Peace Corps Writers
You can buy Diary of a Kimbang at
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by James P. McCormick (Cameroon 1980–82)
CSS Publishing, $14.95
366 pages

Reviewed by Craig J. Carrozzi (Colombia 1979–80)

In Diary of a Kimbang, (Kimbang, in this specific case, meaning “white Irish-American guy from the south side of Chicago” in the Cameroonian jargon) author James P. McCormick states:

    I have never had an affinity for writing, especially about something I had very little knowledge of. I stared at the typewriter for quite a long time hoping for inspiration. I knew that this grant request would be mostly figures and measurements but I wanted so badly to inject the passion that Jay and I felt about this project that I felt that every word should be perfect.

A textbook account
Well, James me lad, I would disagree with you on that affinity for writing part. At least for a certain kind of writing. Mr. McCormick is a competent writer. A good piece of Diary of a Kimbang is almost a textbook account of how to undertake, write a proposal for, and execute a Peace Corps Partnership project. He does a marvelous job of showing how to maneuver through the labyrinthine paper games of organizations and their bureaucracies using personal charm and dogged determination. James, I raise a pint of Guinness in you honor. An appropriate gesture considering the amount of beer consumption described in your book at the ubiquitous “off-licenses.” Having worked in the tropics myself, I can relate, man.
     However, before our readers start to think that this is an “old boy” style machine review produced by one of Mayor Daly’s stooges to make our native Chicagoan look good . . . there are a few wee criticisms.
     On the back cover of the book it states that: Diary of a Kimbang is a celebration of the people and culture of Cameroon, West Africa . . .”
     On page 156, McCormick writes, “Traveling to Bamenda was always a treat because we had to cross the Ndop plain. This was a thirty mile stretch of very flat land surrounded by immense mountains. Breathtaking to say the least it was also a cultural cornucopia. There were several different tribes that occupied this area and each had its own unique tradition. If we had more time we would have make a few stops . . .”

Time to smell the roses
Now here is my big problem with this work. James never seemed to have enough time to stop. He was always in too much of a rush on his career track from coffee cooperative consultant to Peace Corps trainer, as though never quite convinced he could justify his presence in Cameroon. In between, he drinks palm wine and parties with the natives and other Volunteers, but he never describes its taste, smell, or effect. And, at times, especially when describing the fons (village headmen), they come off sounding more like dignified cardboard cutouts in African robes than flesh and blood human beings with all the frailties and noble qualities endemic to our species. McCormick mentions the Ndop plain several times, but never gets beyond the skeletal description quoted above. Why is it breathtaking? And these tribes with their unique traditions . . .what were a few of them? I never found out.

One photo worth a thousand words
McCormick has sprinkled his book with some good black and white photos to give us a visual taste of the Cameroon he experienced. Still, I was left hungry for more descriptive detail from the evocation of his writing.
     James, I raise my glass of Guinness to you for a sturdy effort, but if you had given me more of a taste, smell, sight, and feel of Cameroon, it would be a glass of single malt scotch.

Craig J. Carrozzi is the author of City ‘Scapes: A Fan’s View of the Game published by Southern Trails.

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