learning and growing as a writer Dec 28 2013 part 3

being a medical person working overseas is not what you think it is.

So the first parts of this blog mini-series dealt with the idea of my first book, and the limitations when a person starts out to write in the long form. Also the idea of how to get motivated to start another book when you know what you went through the first time. Oh, and the idea that it takes so long and there is no guarantee that you will finish or have anything useful at the end – did I tell you about that part?

“Write the book you want to read, the one you cannot find.”
―     Carol Shields

The above is also attributed to Toni Morrison. There are variations, but you get the idea.  When I was first going to Nepal, to work at a hospital run by missionaries, I tried to read up on what to expect, but I was not satisfied.  (I made a listmania on Amazon, go there if you want a bunch of book reports.) And since I have returned, I still think that way.

The problems

If the book is written by a Christian missionary, there seems to be an unwritten convention that it has to be relentlessly upbeat. Which means that it will never tell about the challenges and failures directly.

Too many Biblical references to wade through. Sometimes this genre is full of Biblical references, and this slows you down. It also gives you the idea that Missionaries mainly pray all day.

on the other side of the pendulum, research articles don’t cut it either. Here is a problem: most people who want to go overseas need funding. so they make a research proposal on some tropical disease, and when they return that is what gets published. But what they really learned was more practical: how to live in a foreign culture; how to deal with the everyday medical problems of people in a low income country ( i.e., poverty); how to be a member of a small team doing intense work. But the academic writing process does not allow any of this to be told. All references to the interpersonal nature of the experience are relentlessly edited. Often by somebody who has not actually done a similar thing themselves.  So – this is not the one-stop shopping source of information either.

conflict  is not good. Not often written about, because it requires critical reflection. The person writing the memoir has to preserve their self-image, even though not everything goes well.

Colonialism and neo-colonialism

I think every book on the topic of cross-cultural exchange in health care needs to address issues of colonialism and neo-colonialism – also known as western patrimony. In real life, any person who goes overseas must overcome the idea of their innate superiority  because of being born in the USA or UK.  In USA we love the myth of the Lone Ranger as the hero. ( think of Lawrence of Arabia or Indiana Jones. these are good examples of the genre. The-white-guy-is-the-hero. And we perpetuate this. In 2013 there was a media controversy when somebody tried to claim the Jesus was a white guy.

hint: Jesus of Nazareth was not a white guy. He did not speak English. But His message is what was important, not the color of His skin.

I think every book on this topic can be analyzed by this standard. There is a spectrum. Oh, it’s easy to have a hero in an adventure story; but most of the time that is when you are clearly in the realm of fiction.

Is there something wrong with allowing Hindus and Buddhists to be who they are?

Trying to spread Christianity has gone hand-in-hand with colonialism for centuries.  I’m not saying we should completely pull out of the low income countries of the world – far from it. But I think everyone needs to get hip on the issues. Read some of the classic books – The Wretched of the Earth or The Pedagogy of the Oppressed – to get some idea of what you are getting into. Do more than just read up on diagnosis of tropical disease!

back on track –

I could go on this tangent for a bit, but let’s get back on track. If you are  a medical person ( doctor, nurse, therapist) you will be going on the experience to provide medical expertise. How is that experience different from what you do in USA or UK? that’s what I wanted to write about.

So the idea is to have characters the reader can identify with. and that is what I tried to do with The Sacrament of the Goddess.

I need to move along, I will edit this later. and add to it.


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