At Home Abroad
Plain View Press (2009)
Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views (01/09)
Nancy Henderson-James had a childhood most of us could only imagine. Growing up in Portugal, Angola and Rhodesia as a child of missionaries, she moved back to USA during her teenage years. Having considered Africa her home as a child, the adjustment was not an easy one. What complicated the matters further was the fact that Angola, the country she seems to have felt the closest to, went through a protracted war, which lasted some 40 years, and as such was out of bounds and impossible to return to. Living in a country different from the one that you grew up in is always a challenge, as I’ll readily admit myself any day. Not having the choice or a possibility to return there is just too heartbreaking to think about.
I’ve greatly enjoyed Nancy Henderson-James’s “At Home Abroad” and I found it to be a deeply wise and courageous book. Written many decades after any and all of the described events have happened – we are talking a period during 40s to 60s here – the author used the distance to the best advantage. While it’s easy to be judgmental about people whose values and upbringing differ from our own, Nancy Henderson-James learned a valuable lesson and she does not mind sharing it with the reader. If we think the people in the “new” country are different and strange, that does not make them better or worse. And as scared we might be of them, and as unsure we feel around them, they probably look at us the same way. Being different is never easy, and finding the way to fit in is and will remain a challenge.
The author’s love of Africa shines in all the little scenes of everyday life she writes about. She truly brings the land and its people to life, and make one yearn for simpler, if not always gentler times. Without preaching she brings to the surface the harsh realities of a struggling continent, all the big and little inequalities and injustices we like to pretend we know nothing about. And she’s not shy about admitting her own, very personal struggles – not only being transplanted at an age which tends to be difficult for every young person, but also growing up with emotionally quite distant parents, some of whose values she no longer shared as a teenager and a young adult. Seeing America and her American relatives through the eyes of a child who grew up in a very different culture was a great discovery. As for Caldo Verde and the rest of the recipes, they are sure to find their way on my menu shortly.