Dancing with Gogos review by Jack Allison, Peace Corps volunteer
"Gary Cornelius has written an inviting Peace Corps memoir in minute detail, interspersed with cogent quotes and anecdotes, including entries from his blog posts.
The first 130 pages of Dancing with Gogos deal meticulously with training. Cornelius particularly had difficulty with learning Zulu, his least favorite aspect of training, yet the book is full of key Zulu words and phrases — as well as instructive commentary about South African customs and cultural differences. He also introduces the term “internalized oppression” as “the opposite of empowerment,” and gives brief relevant examples of that.
Cournelius’s final reflection is a profound “reality check” revelation for the reader, especially RPCVs:
While I was in Africa I read that Peace Corps’ entire budget for its first fifty years was an amount equal to what the U.S. government spends on its military/defense every five days. I read recently that we’ve spent about $5 trillion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Imagine what could have been accomplished if we had spent half that much on pursuing peace."
Read the full review here
"Dancing with Gogos" Excerpt:
"One Friday afternoon, early in my learning curve about Zulu custom, when I had no plans for the weekend, Sendile told me that there would be a “traditional” event that involved slaughtering three goats and serving other food and drink the next day. I was not specifically invited so I didn’t join the many people who gathered in the family compound. I stayed in my cinderblock house and read and drank instant coffee, listened to music, worked on a blog entry and played Solitaire on my laptop. About five o’clock Sendile came in and asked if I had gone someplace that day, since he hadn’t seen me. I told him I hadn’t come because I wasn’t invited. He expressed amazement at this, explaining that no invitation was necessary because it’s understood in Zulu culture that when someone in the village hosts an event like this, you just show up, especially if you’re a man, without being invited. There are certain exceptions, such as a traditional wedding celebration, perhaps, but for most events, no invitation is necessary.
I explained that in the U.S. showing up at a party uninvited is called “crashing.” It is frowned on and “usually, no good comes from that since it often means the host runs out of food and drink, people get angry and drunk, neighbors get upset at all the noise and chaos, police are called to break up the annoying party and, often, people end up going to jail for disturbing the peace, resisting arrest, underage drinking or supplying alcohol to a minor. Everybody loses!”
It’s especially a problem in a college town like the one where I live, I told him. We both had a good laugh and I promised that henceforth I would crash his parties even if I wasn’t invited. A few minutes later Hlonie arrived with a big plate of food for me, including the last of the goat brains."
"Crashing Through the Underbrush" Review by Pete Ruby for NAMI.org
"Cornelius has taken on a difficult assignment. He has created a fictional story about his real life experiences while working in the mental health field. The ample dialog allows the reader to experience the emotions and caring manner of the individuals. The focus, then, is not on the textbook definition of what a mental illness is but on the human interactions of people who have mental health disabilities.
The NAMI library needs more fictional, mental health books; especially for people who learn more when they stay away from facts and figures."
Lauri G. Khodabandehloo
I read Crashing Through the Underbrush in two days, it was eye-opening and in some instances, I had to giggle...but it also brought out the truth of how those who are so voiceless and in many cases, so very misunderstood, live. I have an entirely new concept of the people I see who wander this world with less than most of us have, and deserve much, much more...a must read for many reasons...loved it!
I purchased Crashing through the underbrush on Sunday and finished it on Monday. I found the writing to have a compelling quality to it, each chapter finished made me want to turn the page to the next.
In the end, what I most enjoyed about it, was the way the author, Gary Cornelius, took everyday people, people we would ordinarily in our own lives avoid having any contact with. You know the ones I mean. You see them everyday wandering the streets of your community: the wandering homeless, those camped under bridges, highway overpasses, or standing at freeway off ramps holding a sign.
What's your first thought, get a job, get a life, or something else equally as demeaning? What Cornelius has done is to take these people and presented them as people we have known: family members or friends, those whose own lives have been taken over by mental illness or poor choices. It reaffirmed my belief that we are all fragile creatures and often it takes very little to push us over the edge. It is definitely worth reading.
. . . . . Other renters had
heard or seen the police car pull up, followed shortly by
my unmarked, but official-looking vehicle. It had screeched
to a halt in a cloud of dust in the gravel parking lot. Some
people came out on their porches to see what the ruckus was
about; others were looking through their front windows.
Unger and I discussed how
we would handle taking Linda into custody. Sometimes these
things went easily -- those you thought would fight cooperated
completely -- but other times they went sideways. People fought,
sometimes viciously, and it took several officers to subdue
them. Sometimes people got hurt. Unger said he could call
for backup, but the nearest unit was 30 minutes away and was
busy working a log truck accident.
We decided not to wait, but agreed
Linda should be given the chance to cooperate -- even if it
meant yelling through the door -- before we resorted to a
forced entry and a take down. We headed for unit 8, not sure
what to expect.
I stood to the side of the
front porch while Unger opened the screen and knocked loudly
on the wooden front door. There was no answer. He knocked
again, louder and longer, and announced himself.
“Linda? This is deputy
Unger from the sheriff’s office. Can I talk to you?”
Still no answer. He knocked again and tried the knob. Locked.
“Linda, you need to go to the hospital for an evaluation.
I have an order from a judge that says you have to go. I have
to take you there, even if you don’t want to. It would
best for all of us if you come with me.” Still no response.