Country Focus: Mali
Monique and the Mango Rains: Two Years with a Midwife in Mali
By Kris Holloway
Consulting editor: John Bidwell
Published by Waveland Press, 2007.
About the author: Kris Holloway is currently the Senior Director of University Relations and Marketing for CISabroad, a study and intern abroad program. She has not written any other books.
Posted to a small village in Mali called Nampossela, Peace Corps volunteer Kris Holloway quickly befriends her host family’s daughter-in-law, Monique Dembele. Monique speaks French fluently—unlike most of the other villagers—which enables her to communicate freely with Kris, also an able French speaker. The twenty-four-year-old runs the village clinic on her own and has earned a reputation as an excellent midwife. She works long hours with few resources and little pay, all while carrying her infant son on her back.
Kris begins assisting Monique in the clinic. The building sports a leaky roof, dirt floors and no running water or waste disposal. Life is tenuous for mothers and newborns in rural Mali. Disease and malnutrition are prevalent. Birth control is not available to most women, and almost all Malian women have had their genitals “cut,” making birth even more difficult. Monique spends much of her time educating women on how to keep themselves and their babies healthy.
Work cements Monique’s and Kris’s friendship. They laugh together and share their ups and downs. An arranged marriage has burdened Monique with a selfish and self-absorbed husband, but she treasures her secret boyfriend in the city. Kris falls in love with a fellow Peace Corps worker.
If Kris and Monique’s friendship is the heart of Monique and the Mango Rains, then Monique is inarguably the book’s soul. The reader learns in the book’s introduction that Monique dies in childbirth, but knowing that grim fact in advance doesn’t make her death at the end of the book any easier to take. Independent, smart and upbeat, Monique made the best of a life that was extremely difficult. Monique and the Mango Rains serves as a tribute to this remarkable young woman.
Like smoke, I drifted to the corner of the room and down to my knees. I felt overcome with awe and fatigue. I couldn’t believe we all got here this way. I couldn’t believe that here, in this dilapidated box, Monique, with a sixth-grade education and nine months of medical training, was birthing babies. Lots of babies. She was responsible for the future of this village. No electricity, no running water, no safety net of ambulances and emergency rooms. I knew that Mali had one of the highest rates of maternal death in the world. I’d read a sobering statistic that placed a Malian woman’s lifetime risk of dying in pregnancy and childbirth around one in twelve, compared to a U.S. woman’s risk of one in over three thousand. Even if one accounts for the fact that Malian women have many more children than American women, and thus are at risk for more years, the difference in the death rate is still huge. Monique was constantly battling the odds. It was so awful, so miraculous.