Although I was misquoted a couple of times Willianm Smith did a nice job of covering the Discussion at the Burlington Library yesterday. Here's the article that appeared in today's Hawk Eye.
"When author and Wever resident Nancy Harless asked the packed reading room at the Burlington Public Library if they had read her book, every hand went up.
"Good. If you've all read it, I can tell some more behind-the-scenes stories," she said.
Harless was at the library Saturday morning to discuss her first published book, "Womankind: Connection and Wisdom Around the World," which is a compilation of her experiences as a nurse practitioner working around the world.
Specializing in women's health, Harless began traveling with her husband, Norm, in 1999 to Belize, Guatemala, Peru, southeast Asia, China and war-torn Yugoslavia.
"In 1997, I saw an ad in the Fort Madison paper by the Rotary International Club looking for professionals for a study exchange," she said. "It changed my life."
A couple of years later, she was in Guatemala City, just three months after the peace treaty was signed that ended the 30-year civil war. The peace accord called for the incorporation of the guerilla rebel forces into the mainstream, which caused a sharp increase in crime.
"Almost every family had someone who was kidnapped by the guerilla forces, and it was always women that were kidnapped," she said. "The family I stayed with had an aunt that was kidnapped, and they talked about it very casually. There were even negotiators in the yellow pages."
Harless became a nurse practitioner in her late 30s but never imagined the conditions she would be working in while in Belize.
"They call them the forgotten people. They are the poorest people in the world," Harless said.
She recalled visiting a hospital where trash lined the hallways, and the women were forced to sleep two to a bed after giving birth.
"There was a termite colony this big in the hospital," Harless said as she held her arms in a circle that reached her forehead.
But the book isn't about Harless. It's about the women she met, the struggles they endured and the hope they still held as Harless left for another country. The stories are told through her eyes, but she hardly considers herself the main character.
"I tried to write myself out of it as much as possible," Harless said.
Many of those in attendance were curious about how Harless was able to create such detailed stories.
"I keep a journal every day I'm in another country," Harless said. "I try to keep the stories as true as I can, but you never know how memory will work. Sometimes my husband will remember things a slightly different way than I do."
One of the most beloved stories in the book, titled "Joy in the Morning," is about a 7-year-old girl in Belize named Cassandra who loses her jump rope.
Or as Cassandra puts it so delicately in the book, "Me rope be t'eifed it. It da be gawn!" Translation -- "My rope has been stolen. It is gone."
"They speak English over there, but it is not the kind of English you're used to," Harless said. "It is more of a Pidgin version."
As Harless describes it in her book, Cassandra lived next door in a rumpled clapboard shack with three younger siblings, a teenage aunt and uncle and her grandmother. Jumping rope was the highlight of the girl's day, and she constantly challenged herself to make more jumps.
"She's a leader. That little girl will go far," Harless said.
The jump rope seemed to be the only toy Cassandra's family could afford, and it meant as much to her siblings as it did to her. Early in the story, Harless recounts how the little girl sobbed in her arms.
Despite Cassandra's heartbreak, she was up the next morning, singing into the sunshine as she bathed. Harless called the little girl "Sunshine," resilient to any tragedy, no matter how small, that befell her.
The one detail Harless didn't reveal in the story was whether Cassandra got her rope back. She was more than willing to tell her captive audience at the library, though.
"She did get a rope from me, and then her rope came back the next week. Some of the other kids were borrowing it," Harless said.
Published by Tate Publishing, an Oklahoma-based Christian Publishing House, "Womankind: Connection and Wisdom Around the World" is available at B Dalton bookstore in Westland Mall. Harless is at work on a second book featuring women from her Asian travels, and versions of some of her essays have appeared in the "Chicken Soup For the Soul" series of inspirational books."