Historia, Historia by Eleanor Stanford (A Review)

By Ray Deck III

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Chicago Center for Literature and Publishing

110 pgs. | $4.99 (Kindle Editions) | free ebook with donation | Other options on CCLaP site

Historia, Historia is the autobiographical account of Eleanor Stanford, a Peace Corp volunteer, struggling to fit into a foreign culture while maintaining her sense identity, to both make genuine connections with her students and steal a few moments of solitude for herself. It is a book about reaching in two directions at the same time.

William Zinsser has called our time, “the age of the memoir.” Some would argue that we expose ourselves in memoir because we have lost our ability to imagine others complexly. Others would say that the genre’s growth is evidence that we are the most honest generation in human history. Probably, both are true. There are many different kinds of honesty, afterall.

Stanford’s honesty is the more the courageous kind than the self-involved kind. She writes with equal clarity about her own heart and the things that she observes. She record every corner of her new world with uncommon skill and nuance.

If you own a pair of dungarees, you should probably put them on before you sit down to read. This book will transport you in a very tangible way to Cape Verde and you wouldn’t want to be caught unprepared. But Historia will take you to places even harder to reach than West Africa, places like the mind of an anorexic, and an objective vantage overlooking a marriage overtaxed in its first year.

Stanford observes the Cape Verde culture first through the language as she learns it. Speaking an odd creole of Portuguese and several African tongues, the people of Cape Verde have no future tense, no way to voice their imagined future. The language is coarse, blunt, and utilitarian. They use the same words for “fat” and “strong”, still equating wealth with a full belly, and they have no word for “cheating”. On Cape Verde colonialism is a zombie, dead but still dangerous. Custom, not a shortage of food dictates that school children skip breakfast and lunch. If poverty is a war criminal than the people of Cape Verde have Stockholm syndrome.

The Peace Corps sent Stanford and her husband to teach English, but it’s clear from her account that Stanford had set her sights much higher. She reaches out, spending time with students in their homes, hoping to affect life altering positive influence. The children are mostly warm to her, though not always to one another. They are, ever present but rarely open, jealous for her attention and her time but so stingy with their own hearts that one must wonder if the contents are precious or absent. Many of the children treat her like an introvert might treat a celebrity, gawking, and afraid to impose.

She longs to make a lasting impact, but finds the people of Cape Verde less needful of her influence than she expected. Maybe not less, maybe different. They are not hungry or lonely, they are superstitious and racist. They have problems that she is unprepared to address.

Stanford’s story is a microcosm of US foreign aid. We offer solutions to problems that no longer exist, and have no framework to approach the issues which we find instead. Even if we did, our own brokenness screams for our attention anyway.

Ray Deck III is an actor and writer residing digitally at RayDeck3.com When he is not assembling sequences of words, you can find him gallivanting around the Cascade Mountains of the Pacific Northwest.

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