Wednesday, July 29, 2009

quotes from Nancy Farmer, author of The Ear, the Eye and the Arm

nancy farmer At a certain point, I ran off to Africa in search of love and adventure. I had already been in the Peace Corps in India, then come back and lived with the Hari Krishnas for a while. When I left Berkeley, I spent some time in a regular job with the highway department, training the road maintenance crew on the good bugs vs. the bad bugs -- when to spray, when not to spray. But I got promoted beyond my level of capability, from field work (which I'm good at) to administration (which I'm terrible at). I began to get pretty bored, and I wanted to run off to Africa. I was 30, had $500 in traveler's checks, and I got a ticket on a freighter going to South Africa. I had a list of entomologists there, and my grand plan was to walk to the nearest one and ask for work. At that time all you could find in the library were really old books on Africa, so I figured it was like going back in a time warp. I got to Cape Town, and of course it's very modern, extremely beautiful. I didn't really know much about apartheid, which was in full swing back then. But I did walk to the nearest entomologist and ask for work.
The first job I had was collecting Solfugit, which is an arachnid -- they're big, ugly spidery things but they're not really dangerous. There was a group of them living beside this airstrip, and my job was to go out on the airstrip and collect them, all the while looking up to see if anything was landing. (This was why it was the job nobody else wanted.) You'd see a shadow pass overhead, and then you'd run like hell for the bushes! Eventually I got offered a wonderful job in Mozambique, doing water chemistry and entomology. It was probably the best job I've ever had. And Mozambique is where I got to really know Africans and picked up a whole lot of stories. I had an insane lab technician who gave me most of the stories that ended up in The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm...
I wrote about Africa because I knew it -- I'd been living there 17 years -- and I didn't know the United States anymore. The first book I wrote while in Africa was about California hippies because that's exotic and the Africans liked that. But when I wrote it I realized I'd forgotten what it was like, and I didn't really have a feel for American language patterns any more. That was when I realized I had to write about Africa. Do You Know Me? was for little kids. The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm was the first 'big' book -- I made a thorough study of African mythology, religion and customs to make sure I got all the facts right –excerpted from Nancy Farmer’s home page