An African in Greenland

Non-fiction is not usually something I gravitate towards.  I have some deeply ingrained fear that everything will read like a textbook, although I know that’s not true.  Tété-Michel Kpomassie’s story is far from that.  It’s exciting and informational (aka everything I wish a textbook was!).

Michel is from Togo, in West Africa.  He begins his narrative by telling readers about the customs of his people, and some anecdotes from his childhood.  One such story is about him being sick, and going to a bookstore in his village.  While perusing the shelves, he found a book about Greenland.  In awe of what he saw in the book, Michel decided then and there that he had to go to Greenland.  He could already feel the cold on his skin.

It takes awhile for Michel to get out of Africa, but he meets some kind people along the way.  He gets letters of introduction for people in Paris, his first stop once he gets to Europe.  With the help of his new Parisian friends, he is able to make the last leg of his journey, to Greenland.

Once he arrives, Michel is struck by the cold.  His ultimate goal is to get to Northern Greenland, to live among the Eskimos and the huskies.  However, like each stop on his journey so far, he must make some money to get himself there.  As Michel is the first African man to ever come to Greenland, everyone wants to befriend him and take him in.  The hospitality he describes is quite astounding.  Not to mention, every family is constantly serving and drinking coffee.  My kind of people.

The whole book is a solid dose of culture shock.  As an American, I was fascinated both by Michel’s life in Togo as well as what he encountered in Greenland.  In Africa, he describes a family hierarchy that is vastly different from what we have here.  In Greenland though…. Holy moly.  Michel entered into a society where it is normal to swap significant others, invite strangers to stay in your house, and eat dogs.  Michel spares no details– I now know more than I would ever want to about how to skin a dog and a seal.

I’ve had my share of culture shock.  I spent a semester in Siena, Italy while I was in college.  Although that’s not nearly as drastic of a change as what Michel went through, it still does take some getting used to.

This book is a good choice for anyone who has or is planning to live in another country.  It gives an honest account of Michel’s experiences, and it’s actually very informational about what life is like in Greenland for it’s 35,000 inhabitants (number accurate as of Michel’s travels in mid-1960s).

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