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Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village

3.88  ·  Rating Details ·  1,432 Ratings  ·  146 Reviews
The village of Nambonkaha in the Ivory Coast is a place where electricity hasn't yet arrived, where sorcerers still conjure magic, where the tok-tok sound of women pounding corn fills the morning air like a drumbeat. As Sarah Erdman enters the social fold of the village as a Peace Corps volunteer, she finds that Nambonkaha is also a place where AIDS threatens and poverty i ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published August 1st 2004 by Picador (first published August 28th 2003)
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River Town by Peter HesslerMonique and the Mango Rains by Kris HollowayNine Hills to Nambonkaha by Sarah ErdmanDear Exile by Hilary LiftinLiving Poor by Moritz Thomsen
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Community Reviews

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Apr 14, 2007 Anna rated it it was ok
Shelves: peacecorps
this was the first of MANY peace corps memoirs i suffered through (reading material choices were limited to our paltry communal bookshelves in the volunteer lounge of the swaziland peace corps office).
anyway, i used to write a monthly literature review box or our volunteer newsletter, and one month i ranted about this genre. below are my thoughts:

Dissecting the Peace Corps Memoir
One of my least favorite genres of nonfiction is hands-down the “peace corps memoir.” I attribute it to both the f
I feel very conflicted about Sarah Erdman's _Nine Hills to Nambonkaha_. Life is a little *too* perfect for the starry-eyed narrator - her integration is almost immediate, barriers (language, cultural and otherwise) are minor, and her projects succeed with only the tiniest of flaws. She was either the poster-child for Peace Corps Volunteers, or she is prone to slightly embellishing. At times, I can share her sentiments and at other times I feel uneasy by her subdued, but nevertheless self-congrat ...more
Aug 16, 2013 Sue rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sarah Erdman spent two years with Peace Corps in Cote d'Ivoire from 1998-2000. Most of that time was spent in the northern village of Nambonkaha which she says in pronounced like Nam-bong-Kaa. She sought to bring good hygiene and family planning to a village that had only known traditional ways and animism. I particularly liked how she candidly admits the battle that raged within between wanting to help the village and the recognition that such help could cause them to turn from the traditions ...more
Jun 29, 2008 Rebecca rated it really liked it
Erdman details the quintessential Peace Corps experience -- adapting to life in an African village means bucket baths and reading by candlelight, yes, but even more difficult is the attempt to integrate into a new community when all one's assumptions and understandings become null and void. After a frustrating year of learning how to communicate with her fellow villagers, and adapt to a slower pace of life, she finally is able to make some real progress in sharing modern health and hygiene infor ...more
Feb 27, 2011 Yuting rated it it was amazing
A beautiful and vivid look at life in a small, impoverished african village and their struggle to eek out a meagre living, raise and feed their children and themselves, and survive in an environment that seems to want the exact opposite for them.

The author, through her words, creates a touching portrait that captures the inherent helplessness, fatalism, and life's utter unfairness while bringing out the humanity behind hopelessness, the despair behind despondence, the personalities behind the pe
Jul 25, 2010 Lindsay rated it liked it
This was the common book all the freshmen had to read my first (and last) year at Winthrop University. It was a good choice for a book to bring people together. I have always been passionate about helping the children in Africa who are victims of the civil war going on in Sudan. And this book told the story of a woman who was doing what I did not have the resources to do. Her story was so detailed and she made you feel like you were right there with her while she helped give birth to a child in ...more
Mar 02, 2015 Karen rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel-the-world
Sarah Erdman is a Peace Corps worker, sent to Nambonkaha, a small village in northern Ivory Coast, mainly to introduce better health to local villages. The main focus of this book are the people she meets and the village of which she becomes a part for two years. It's a wonderful description of village life.
May 06, 2008 Llalan rated it it was amazing
One of the first in the new I-joined-the-Peace-Corps-and-this-is-what-I-did genre, Nine Hills joins Peter Hessler's Rivertown as an example for travel writers to try writing about the people they meet and not themselves. A novel concept (ha). Sarah Erdman, though, does do a fine job balancing a narrative that is one part the West African village and the changes it undergoes in two years, and one part living a life as the total and complete other. A fascinating look at one small part of a huge se ...more
Barbara A
Aug 14, 2009 Barbara A rated it it was amazing
This was one of the most beautiful and moving books that I have read in a long, long time. Erdman writes beautifully, and it is not about her at all, except as it relates to the people of Nambonkaha. She fell in love with them, and they her. The development of this unlikely symbiotic relationship unfolds with all its mystery, incomprehension, and finally, acceptance as slowly as the village does. I read the ending through tears, amazed that what I had just read was real and not fiction..
May 16, 2016 Sonia rated it really liked it
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Sometimes I'm sorely disappointed when I read a Peace Corps memoir because it is all about the person and includes little to no information about the place and people they volunteered with. This one is vastly different from that. Erdman tells little of herself but instead opens up the village of Nambonkaha to you and introduces you to some of its people.

Erdman is selected to be a health worker in the village of Nambonkaha as her Peace Corps assignment. For two years, she will work to bring bette
Oct 10, 2009 Eileen rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
An honest and informative look at the daily life of a Peace Corps volunteer. I think the author captures the “heart” of the book best on page 48:

“I came here with 3 months of training under my belt. I was packed off to this village with only a collection of health-education books and a head full of vague ideas. I wanted no direction, no preconceived mission, and that’s what I’ve gotten. I am here to see what I can make starting from scratch, and the tiny village of Nambonkaha is my ready canvas.
Jun 05, 2008 Ami rated it liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested about life in an African village
I read this during my first month of service as a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa and admittedly, found some inspiration reading about another's completed service and the lessons they learned. Erdman writes positively of her village, but I was somewhat disappointed with the way she presented the people in her village as being continually happy, no matter what, because life is just peachy keen in a village in West Africa. One crucial lesson I learned while living in West Africa for 2 1/2 yea ...more
Nov 04, 2013 Cheryl rated it really liked it
This book took longer to read than I was expecting and I have been puzzled as to why. It seemed every time I read a chapter that I would look back and realize I hadn't made much progress overall. Finally I realized that the reader sinks into the stories and the world of Nambonkaha gradually, the way the author was absorbed into village life and became a part of them. I admire her dedication to her Peace Corps work and found myself envying her somewhat the ability to go and reinvent herself and b ...more
Mar 06, 2016 Gry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel-adventure
This book is less a story and more an exquisite portrait of a place and its people. Sarah Erdman's writing style is almost poetic; she has a real gift for bringing readers into her world, which, in this book, was a simple village in northern Cote d'ivoire, where she served as a Peace Corps volunteer for two years. She takes us through the ups and downs, the struggles and the triumphs in her vocation as a health worker. By the end of the book, readers will feel like they personally know the inhab ...more
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Erdman relates the stories of the two years she spent as a Peace Corps volunteer in a small village in the Ivory Coast in Africa in the late 1990’s. I had to look up the copyright date after I started the book; was the book taking place in the 1990’s or the 1890’s? It could have been either based on the lives of the villagers. No running water, no electricity. Mothers didn’t know the birthdates or even the ages of their children. Very little reading or writing. No knowledge of birth control or w ...more
Sep 24, 2016 Beth rated it it was amazing
I wish I could've given this book ten stars. Or fifteen. Or more. I had been living with my hubs and family in Africa for close to three years when I read this book. I emailed my family and said, "Whether you come visit us here or not, you must read this book. It portrays African village life as it really is and will give you an accurate picture of our lives here." Such a great book. I'm looking forward to reading it again…
Apr 08, 2015 Lynn rated it really liked it
Poetic prose paint sights, scents and sounds of an impoverished African Village visited by the author as she spends 2 years with the Peace Corp educating the villagers about healthcare and teaching the children to read. She tries to overcome cultural differences and breach the language barrier while battling her own loneliness. I was wholly transported to another country and another culture.
Abbie Olson
Aug 14, 2014 Abbie Olson rated it it was amazing
As a doe-eyed, confused college student, looking for what she wants to do with her future--I can truly exclaim that my friend Sarah Erdman's book is not only moving, but endearingly inspiring. I met Sarah when I was thirteen, and she has been helping me blossom into adulthood. She has even inspired me to go forth and give the Peace Corps two years of my life. What a remarkable woman, she is.
Aug 29, 2010 Lindsay rated it it was amazing
Loved this book. I started it right before I started my summer of chaos that included taking my qualifying exams, writing and preparing my dissertation proposal and jetting off to Nigeria to do research. Yikes. I read the first chapter and it got put to the way-side. For some reason I got it into my head it wasn't that interesting. But since I was loaded down with research books I could only take 2 non-research books with me to Nigeria. I figured I'd read it when I got desperate. Now that I've f ...more
Dec 10, 2008 Glenna rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. It was a quick read, easy to read on the bus (it easily breaks down into short stories, in fact I think that one of the chapters has been published in some of the Peace Corps propaganda that I have gotten), and very uplifting for someone like me who is (tantalizingly) "almost" in the Peace Corps.
As a modern memoir I found this narrative good, although it sometimes lacks focus and direction. It also begins and ends rather in a rather unsatisfactory manor. I would like
Jan 21, 2016 Amelia rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoirs
Peace Corps memoirs are a dime a dozen and not all are particularly well-written. This one was an exception. Perhaps the author glosses over some of the challenges she faced, but all told I felt it was a rich, comprehensive, and loving depiction of the community where she served; and, it was an good story that anyone could enjoy. As someone who is getting ready to become a health volunteer in Malawi, I was interested in getting a sense of the types of health projects she worked on -- good lord, ...more
Apr 09, 2012 Traczy555 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. A beautifully written account of peace corp experience. Sarah Erdman was able to share her heart, joy, frustrations and hope. She pulled me into the experience so well that I felt I was watching the weighing of babies. I read a lot of books like this and it has been a long time since I read one that touched me to my core. I was so touched that I sent a note to Ms. Erdman. I was overjoyed when she responded. She was able to return to Nambonkaha in 2007 for the opening of the Ma ...more
Apr 19, 2010 Angela rated it it was amazing
As a Peace Corps volunteer in an African village, Erdman finds herself faced with the difficulties of acceptance from a culture that lives completely different that she does. Sent to manage the village's struggles with medical issues, Erdman does that and so much more! Erdman is a real trooper throughout the entire book and soon enough becomes the one and only advocate for a remote village in Africa. She becomes part of the family and educates hundreds of people, all at the same time!

I have been
Jul 02, 2016 Tima rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
Sarah, the author, spends two years as a Peace Corps volunteer trying to educate the people of Nambonkaha on health and medicine. This book is the story of her time spent there and the lives of the friends she made during her stay.

The story was well written and the characters were fun. The book definitely doesn't read as fiction. It's a true account of the life in this African village. This might be why I had such a hard time getting into this book. If it had been told more in story form or had
Jul 29, 2013 Monica rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a wonderful book to read about a peace corps worker spending two years working in a village in the Ivory Coast. Much of this book was hard to read...the day to day life of the people living in Nambonkaha is often disheartening and discouraging to understand. They live according to customs and traditions that we in North America can’t understand. And yet...these men, women, and children have dreams just as we do. Sarah Erdman writes in a way that made me feel the desolation of the physic ...more
Gail Owen
Jun 17, 2015 Gail Owen rated it really liked it
Shelves: peace-corps
I found Erdman's story more compelling than others I have recently read because there is less of her own story as the primary focus. She balances the frustrations and disappointments that she encounters with the good things and times. It makes this story stand engaging.
Aug 02, 2009 Djenneba rated it liked it
So it has taken me years to read this book. It's been sitting on our bookshelf for ages. Written by a PC volunteer who was in northern Cote d'Ivoire about the same time that I was a PCV in Mali, a day long car ride aways. I picked up a few times, and each time, it reminded me so much of my time in Mali that I couldn't continue reading it. I don't know if it was because it seemed boring because I was so familiar with the tale or if it was too much of a reminder of Yangasso too soon. But when I le ...more
Nov 25, 2012 Kathy rated it it was amazing
You don't hear much about the Peace Corps anymore; I honestly wasn't even sure they still existed. Sarah Erdman's memoir of her two years in a tiny village in Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) opened my eyes. Her love for these people runs luminous and deep. As she followed her plan of teaching basic hygiene and warning people about the dangers of AIDS and how to prevent it, her heartstrings became wrapped around these people and they became her family.
She lived exactly as they did--in a mud hut with
Aug 20, 2007 Sarah rated it really liked it
Just beautiful.
Certainly one of the most interesting reading experiences I have ever had, as the author is a colleague and friend of mine. To not only know the author of a such a personal and touching memoir, but to have her at my disposal to elaborate and answer questions I had, was very cool indeed.
Surprisingly, and I haven't quite figured out why, I think I was initially a little harsh in my judgment of the book... But by chapter 3, that completely changed, and I was hooked. It's beautifully
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“I have five flashlights and each performs its own trick. I have a raincoat with zippers and net material so I never get too hot in a downpour. I have a shelf crammed with books and a shortwave that speaks Arabic, Japanese, Dutch and Russian. They have mud huts with maybe a few chairs and faded pages of old magazines fastened to the wall. I ride my twenty-one speed Peace Corps-issue bike to Ferke not to save a dollar on transport but for the luxury of exercise. They ride in from their settlements on cranky old mopeds or bikes with a single cog because it's the only option. And they give me charity. I just stare at it - near tears. To refuse their offer would be pure insult. So I do the rounds again shaking hands with all the men in boubous saying over and over "An y che " Thank you.” 4 likes
“Time in West Africa is not a linear measurement. It can be free-flowing or motionless, but it is never a constant. Time in Africa is personalized, divided and defined on an individual basis.” 2 likes
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