forty-odd years, fifty countries and counting.

Many of our trips were the “normal” kind – a week here, two weeks there.  But there was a two and a half year period in the 1970’s when we lived in West Africa while my husband had a Peace Corps staff job.  During those years, we lived in three different countries, but traveled to many more.  And then in 2000, when we retired, we took a series of 2-month volunteer assignments in Africa and Asia.

As it turns out, of the 50 countries I’ve visited, a disproportionate share – about 15 – are in Africa.  The others are spread out among Europe, Asia, Australia/New Zealand, and an itty-bitty bit of South America.

Along the way, I realized something I couldn’t believe I didn’t know before:  I’d always thought I was just “me.”  It turns out, though, that I’m an American me, having been shaped by the culture I grew up in.  If I’d been born somewhere else, I’d be someone else.  And if I didn’t spend time outside of the U.S., I wouldn’t realize things about my own culture that had been invisible to me before, because they just seemed normal, as in the saying “Fish never discovered water.”

And that’s one of the reasons I like to use exotic settings in my books.  It’s almost as if the setting is one of the characters:  what’s seems ordinary for the Africans is not ordinary for the Americans, and vice versa of course.

In my mystery, Deadly Adagio, the protagonist is the feisty wife of a U.S. Foreign Service Officer, living in Senegal, in West Africa.  (Yes, I lived there.  No, she’s not me.)  If the book were set somewhere else, it would have to be a different book.  Victim, murderer, investigation: all different.

Bargaining for baskets and fabrics at the market, squeezing into a crowded pirogue with women whose babies are on their backs while their bundles are on their heads, visiting the chief of a village and meeting his entourage, ruminating about the dramatic difference between American brooms and African brooms – those things are part of the fabric of the story.  Going to Macy’s, taking the Staten Island Ferry, meeting the CEO and her staff?  Nah, just not the same.

I love using my experiences in Africa when I write. They may not have molded me as American culture did, but they’ve become part of who I am and the way I see things now.  I try not to say things like, “Oh, that reminds me of the time I was in…..” too much, so it’s not tiresome for my friends.  But writing is a different story. Using those experiences in my writing is like looking at my photo album, but with the smell of the wood-fire, the sounds of the traditional Wolof greeting, the taste of the street vendors’ brochettes thrown in.

It’s better, much better, than a photo album.  Maybe I’ll “visit” Thailand next time.

When you’re choosing what to read next, does the setting influence your decision?


Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, recently published by Second Wind Publishing.


Filed under fiction, Travel, writing