Native creator’s first book describes the great, the unhealthy and the ugly of life in a third-world nation
Dorothy Smith was shocked. Dazed and injured after being assaulted and robbed on the way home after an evening out for dinner, she managed to stagger the short distance home before collapsing.
“I panic when I feel my arm go around my neck,” says an excerpt from Smith’s new book, Tales of Two Toubabs in Mali. “It takes a few seconds to realize that I am completely safe in my own bed. At this point I am sweating a lot. Friday night reality keeps coming back to haunt me. “
Smith’s first book, subtitled A Beginner’s Guide to Adventures in Mali, describes dozens of her experiences in the West African country while working for the United Nations Children’s Fund from 2008 to 2010. The work consists of email letters she wrote to friends and family at the time to keep them updated and to maintain contact while she lived in what was then the third poorest nation in the world.
“When I went overseas, I knew I would seriously miss my community,” recalls the first-time writer who wanted to record her adventures in Mali. “But I didn’t like the idea of having a blog where I had no idea who was reading what I was writing.
“Instead, I decided to send home emails regularly, and that way I kept track of who received the stories. And the agreement was that they had to write back to me occasionally so that there was a back and forth and I still felt connected to them. “
All letters Smith wrote during her stay in Mali are fully reprinted. The only exception was the removal of all references to their employment. “(The book) is really focused on my personal everyday experiences and has nothing to do with work.”
Most of Smith’s writings focus on everyday life in Mali, where the native language is Bambara and the working language is a version of French that is very different from that spoken in Canada. There are numerous stories of the frustrations of doing even the simplest of things in a country where you just have to wait. There are visits to neighbors, stories of viewing elephants in the wild, and the simple task of just trying not to get bitten by a snake.
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of Smith’s book is that it offers two different perspectives. After a few months in the country, Smith is accompanied by her then-husband David, who adds an alternative point of view to many experiences. It is the second of the two “Toubabs” (the Bambara name for a white foreigner).
Although David eventually embraces life in Mali – even bravely buying a motorcycle to ride the crowded streets – it is evident that he has greater difficulty adjusting to third world life in the beginning.
“I have a much bigger sense of adventure than he does,” laughs Smith, who continues to be on good terms with her ex. “He really winces and grumbles when he goes inside anything, but once inside he’s fine – while I tend to hug things and just walk with them.”
Smith retired from the United Nations two years ago and moved from her home in Saint-Lazare to St-Eugene. After years of telling family and friends to put her letters together in a book, she started working on the project last spring. Thanks to the longer time at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she was able to finish work over the summer.
Tales of Two Toubabs in Mali can be purchased online and from The Review offices in Vankleek Hill. All proceeds from the book will be donated to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada in memory of Smith’s eldest daughter. Jennifer was only 29 years old when she lost her battle with cancer five years ago.
Smith traveled around the world working at the United Nations for 10 years – from Mali to Ethiopia before completing her foreign assignment in Italy at the age of five. But it’s Mali she speaks of with the greatest affection, despite flashbacks of the attack that has haunted her over the years.
“I was successful when I was in Mali,” Smith recalls fondly. “As difficult and challenging as everything was, I’ve never felt more alive than I did then.
“All of your senses are sharpened and I have appreciated things so much more.”
E-mail: [email protected] to purchase a copy and arrange for it to be picked up from The Review. Tales of Two Toubabs in Mali is $ 24.95.