At the time she wrote Bread From the Sky, Marie McCarthy had just gone through a divorce and she needed a career change. So she decided to spend some time in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. The book is a true story of her travel experience in Togo, West Africa.
Leaving behind a life of relative comfort in the US, Marie heads to Togo in the hope of making a difference in an African village. This travel story mainly covers her stay in Blitta, Togo where she was posted to help the community change for the better.
After arriving at Lomé airport on a Thursday night, Marie goes through basic training on living in a village in a less developed country. A few days later, she heads off to Blitta and joins her adoptive family. The extent of poverty and trash all over the place in Blitta is such a shock, but she later finds that Africa has a lot more to offer than just poverty and trash- she sees the beauty of the plants, the trees and of the entire surroundings. She finds she has a lot to learn too, there are numerous local languages spoken; in addition to French which is the official language; she has to adjust to a new culture, different perspectives towards life which is not easy – at times frustrating and funny.
Marie is perplexed that the people in Blitta are not innovative and ‘people are unwilling to make changes whatsoever to improve their lives, no matter how miniscule, even if the improvement is at no cost.’ Despite her numerous attempts to help them gain skills to do a developmental project, all the people expect from her are gifts and money. It is a case of people expecting bread to fall from the sky!
Despite the numerous challenges, the author admits that even years later, she keeps fond memories of West Africa – the people’s hospitality and willingness to help and their being content with whatever they have, no matter how little. She realizes that Africa has changed her, she has been moved by the poverty and suffering and feels privileged for what she is or has. As one Togolese had told her, “Africa will change you, whether you want it or not.”
The book is well written, very candid; though in some instances, I wondered if there were no exaggerations. It describes the Togolese way of life. No doubt, since McCarthy was there from 1996 to 1998, her memories will, most likely, not reflect the current state of Togo. For travelers interested in visiting the country, many thinks will have changed. Nonetheless, it is a book I read out of curiosity – I wanted to learn about West Africa, from a non-African’s perspective.