Somebody's Heart Is Burning: A Woman Wanderer in Africa
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“It's my life, and if I want to run from it I can,” quips Tanya Shaffer. An incorrigible wanderer, Shaffer has a habit of fleeing domesticity for the joys and rigors of the open road. This time her destination is Ghana, and what results is a transformative year spent roaming the African continent. Eager to transcend the limitations of tourism, Shaffer works as a volunteer, building schools and hospitals in remote villages. At the heart of her tale are the profound, complex, often challenging relationships she forms with those she meets along the way.
Whether recounting a perilous boat trip to Timbuktu, a night of impassioned political debate in Ghana, or a fumbled romance in Burkina Faso, Shaffer portrays the collision of African and North American cultures with self-deprecating humor and clear-eyed compassion. Filled with warmth, candor, and an exuberant sense of adventure, Somebody’s Heart is Burning raises provocative questions about privilege, wealth, and the true meaning of friendship.
Minessi, he’s worse.” A shrill panic came into my voice. “What happened to the medicine?” I asked. “It is finished,” she said. “Every day, one spoon.” She went into the hut and brought out a bottle, empty and carefully washed, with the label still on it. Examining it, I saw that it was a kind of drugstore cough syrup, cherry flavored for children. “Oh, Minessi, who gave you this?” “Saltpond Junction. I tell him Yao is sick. He says it is the best. From England.” “Minessi,” I took her hand.
practiced traditional religion.” She smiled. “Oh, sistah,” she said, “I practice everything, when it is useful.” “I want to marry white,” Virgin Billy told me the next morning over a breakfast of bland maize porridge, called koko, with sugar dumped on top. “Why?” I asked suspiciously. “I would like to have half-caste children. I like the color.” “So it’s an aesthetic thing?” “Yes,” he nodded. “And I like white people. I like the way they live.” “You mean money.” “Not just money,” he
thing you know she’ll be wiping your nose,” Katie had said on the tro-tro into Wa. And now, as if on cue, Christy stepped forward with a tissue. “Christy!” I was alarmed. “Don’t!” “Your face is dirty,” she said, spitting on the tissue as my mother always had. “Don’t!” I shouted, and moved back. Christy looked genuinely wounded. Curious passersby turned to see what was going on. “You are not kind, sistah,” said Christy. “I-I’m sorry. It’s just . . . you’re . . . invading my space.”
where a board covered a hole in the ground from the area where you carried your bucket of water to bathe. With a television, boom box, and telephone inside the house, it was a solid middle-class home. It was love at first sight for me and little Rod. She stood shyly at the gate with her three middle fingers in her mouth, twisting her upper body back and forth as the taxi pulled up. As I swung my bulky pack out of the roof rack, she was already at my side, and I swerved off-balance to avoid
had an Asian slant. His movements were abrupt and impatient; he seemed combustible. He ranted incessantly about the ignorance and stupidity of the other passengers, but at the end of these tirades he always burst out laughing. His laugh was infectious. For all his abrasiveness, he could win a crowd. “Your French is not so good, Tanya!” he crowed, as I strained to interpret his marble-mouthed dialect. He had a huge vocabulary, and seemed to enjoy employing a range of words I’d never heard. “You